philippines president elections leni ppop kpop fandom gen z sb19 atin
A’TIN, or fans of P-pop group SB19, attend a campaign rally for presidential candidate Leni Robredo in Bulacan province. Photo: Courtesy of Alyanna Dimacali
Life

The Young Filipinos Using Music and Fandom in the Elections

Some post fan edits of presidential candidates online, while others hold up lightsticks during campaign events.

As election fever hits the Philippines, a new crop of supporters is emerging. 

Together, friends Bea Santos and Alyanna Dimacali attend campaign rallies not just as the young professionals they are, but as proud A’TIN, or fans of SB19, arguably the biggest Filipino boy band at the moment. Both are members of a Twitter group of P-pop fans who support Leni Robredo, the Philippines’ current vice president and the only woman running for president in next month’s general election. 

Advertisement

Dimacali said she wants Robredo to lead the country because she embodies the kind of good governance described in the song “Kapangyarihan” (the Filipino word for “power”), a collaboration between SB19 and Filipino folk-pop band Ben&Ben. 

“The campaign rally in Bulacan [province] is the happiest experience I’ve had so far in going to events like this. We even made placards,” Santos told VICE. “It’s very special for us. We were part of history,” Dimacali said. 

Santos recalled how, in order to identify with other A’TIN in a crowd of over 40,000 people, they raised and waved two things that day—a blue-and-white SB19 lightstick and the Philippine flag.

philippines president elections leni ppop kpop fandom gen z kakampink sb19 atin

Bea Santos holds up her SB19 lightstick and a small Philippine flag in a campaign rally. Photo: Courtesy of Alyanna Dimacali

May’s presidential election is a critical one for the Philippines, with the pandemic, human rights, and festering political divisions as some of the country’s most pressing issues. Leading in pre-election surveys is Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., son and namesake of the late dictator, whose running mate for vice president is Sara Duterte, President Rodrigo Duterte’s daughter. Marcos is up against Robredo, and a number of other candidates including boxer-turned-senator Manny Pacquiao, Senator Panfilo Lacson, and Manila Mayor Isko Moreno.

Advertisement

Various communities and groups are throwing their support for their candidate of choice, and some of the most vocal are the youth. On TikTok, users who normally post fan edits of their favorite artists are now doing the same for politicians. On the ground, people hold up signs of popular memes during campaign events. Watch a livestream of one of Robredo’s rallies and you’ll spot lightsticks from different K-pop and P-pop fandoms—from SB-19 to NCT to TWICE. Some supporters even made their own “Leni” lightsticks and photocards.

philippines president elections leni ppop kpop fandom gen z kakampink sb19 atin got7 ahgase exo exol

K-pop and P-pop stans brandish their lightsticks in a campaign rally. Photo: Courtesy of PPOP Stans for Leni

Jazz, who requested the use of a pseudonym because she works for a government agency, started the Twitter account PPOP Stans for Leni. “PPOP Stans for Leni was really inspired by what KPOP Stans 4 Leni did,” she told VICE. 

Frey, a supporter of boy group BGYO who started the Twitter account ACEs for LENI, agreed. He also requested the use of a pseudonym for his privacy. “Historically, K-pop [stans] have been known for socio-political activism,” he told VICE. “If K-pop stans can do it, why not in the Philippines?” 

Advertisement

With thousands of followers on Twitter, both fan groups have joined forces to report and block social media accounts that spread disinformation, in what they call “mass report hour,” much like how P-pop and K-pop fans would stream their idol music so albums could top charts.

philippines president elections leni ppop kpop fandom gen z kakampink bgyo ace akira

An ACE, or supporter of the P-pop boy band BGYO, holds up a photo card of Akira, one of the group’s members. Photo: Courtesy of ACEs for Leni

“Before this campaign, my hunch was the youth would not be as active or as mobilized because of their previous behavior. But while we also saw that they were apathetic before, a lot of them—despite the pandemic and the restrictions—went out and registered. [These are] first-time voters. Until the campaign of Leni Robredo [started], they were just like bystanders, waiting for a candidate they could attach themselves to,” Aries Arugay, a professor of political science at the University of the Philippines, told VICE. “What attracted the youth to [Robredo’s] campaign is inclusivity. It attracted all kinds of Filipinos.”

But the trend is not limited to one candidate. 

If Santos and Dimacali are keen on harnessing more support for Robredo online and offline, Oldie, who requested the use of a pseudonym to protect his privacy, shows his support for candidate “Ka Leody” De Guzman in the digital space. He uses an anonymous Twitter account to explain why the labor rights activist should be the next president. Oldie said he likes De Guzman because of his dedication to the plight of the “little man.”

“He is willing to take a progressive stand on things. He is willing to help the people who need help the most,” Oldie told VICE. 

Advertisement

A fan of P-pop girl group MNL48, he told VICE that he has tried to do “soft pushing” for MNLoves (MNL48’s fandom) to support De Guzman. 

“When they do see MNLoves for Ka Leody or something like that, that’s on them if they want to join. I don’t want the votes to be forced, I want the votes to be organic,” he said.  

The foray of fans into the realm of political activism is the latest twist in the story of P-pop, a fairly new music scene.

“I tend to think it’s more of a production system rather than an attempt to create a genre, and this is because, if you think of some of the groups—SB19, Alamat—they have such a wide variety of musical styles,” said Tom Baudinette, a cultural anthropologist from Macquarie University, who has done research on K-pop and similar musical phenomena emerging in Asia.

It’s a production method and promotion style that, according to Baudinette, borrowed, adapted, and emulated what made South Korea’s music industry a groundbreaking success. Many doubted that P-pop would succeed, dismissing it as a K-pop copycat, but many groups are now making a name for themselves. 

SB19, which debuted in 2018, became the first Southeast Asian act to enter the top 10 of the Billboard Year-End Social 50. In 2021, they were nominated for Top Social Artist at the Billboard Music Awards, and for Best Southeast Asia Act at the MTV Europe Music Awards. SB19 also tied with the South Korean group BTS for most weeks on top of Billboard’s Hot Trending Songs chart, at one point even outranking the K-pop boy band.

Advertisement

P-pop fandoms, too, are becoming more influential online. K-pop fans around the world are known to throw their support at relevant social issues, and P-pop fans are now doing the same.

“Once again, it speaks of the K-pop-P-pop nexus,” Baudinette said. “Within the K-pop fandom culture, there is a strong belief that not only is the idol supposed to represent a role model and perfect good citizen, but the fan also must demonstrate that they are a good citizen and a good fan, and hence engage with the world in ways that will reflect positively on the idol. We saw that emerge strongly in K-pop fandom and likewise see that spread to P-pop fandom.”

Unlike their fans, P-pop groups themselves have not been as vocal about their views on pressing social issues. And Frey, the BGYO fan, thinks that maybe this time, it’s the idols’ turn to listen to their fans. 

“It’s good that fandoms did something like this so idols will be more aware that this is what their fans see in the candidate we support. Who knows? Maybe they can be converted,” he said. 

Some fans say the passion that catapulted P-pop is the same one that fuels their political activism. 

“P-pop flourished when it was being suppressed. That’s how it started—they were dismissed, criticized for supposedly being Korean copycats. They were discouraged,” lawyer Allie, who requested the use of a pseudonym for her privacy, told VICE. “This industry flourished because even if it was mocked, you fought for it.”

“Our idol wants world domination. This cannot be achieved by SB19 and fans alone,” Dimacali said. “We need a government that will also give their full support to achieve this.”

Follow Purple Romero on Twitter.