Philippine voices have been missing from the mainstream music industry for lifetimes. What’s to blame? The idealized white and light-skinned Western standard of beauty and the false perception that non-English—or non-Korean languages even—are “not marketable” are a few reasons. But today we enter the rising era of Philippine pop (P-pop), where BGYO is primed and ready to introduce Southeast Asian fire to an industry in desperate need of some heat.
BGYO, which is short for “Becoming the change, Going further, You and I, and Originally Filipino,” is made up of Gelo Rivera, Akira Morishita, JL Toreliza, Mikki Claver Jr., and Nate Porcalla. The five-piece multifaceted powerhouse group debuted in January 2021 with their hit single, “The Light,” before releasing their first album of the same name. Their first year continued with a number of accomplishments despite being fresh on the scene: BGYO were able to perform in coliseums from the Philippines to Dubai, while achieving a number of luxury brand collaborations, television features, magazine covers, and international awards.
That success ultimately led to their second album, BE:US, which was released last month.
JoySauce was lucky enough to speak with the boys fresh off the Las Vegas leg of their U.S. performance tour to talk about their new album, their journeys to stardom, and their aspirations as a pioneering P-pop boy band.
BGYO stands for messages much larger than the superficial: they dream of educating the world, through their music, on what P-pop is, while prioritizing the creation of music that is “authentically Filipino.”
On the surface, BGYO is a group of heartthrobs with incredible vocal endurance and dance abilities that could make anyone swoon, including myself—and I did, many, many times throughout our interview. But beyond their talent, BGYO stands for messages much larger than the superficial: they dream of educating the world, through their music, on what P-pop is, while prioritizing the creation of music that is “authentically Filipino.”
“P-pop is Pinoy pop, a subgenre of Pinoy music,” their leader, Rivera, says as I sit with the five members in West Hollywood. “You could say it’s kind of similar to K-Pop and J-Pop because, unlike [general] pop music, P-pop brings in a certain aspect of culture. We of course bring in our culture through using our Philippine language of Tagalog in our music, but our music also tries to put our stories as Philippine people into our lyrics, as well as in our costuming and video or performance concepts.”
Rivera references their debut single, “The Light,” as an example of this. The single is their sonic entry into the music industry, where each member builds off of each other’s voices to produce a powerful empowerment anthem that blends P-pop with R&B elements, hoping to share a “light” to help combat the struggles Philippine people may face in their lives.
“You know in this world that we live in
There’s so much trouble that’s surrounding us
Hate, jealousy, crime and violence
No we don't need no more, need no more, no way…
… Kinabukasan ating ilaban, (Let’s Fight For Our Future)
Follow the bright, bright light.”
The song is a great introduction to the type of music the group creates—genre expansive, truly Filipinx and rooted in a greater message that speaks to the Philippine people.
“We do our best to connect Philippine culture to our music,” Rivera says. “And we really hope our music can connect with our fans, with the world.”
Their newest album release, BE:US, further showcases the band’s ability to blend genres in their music as effortlessly as they take on their many international stages. The genres in their sophomore project range from the angsty electronic anthem, “Game On,” where members confidently chant, “So, you think you can stop us?” as heavy beats play behind them, to the synth-heavy pop love songs like their single, “Magnet,” and all the way to, my personal favorite, “PNGNP,” where the group caters to their seductive side in a slow-burn R&B melody.
“We usually have these listening parties before we start recording an album, and during these listening parties we really get to choose what genres we like, what music we want to put into it,” Claver says. “It was really a teamwork effort, from us to our team, in creating the sound of our album.”
“It’s so diverse,” Morishita adds. “We really tried to avoid having two songs that sounded the same and tried having each song you play make you feel different when you listen to it.”
But BGYO’s diversity doesn’t just end in their music choices; their members uniquely bring in different backgrounds, from nationalities to skill sets, that certify their title in the Philippines as the “Aces of Pop.”
Rivera was born and raised in Pasay City, Philippines, and was a trained dancer at a young age, notably competing on the notorious international competition team called the A Team. Morishita is Filipino and Japanese and formerly worked as a model and actor on several Philippine television series. Toreliza was born and raised in Cavite, Philippines, and is known for his incredible vocal capabilities, formerly opening shows for powerhouse vocal celebrities on the islands. Claver is Filipino and Chinese, and is known for his ability to compose music, often the lyric writer of the group. Porcalla is a Filipino American who grew up in Chicago before moving to the Philippines to pursue his dancing career shortly before training to be a P-pop idol.
Their members uniquely bring in different backgrounds, from nationalities to skill sets, that certify their title in the Philippines as the “Aces of Pop.”
“Even though we come from different countries and backgrounds, we really have a cohesion as a group,” Morishita says. “At the end of the day, we are all Filipino. And we easily just come together and do our best to make Philippine music.”
“I think it’s a good thing we have so many differences,” JL continues. “We are also able to create diverse music and concepts. We released multiple [language] versions of our single, ‘The Light,’ for example, which is something we can do because of [our diversity as a group].”
With all of their diverse backgrounds, BGYO is spearheading a new era of boy bands, not only in the Philippines, but in the world.
“It feels good to be the representation of Filipinos in the music industry and as a boy band in general,” Morishita says. “There is a pressure because we’re one of the first few P-pop boy groups in the Philippines, but it’s a good pressure! It keeps us growing, constantly hungry for something, and we always try through our music to make new paths for other P-pop groups in the future.”
“Yeah, we’re basically experimenting because there’s no one to base our career off of,” Rivera adds. “We feel we just have to set the tone for ourselves and [future] groups because we have no one to copy from. It’s a big learning experience.”
Their future is less about acclimating to western standards to gain fame and more toward centering their career authentically on our people.
The group shares with me that although bringing P-pop to the world is one of their big goals, this learning experience as pioneers for P-pop boy bands has taught them a lot about what they value as artists. For BGYO, they emphasize their future is less about acclimating to western standards to gain fame and more toward centering their career authentically on our people.
“Our priority is more about making sure the music we create as P-pop artists are loved by Filipinos,” Rivera says when I ask about any challenges they’ve faced trying to bring their music to the world. “For us, for our music to be successful, it has to be loved by our people.”
“That isn’t to say that we don’t also want to make sure we are getting our music out there all around the world, because we do,” Claver adds. “But yeah, I’d say our focus is really more on making sure Filipinos love our music. That is important.”
I congratulate the group on their immense success pursuing the dreams of so many Filipinx artists across the world. Their journey began in 2018, individually competing against more than 200 other boy band hopefuls in ABS-CBN’s Star Hunt Academy shortly before being selected and training together for two years. Flash forward to today, they’re fresh off their performance at ASAP Natin ‘To Las Vegas,’ which is a concert with the Philippines’ biggest stars, and the group expressed how much the show was an eye opener for them in realizing how far they’ve come in their journey of following their dreams.
“I didn’t feel like I was a ‘star’ until we shared the stage in Vegas,” Claver shares. “We were on stage with huge stars we look up to, and it was a moment when I realized all the hard work we’ve put in really made our dreams come true and I just felt so, so blessed to be a part of the show and to be a part of BGYO.”
As their dreams become reality, I ask them one final question: Are there any other dreams for the group going forward, such as a dream collaboration?
“BTS,” they collectively say with a laugh.
“And a world tour or Grammy nomination would be nice, too,” Rivera adds.
It was an honor to speak with these five pioneers of P-pop, and incredible to see how level-headed these boys were, despite their relatively young ages and the exhaustive journeys they’ve gone through as trainees to idols with a whole community of people on their backs. Beyond a beautiful boy band with instant hits and performance chops to back it up, they’re living examples of Filipinx excellence ready to make history in an industry where we’ve never been given the spotlight.
Published on December 14, 2022