Since its inception, 1Z Entertainment has always had a mission to push Filipino music upward and forward, creating a space for artists to thrive and bring their creative vision to life. As one of their first major ventures into accomplishing this mission, the SB19-founded company are piecing together the next P-pop girl group.

Earlier in June, 1Z Entertainment announced that they would hold auditions to look for the next generation of idols, looking to create P-pop’s next big star. This comes as the first project of its kind for the company, expanding its portfolio to take on more artists, styles, and sounds. Helmed by CEO Pablo (of SB19) and COO Yani De Dios, the 1Z team are looking to disrupt the music scene and further propel P-pop to greater heights.

Billboard Philippines sat down with 1Z Entertainment’s Pablo and Yani de Dios to talk about championing Filipino music, how P-pop can stand on its own, amending SB19’s regrets, and creating the ultimate girl group.

Billboard Philippines: How are we feeling? You just announced your girl group auditions; how has that been for everyone?

Yani: [We’re] very excited kasi (because) it’s our first time to conduct auditions. We’re anticipating more people around the office so we’re really looking for additional space, [but] we’re really excited with the auditions because we want to see new faces. Sawa na kami sa isa’t isa; hindi, joke lang (We’re sick of each other; no, I’m joking). We’re very excited, very happy. 

Pablo: The only artists na nandito sa 1Z ngayon (who are here in 1Z) is SB19, so maganda na magkaroon ng (it’s good to have) new faces. And syempre (of course) for employees, it’s a different task, it’s a different group din (also). [It’s a] girl group instead of a boy group, so panibagong challenges sa kanila ‘yan (it’s a new set of challenges for them) — how they will market [the group and] handle everything. 

Photographed by Easel Manes

Let’s start from the beginning. How did the idea of holding auditions first come about?

Yani: Well, business-wise, for 1Z Entertainment, our goal talaga (really) is to expand our portfolio, and by doing that, we really have to expand our services as well. The idea started even last year. We want to expand our experiences as well so we decided, based on SB19’s timeline as well as 1Z’s, that this year is the best start for us to plan ahead. It’s going to be a long journey naman (after all), so this is just the first phase [and] we’ll just adjust accordingly.

Pablo: Ako (As for me), personally [in] 2021, gusto ko na magkaroon ng (I wanted to have a) new group kasi nag-e-enjoy talaga ako (because I really enjoy) to work behind [the scenes]. I like supporting artists, parang honing ‘yung skills nila and improve kung anong meron sila (to hone their skills and improve what they have). So, 2021 pa lang — ang daming talents kasi dito sa Philippines, and feeling ko kaya pa nila ma-reach ‘yung higher heights. (As early as 2021, there have been a lot of talents in the Philippines, and I feel they can reach higher heights.) So, ayun, gusto ko talaga siyang mangyari (I really wanted it to happen in 2021) but officially, since we have 1Z now, this is the first step.

Photographed by Easel Manes

Was it an intentional decision to put together a girl group? 

Yani: Maiba lang, for a change lang talaga siya (Just to be different, for a change). For us, in 1Z, we’ve been handling SB19 since we started, so it’s time for us to learn something new. Ano ba ‘yung experiences na ma-learn namin (What experiences would we learn) handling a girl group? So ayun (there), it’s really a business decision as well.

Off the bat, what do you hope to get through these auditions?

Yani: Primarily, we want to have fresh talent that we can definitely learn from. For the past few years, [we’ve only] been working with SB19 and syempre, ‘yung nakikita namin, sila lang (they’re the only ones we see). It’s a very competitive landscape, so it’s getting new talent or fresh ideas coming from [the girl group]. It will also help the business to adjust accordingly to kung ano nasa isip ng mga bata ngayon, ano nasa isip ng mga fresh talents ngayon (what’s on the minds of the kids and the fresh talents nowadays).

From 1Z’s perspective, since we’re very creative, we want to learn or we want to get fresh ideas from them. Beside our business goals and what we to achieve with this girl group, their fresh [insights] is really what we want to get.

Pablo: The industry is really competitive right now; parang surging talaga siya (it’s really surging) — especially P-pop. Nakikita natin ‘yung mga changes, na dumadami na ‘yung mga grupo (We’ve seen the changes, that there are a lot of new groups), so it’s a deliberate decision by 1Z to create a group na pwede namin ipakita sa buong mundo (that we can showcase to the whole world).

We also have a new system that we practice as SB19 na gusto namin i-apply sa (that we want to apply to the) new group and see how far they’ll go. 

Photographed by Easel Manes

You mentioned P-pop is growing, why do you think that is? What is it about this genre and culture that makes it so special?

Pablo: Well, for me — syempre, ako ‘yung nasa stage, eh (of course, I’m the one onstage). (Laughs)

We know that Filipinos like to celebrate things together, mahilig tayo magsama-sama (we love getting together) and our culture is very rich; ang daming pwede i-share (there’s so much to share). Knowing that eto ‘yung mga strength natin (these are our strengths) as Filipinos, hindi mo maiiwasan i-enjoy ‘yung music na nilalabas ng mga (you can’t help but enjoy the music of these) P-pop groups. ‘Yung fandoms sobrang lakas — kapag naka-attend ka ng isang event na P-pop, talagang makikita mo kung gaano katindi yung supporta nila sa isang grupo. (The fandoms are so strong — you’ll see how intense their support is for a group when you attend a P-pop event.)

Sobrang flourishing talaga (It’s really flourishing). P-pop is in good hands.

Yani: If I may add, I think it’s innovation and integration. Meron na namang (There were already) P-pop groups before pero ‘yung (but the) innovation when it comes to musicality — be it music videos, presentation, dance moves — it’s evolved throughout the years. I think that’s what makes it very exciting for the audience — may kakaiba na (there’s progress). The good side of it is that the Philippines parang nakipagsabayan na (can compete) with other neighboring countries. 

That’s true because with what we usually expect from Filipino music, even things like music videos are a rare thing. It’s only with P-pop that we really got that, complete with a whole production and concept. 

Pablo: It’s really innovative. Even people from outside the Philippines [know] that these guys are really talented. Filipinos are really talented but ‘yung output, hindi pa humahabol eh (the output hasn’t quite caught up). Right now, we’re really trying to impress [because] we know we really can do it. 

Photographed by Easel Manes

With so many P-pop groups active right now, how do you plan to make your upcoming girl group stand out?

Yani: Actually, it’s a difficult path, it’s a challenging path. As you mentioned, it’s very competitive right now [but] we’ll be improving and enhancing the processes we have for SB19. It’ll be the same [process] in terms of pushing them to be themselves. Tapos (And then), we want it na pag nag-perform sila, isa sila pero may kanya-kanyang (that when they perform, they perform as one but each have their own) personalities that will stand out, especially when it comes to talent, and if they can write their own songs of if they can direct their own music videos. [If they can just be themselves], they’ll definitely stand out. 

Pablo: Sa SB19 — kasi ‘di ba (With SB19), firsthand we experienced it — ang dami din naming mga (we have a lot of) regrets na sana ginawa namin (on things we should’ve done). So, definitely, for this new girl group, talagang bubunuin ‘yung mga loopholes na ‘yun (we will develop those loopholes). Para sa ganon ma-meet namin ‘yung (In that way, that we can achieve the) optimal environment so they can enhance their skills, like producing or directing their own music videos. Talagang tutuunan na namin ng pansin (We’ll really focus on them).

Let’s go into the logistics of everything. How long will this entire process be expected to last?

Yani: To be honest, it’s going to be around a year and a half to two years. That’s the whole plan but it may change talaga depending on if [the team] thinks they’re ready. It might take two to three years, or even four years if kailangan talaga (necessary); we’ll assess every step of the way. 

Photographed by Easel Manes

Right now, you’re receiving applications. From there, how will you shortlist candidates for the next stage?

Yani: We announced the auditions and it’s open to the whole Philippines, so as long as you’re a Filipino and a girl, you can submit your audition pieces. For a month, until the end of June, we’ll be accepting applications through our website and then we’ll [proceed] to shortlisting for a month. We’ll check it all together and go through it one by one; there’s a dedicated team — a screening team — that will be assigned to that. We’ll be reviewing all applications and checking them one by one.

That’s the initial screening. Once we have the shortlist, we’ll be calling them and asking them to go [to the office] for a face-to-face audition. We’ll be calling all our mentors, judges, and key people here at 1Z. That’s the second screening; we’ll be asking them to perform again. 

After that, there will be a deliberation for around a month and we’ll be choosing X number of trainees. From there, we’ll do the background checking and if taga-dulo sila ng Pilipinas (they come from the farther regions of the Philippines), we’ll arrange their accommodation and whatever other technical stuff. 

Then, start na ng training nila (their training starts) with a curriculum that we have, so we’re doing a very dedicated curriculum for girl groups na heavily involved din ang SB19 talaga (in which SB19 are heavily involved).

Does that curriculum take after the same training process that SB19 had?

Pablo: It’s taking pieces of that and improving it. As I said, ang dami naming regrets so gusto namin ma-eliminate ‘yung mga ‘yun (we have a lot of regrets that we wish to eliminate), so ‘yung ilalabas namin na girl group (the girl group we’ll create) is the ultimate girl group. (Laughs) 

Photographed by Easel Manes

What can you tell us about the process the trainees will go through, in terms of honing their skills and getting them ready for debut?

Yani: So far, in terms of the basic skills, we’ll be providing them with dancing, singing — and actually [we’ll have] advance [classes]. Of course, we want them to learn the [technical] skills but we also want them to know about basic theories about it, and we’ll also be providing them coaching for them to learn about the business as well. [Because] that’s our goal for SB19 — for them not to be just artists but also learn about the whole business model of the industry, so this is the same thing we’ll be applying to the girl group.

Pablo, you’ve always had a hand in the production of SB19’s music. How does it feel to soon be producing music for another group?

Pablo: Actually, I’ve been producing music [outside of SB19] for a while now because I also produce for brands and other artists with the help of my brother, Josue. So, I thought this is very exciting for me — actually I’ve already produced music for girl groups but parang hindi ko pa nabigay kumbaga (I haven’t given it my best). But this one, it’s our own [act] so I’m super excited, but definitely, I’d also want them to be self-sufficient. 

Kasi para sa akin, pag artist ka (For me, if you’re an artist), it’s important to have the knowledge to present yourself, na kumpleto ka — kumbaga ‘yung foundations alam mo (that you’re well-rounded and know all the foundations). So, gusto ko (So what I want) personally as a member of SB19 — hindi sa ayaw ko lang sa sumusunod (it’s not that I don’t want to follow), but it’s my life and if I’m going to be the one training — [I] might as well have [a say] in ano man ‘yung ginagawa ko ngayon so wala akong (in whatever I’m doing now so I won’t have any) regrets. Let’s say if it fails or whatnot — parang nakinig lang tapos nag-fail ako (I simply listened and followed but failed in the end) — [then] it’s not good for me. 

So, gusto namin na (we want that) it’s a very collaborative journey. We’re just here to help them be the best na pwede nila ma-achieve (that they can achieve).

Photographed by Easel Manes

You touched on this earlier, but SB19’s been 1Z’s only artist since the very launch. With new artists coming in, how do you plan on balancing everyone’s projects? Especially since the auditions take up a lot of effort. 

Yani: Yes, it’s a lot of work; I totally agree. (Laughs) 1Z’s been around for a year and a half, we’re just turning two so very baby pa kami (we’re still a baby in a way). But since we’re expanding our portfolio, we really have to expand in terms of manpower and resources like space and the team. So, we really have to get more people to help with this project. Very busy din ang SB19 (SB19 is also very busy) so it’s been very challenging to balance schedules, so one [solution] is to have a separate team handling [the auditions], but we’ll manage because we’ll be very involved in the whole training process of the girl group. We’ll really have to sacrifice some of their schedules and they’re very willing naman (anyway). (Laughs) 

How does SB19 plan to be involved in the audition process?

Pablo: To be honest, I want to be part of everything, every step of the way. Well, SB19 is the first baby of 1Z, but for me, the first baby of 1Z will be the girl group. So, gusto ko masubaybayan talaga ang girl group, matulungan ko sila kung anong kaya kong gawin (I really want to keep track of the girl group and help them in every way I can).

And it’s also our pride, ‘di ba (isn’t it)? As SB19, we’re very nitpicky sa pagdating sa mga ire-release namin; lahat ng output namin pinaghandaan (in terms of our releases; we really prepare hard for all of our output). So, I think, ano man ‘yung natutunan namin, i-apply namin sila (we’ll apply everything we’ve learned) to the girl group. And syempre, ‘yung mga brothers ko, ang dami ‘yun masasabi (of course, my brothers in SB19 will have a lot to say).

Photographed by Easel Manes

Ever since 1Z launched, the goal has always been to create a space, not only for SB19 but for Filipino music as a whole to grow and go beyond borders. What other plans do you have to move towards this goal?

Yani: We really want to expand our portfolio, in terms of our creative services that we can offer. Artists can go to 1Z to ask for help when it comes to their music videos, branding, music. We have Pablo and his brother, and the whole team naman (after all).

We also have Justin, who can help with creative ideas and music videos for other artists. We’re really leveraging our strengths, which is the creative side of this industry, so when it comes to out-of-this-world music videos…

Pablo: (Laughs)

Yani: Out of this world talaga, noh? (Out of this world, really?) (Laughs) The ideas that they have [are] not just out of this box, [but also] out of this world. We really want to bring the best out of the artist, gusto namin na mas comfortable sila mag-share kung anong gusto nila (we want them to be more comfortable to share their goals) as artists [and] then we’ll work together to reach that.

That’s [also] the goal [of] 1Z, to really be known in the industry as a company that really helps artists when it comes to their creative output. 

Photographed by Easel Manes

Going back to the auditions, what advice would you give aspiring artists who are looking to audition for your girl group?

Pablo: It’s going to be hard. You’ll always have to be on top of your game because the industry is very competitive. I feel like not everyone is accepting about [this kind of] journey [but] I believe through hard work, kaya natin (we can). Magiging mahirap ‘yung journey pero focus lang tayo sa goal (The journey will be difficult, but we are focused on the goal).

Yani: I hope they will be very excited. For the last few months or even the last year, a lot of doors are opening for P-pop, ang daming (there are many) auditions [that are] very mainstream. Even now, [other] entertainment companies, they’re building their own P-pop group [and] doing their auditions, so grab this opportunity to be the best. And practice — if you really think you have the talent and you’re very willing to learn, audition lang nang audition kasi malay mo naman, ‘di ba (just keep auditioning because you’ll never know, right)?

Pablo: ‘Tsaka parang ang ganda ng timing (The timing is good). In the span of two years, ang daming nag-emerge — BINI nandyan na rin, ang taas din ng reach nila so sunod-sunod na ‘yan. Tama lang ang timing pag nilabas na natin ‘yung girl group. (Many have emerged in a span of two years — like BINI, who have achieved so much — so the timing is right for a new girl group to come out.)

In terms of the creative and visual of the girl group, is there something specific, like a look or concept, you’re going for?

Yani: Meron nang nasa isip nila pero (We have something in mind but) again, we’re very open to getting [anyone]. [The auditions are] open to all and mag-a-adjust din ‘yung group (the group will adjust) based [on what we see fit] during the process. Pero may mga na-visualize na mga ‘yan. Wala namang specific pero may idea na sila. (But they already have a vision for the group. It’s nothing specific yet but there is an idea.)

Pablo: We created songs na so may certain sound na siya, but ayun nga, like sinabi ni Yani, we’ll see kung sino mapipili kasi mahalaga din ‘yung creative output nila. Mas maganda kung gusto nila kung ano gagawin nila. (We created songs with a certain sound, but like Yani said, it’ll depend on who gets picked because their creative output also counts. It will be much better if they love what they’re doing.)

Yani: We’re also trying this process [on] them [that] it’s time to do the other way around and base [the concept] on the characters [who will be chosen]; dun siya ipa-pattern kung anong group gagawin for them, unlike kung may idea ka na and ‘yun lang hahanapin natin (the group’s concept will be patterned after them, instead of pursuing a pre-existing idea for the group). So, we’re very open and very flexible to adjust the group.

Pablo: Sometimes kasi nami-miss out mo kung ano nandiyan kasi may hinahanap ka. (Sometimes you miss out on the talent in front of you just because you’re looking for something else.)

Photographed by Easel Manes

It’s known that P-pop takes a lot after K-pop and there’s a lot of comparisons between the two. How do you think we can differentiate P-pop to be truly its own?

Pablo: Pag dating sa music, wala na tayong magagawa. (When it comes to the music, there’s nothing we can do.) I feel like music is universal — kahit anumang music, pag na-brand mo na ganyan, ganyan siya (whatever kind of music is branded that way, it comes out that way). Ang nangyari kasi (What happened was), K-pop is very well known all over the world; it’s kind of inevitable na ma-compare doon (that P-pop gets compared to it). It’s a product na alam na alam na ng mga tao (that everybody is familiar with).

But ang pinakamaganda [sa K-pop], at na dapat mangyari sa industry natin, dapat magkaroon ng support system. (But what’s good about K-pop, and should happen with our industry, is that it has a support system.) Right now, P-pop is doing its wave, but we’re doing that wave on our own. There are no programs promoting P-pop, there are no variety shows… if you compare it with Korea, they have variety shows where they’ll invite K-pop artists. Meron din (There are) shows like [Street Woman Fighter] na puro (that feature) dancers, like from the hip-hop community and meron silang (they have) challenges to choreograph a K-pop song. It’s a collective effort kasi (really).

‘Di ba sinasabi nila na kung ano ‘yung pinapakain natin na media, ‘yun lang yung mape-perceive natin? (Hasn’t it been said that whatever the media feeds people is also what the people perceive?) If we’re only to see P-pop in a peripheral view, it’ll be very hard, but I believe na parating na ‘yun (that it’s coming). Meron din kaming mga plan on how to promote P-pop or OPM indirectly, ‘yung mga projects na ganyan, kasi mahalaga siya. (We also have plans on how to promote P-pop or OPM indirectly through different projects, because it’s important to do so.)

Is 1Z Entertainment just focused on P-pop, or are there plans to expand to other genres?

Pablo: Siguro one step at a time kami pero hindi namin i-close ‘yung doors namin. (We’re taking things one step at a time, but we won’t close our doors to other genres.)

Yani: We’re doing that naman na (already) so we have one artist — Coach Jay, [the] choreographer [of] “GENTO” — and we also took him as an artist under 1Z. Also [SB19] as soloists — but in terms of expanding, not very soon. 

Pablo: Definitely. I don’t want to say this pero sasabihin ko na din but parang ‘yung competitiveness na din dito sa Philippines, iba eh (I’ll say it anyway — the competitiveness here in the Philippines is on another level). It’s barricading; it’s not competitive as in friendly competition. Ang daming (There are many) comparisons and parang, “Eto yung sa amin eh, so eto lang ‘yung i-promote namin,” ganyan (the fans are saying, “This group is ours, so they’re the only ones we’ll promote”). So, sana ma-eliminate ‘yun (we hope to eliminate that mentality), and sa 1Z, gusto namin na hindi lang ‘yung artist namin i-help namin (with 1Z, we want to help not just our own artists); we also want to offer our services to other artists. 

Photographed by Easel Manes

Pablo, as a producer, how do you differentiate your sound — and by extension, SB19’s sound when you work and make music with other artists?

Pablo: As Pablo, I have my own style. I helped Stell with his debut single “Room,” and it’s not the typical music that Pablo will make so nababase lang ako sa artist and anong gusto nilang music (I base the music on the artist and the music they like). It’s always a challenge for me to create something new; it’s super exciting to the point na parang gusto ko na lang mag-create (that I just want to create music) for other people. Gusto ko ma-materialize yung anong na-e-envision nila for themselves (I want the sound they envision for themselves to be materialized). 

Hindi naman siya hindrance for me na may style ako para sa sarili ko (It’s not a hindrance for me that I have my own style). My number one thing is na gusto na ma-meet ‘yung artist para mag-usap ng mga goals nila (I want to meet the artist to talk about their goals) and where I can meet them. I don’t work remotely na parang gagawa ako ng kanta tapos bibigay ko na lang sa ‘yo (that I’ll just make a song and give it to them). Gusto ko may input pa rin ng artist (I still want the artist to give their input).

So, your creative process as a producer is really very collaborative?

Pablo: Yes, very collaborative. Gusto ko may input talaga from them (I really want them to give their input).

Yani: I think it’s part of what you mentioned before na may piece of artist sa music nila and dapat ganon talaga (that the artist would still have a piece of themselves in their music).

It’s also what I think differentiates P-pop from K-pop, where the output is always expected to be fast so it doesn’t leave much room for that same level of collaboration. 

Pablo: Yeah, I don’t want to say bad things but since parang ang [high] ng demand [na] parang nagiging factory na ang K-pop (demand is so high that K-pop has become a factory of sorts). Parang i-train sila, bibigyan sila ng song, tapos i-perform nila then again and again (The artists are trained, then they’re given a song to perform again and again). If you search K-pop groups, ang dami talaga, hindi mo mabibilang (there are so many that you can’t count them) — but also, the good thing is that even if you’re a small group or from a small company, may audience na sila (they already have an audience). 

Photographed by Easel Manes

During your training, were you prepped for that kind of system?

Pablo: Well, I’m going to tell you the story of SB19. Syempre may tinatawag na (Of course there’s what you call a) Korean training system but it’s a very general term — parang (like) each Korean management, iba-iba sila ng (they each have a different way of) training. Kami, personally, hindi namin na-experience ‘yung training system nila pero (we didn’t experience that kind of training system but) we have friends na nakapag-train sa (who were able undergo training at) RBW and sobrang intensive ng training nila na parang may schedule sila for gym, studying languages, dancing, singing (their training is so intensive that they have schedules for gym, studying languages, dancing, and singing). Like lahat talaga may schedule and meron silang free time to hone their skills [by] themselves. Sa amin, hindi ganon. (Everything has a schedule, and they have free time to hone their skills by themselves. It wasn’t that way with us.)

‘Yung sa amin, nagkaroon kami ng mentor— isa lang ‘yung mentor namin, nag-iisa lang siya (For us, we only had one mentor).Tapos meron kaming (And then we had) personality development classes for how we present ourselves onstage, [but] other than that, wala na (nothing else). Parang (It’s like) we were left in the training room to hone our skills ourselves. 

So, hindi ko masabi na Korean training system siya. May comparison kami sa Korean training system and may na-meet din kami na Korean artists na tinatanong din namin about how they trained, and same ‘yung mga experiences nila. (So I can’t say that we underwent the Korean training system. There are comparisons and we got to meet Korean artists whom we asked how they trained, and they had similar experiences.) 

So parang nangyari, naiwan kami sa (what happened was, we were left in the) training room. Personally, may knowledge ako sa singing (I had singing knowledge) and I tried to teach singing to [the] other members, and then ‘yung magaling sa dance, nagturuan kami ng dance (those who were good at dancing taught us how to dance). Dun ko napatunayan na (That’s how I proved that) experience is the best teacher. Kapag may event kami, nagtuturuan lang kami, or kunwari may songs kaming kailangan i-record, ako ‘yung magre-record sa kanila (Whenever there was an event, we taught each other right there, or if a song needed to be recorded, I would be the one to record them). Talagang inaral namin lahat, so lahat ng content namin, kami din ‘yung nag-edit before (We learned everything; we even edited our own content by ourselves before).

Unti-unti nagkaroon kami ng team tapos nagtutulungan na kami, pero ‘yung skills talaga namin, self-taught talaga ng buong grupo. So, mahirap talaga sabihin na nag-Korean training system kami. (Eventually we were able to form a team and we helped each other, but all our skills were really self-taught. So it’s hard to say that we underwent the Korean training system.)

You did all of that here, in the Philippines?

Pablo: Yes, dito. So, yeah, ang daming ‘sayangs’ — ‘yung ‘yun mga maraming ‘sayangs’ kami (we regret a lot of things). Kumbaga if may teacher kami, baka mabilis pa ‘yung pag-hone sa skills namin, pero ‘yung nangyari sa amin is a lot of trial and error. (If we had a teacher, we would have honed our skills much faster, but what we experienced was a lot of trial and error.)

I wouldn’t say it’s a bad thing. I would say it’s a bad practice, [but] for us, since we really took our time training, nag-pay off naman siya kasi marunong kami mag-produce [ng music], mag-direct ng sariling videos (it paid off because we learned how to produce music and direct our own videos). ‘Yun din ‘yung gusto namin matutunan ng mga artists namin para may idea sila at pwedeng nila i-execute ‘yung ideas nila. (That’s what we want to impart to our artists, so they can come up with ideas that they could execute themselves.)

Kaya siguro may 1Z ngayon (I think that’s why 1Z exists). (Laughs) I mean, nandito kami (we’re here) because of what we learned. 

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Photography by Easel Manes. Art direction by Nicole Almero.