While many may think today that Pinoy pop (P-pop) is a direct copy from the famous Korean pop (K-pop) industry, the former is actually a sub-genre branching out from the Original Pilipino Music (OPM) genre. It is said to have first emerged in the 70s, and throughout the 90s to the 2000s, P-pop was primarily dominated by live band acts such as Neocolours, Side A, and Freestyle. The country also has its fair share of producing singing and dancing groups, but it was only in the 2020s that P-pop transitioned into having a more structured industry.
With previous groups such as Hashtags (2015) and GirlTrends (2016), it was obvious that ABS-CBN Entertainment Head Director Laurenti “Direk Lauren” Dyogi always had this fascination with forming group acts.
In an interview with Rappler earlier this year, Direk Lauren shared his prior attempts to create a group full of talented young Filipinos and how it became an experimental phase for him to learn the ins and outs and unravel the formula to produce successful acts.
Unlike his previous groups, who were set to eventually transition from dancing-singing acts to actors and actresses, Direk Lauren launched his new group hunting project with the intention to target the international audience and join the idol industry, mirroring the sensational Korean wave.
So, in 2018, the entertainment director launched the Star Hunt Academy (SHA) program to scout for aspiring Filipino idols across the country.
Scouting for young Filipino talents
SHA is a training ground for select artists, poised to reach the level of expertise that made the South Korean Pop industry into a phenomenon. The program conducted a nationwide audition searching for your Filipino talents, and among the initial 250 auditionees aged 16-19, only 100 aspirants made it through the week-long boot camp. During the final in-house camp, these trainees were narrowed down to less than 20.
These trainees will undergo rigorous multi-dimensional training, including voice and dance classes, fitness and nutrition, personality development, and performing arts. They will also be aided by life coaching, counseling sessions, and social media workshops, all of which will become handy throughout their career as an idol.
Direk Lauren and his team originally planned to form a seven-member boy group “but along the way, part of the training and getting—personality compatibility among members and character, if they can survive the hard training and has enough motivation to push through—eventually, we ended up with…[five boys],” he said.
And this is how they came down to the five SHA boys.
SHA Boys training journey
On August 3, 2019, the five remaining rookies were officially introduced as the Star Hunt Academy Boy Trainees in the online pre-show of the Pinoy Big Brother: Otso Big Night, followed by their first-ever mall show in Taguig a month after.
The quintet went through two intense years of training under Filipino and South Korean mentors from MU Doctor Academy—the same idol training agency where STRAY KIDS’ Seo Changbin and WINNER’s Song Minho attended before joining their respective South Korean entertainment labels.
Direk Lauren showcased the boys’ progress by sharing one of the latter’s practices in May 2020 via TWITTER, dancing to SEVENTEEN’s Let Me Hear You Say. Around this time, fans began building up to support these boys.
As promised here’s one of the practice videos of SHA boy trainees: Akira, Angelo, Mikki and Nate. Unfortunately JL and RJ were sick during this practice.#TuloyAngPangarap#StarHuntAcademyTrainees pic.twitter.com/OCJQcKbp30— Direk Lauren (@direklauren) May 15, 2020
In the subsequent months, the SHA has released vlogs of the trainees on YouTube and performance videos on Twitter until their debut in late 2020.
An August 2020 article by ABS-CBN Entertainment described one of the group’s dance practice performances as impressive as their moves were very “intricate, synchronized, powerful, sharp” — and I couldn’t agree more. I mean, look at them:
Been a tough year for all of us, including the SHAtrainees, pero tuloy ang pangarap! They continue to work hard for their launch this year. Please continue to support these kids! pic.twitter.com/b7M6Yythyl— Direk Lauren (@direklauren) August 8, 2020
Signed under Star Magic and record label Star Music, members Akira, Gelo, JL, Mikki, and Nate were finally launched as BGYO (pronounced as B-G-Y-O). Contrary to popular belief, BGYO is not a shortened Filipino word for bagyo (storm). Instead, it is an acronym for “Becoming the change, Going further, You and I, Originally Filipino.”
I can’t blame why some might think their name is associated with it, though, considering these boys have taken on the local music scene by storm since their debut.
Meet the BGYO boys
Get to know each of the boys below!
Angelo Troy Rivera, or Gelo, is BGYO’s lead rapper, lead dancer, center, and the face of the group. He is also the leader of the group. He was born on April 18, 2001 (yes, an Aries), hailing from Pasay City. Gelo was preparing for a hip-hop competition in the United States when he was invited by one of the SHA coaches to audition.
“Out of curiosity and baka magandang opportunity ito, pumunta ako for the audition,” he recalled in an exclusive interview with Metro Style.
(Out of curiosity, and it might be a good opportunity, I went to the audition.)
“On the way pa lang, noon ko lang nalaman na kailangan din pala ng singing. Eh my strength is dancing so nag-come up ako agad ng song na para lang makakanta ako,” adding he met JL on the audition day and even had a showdown with him. Luckily, both boys made it to the week-long Bootcamp, and the rest was history.
(On the way [to the audition], I just learned that I also need to sing. But my strength is dancing, so I come up with a song to perform.)
Filipino-Japanese Akira Morishita, known mononymously as Akira, is the lead vocalist and main visual of the group. He is nine months younger than Gelo, born on April 27, 2001. Before joining the group, Akira was an Indie actor known for starring in SundalongKanin and Alienasyon in 2014, AllofMe (2015), and ‘Tol (2019). He also appeared in several local TV commercials.
Encouraged by the staff of the teleserye he was working at, Akira sent his audition video to SHA. After the grueling two years of training and many aspirants bid goodbye to the camp, Akira made it through and stood beside his fellow members.
John Lloyd Toreliza, or simply JL, is the group’s main vocalist hailing from Naic, Cavite. A Virgo born on September 17, 2001, JL grew up surrounded by music and eventually auditioned for singing contests. He even was a former participant on a National TV singing show, The Clash, in 2018. But, unfortunately, the then-17-year-old aspiring artist did not make it to the show’s finals. Despite that, it discouraged him from lining up for the SHA audition, which he said wasn’t a walk in a park, especially when he officially joined the training camp together with his future bandmates.
Michael Claver Jr., known mononymously as Mikki, is BGYO’s main rapper and was born on February 13, 2002. The Chinese-Filipino idol was the last to join the Star Hunt. Born in a musically-inclined family, it seems becoming a Popstar is a no-brainer for Mikki. Inspired by his brother’s DJ career and passion for music, the 19-year-old rapper got into hip-hop and wrote his own rap lyrics.
When he learned SHA was looking for a rapper, despite his initial hesitance, he went to the audition to try his luck—and indeed, he was lucky! Without any background in singing and dancing, plus being the last one to join the camp, Mikki has pushed himself twice as hard to keep up. It didn’t go to waste, though, because after two years of rigorous training, he debuted as the group’s main rapper.
Last but not least, Nathaniel Porcalla, or Nate, is the group’s main dancer, sub-rapper, and bunso. Born on June 26, 2003, Nate spent most of his childhood in Chicago, USA. He began showing interest in dancing at the age of six and went back and forth to Manila to compete in different Filipino shows like Dance Kids Philippines and World of Dance Philippines. However, Nate’s mom impacted his interest and current career as a P-pop idol. In the same exclusive Metro Style interview, Nate shared that his mom discovered K-pop with his Tita. “She loves EXO, BTS, and more groups po.”
His ever-supportive mom even flew him to Korea when he decided to take up classes at the 1M Dance Studio and look for places to audition. Nate didn’t need to look further, though, as he soon received an invitation to audition for SHA. After sending his audition video, he joined the older members for the two-year training. Along with his kuyas, Nate debuted as one of the BGYO’s members in early 2020.
Like most acts, BGYO unveiled the official name for its fanbase four months after its debut. On April 9, during a Kumu livestream, BGYO’s leader Gelo announced that after sifting through hundreds of name suggestions sent by their fans, the fanbase would be called ACEs.
BGYO’s Music & Cultural Impact and Milestones
Pre-debut, the members were already declared as youth ambassadors of the National Youth Commission and even attended the 2019 Manila Southeast Asian Games thanksgiving celebration. In an interview following their debut, the boys expressed feeling excited, happy, and pressured, all at the same time, as the newest representation of P-pop.
BGYO dropped their very first studio album The Light, on October 7 this year, containing the tracks The Light (title track), He’s Into Her, The Baddest, When I’m with You, and Kundiman. All the band members were involved in the music production along with Distract, who previously worked with K-pop groups SISTAR, NCT, and GOT7. The single surpassed 100,000 streams on Spotify in less than two weeks after its release, and fifty-three days later made it on Spotify’s RADAR Philippines 2021 Roster.
The Light MV reached the 1 million views milestone on YouTube six days after it premiered on the platform, earning the fastest debut MV of a P-pop act feat. It also set a new record for being the “Most Liked Music Video in a Debut Song” by a P-pop group of all time.
Despite only debuting this year, the boys were already named as the “Aces of P-pop”, recognizing their incredible vocals while maintaining synchronized dance moves.
“Pinaghihirapan talaga nila. Kahit may sakit. They have the right attitude, behavior, they’re very humble. Hindi sila demanding [at] mareklamo. Nag–aaral lahat yan. We’re very proud that Aki is a dean’s lister. Talagang kahanga–hanga yung ginagawa nila,” Direk Lauren said in a media conference.
(They all work for it. Even if they’re sick. They have the right attitude, behavior, they’re very humble. They are not demanding [and] whiners. All while working on their studies. We’re very proud that Aki is a dean’s lister. They’re truly an inspiration.)
Other recognitions the boys received include the “Best Theme Song” award for He’s Into Her at the 2021 Asian Academy Creative Awards and the “People’s Voice Favorite Group Artist” award at the 34th Awit Awards. BGYO also made it to global charts as a consistent spot holder in Billboard’s Next Big Sound and Next Big Sound’s Pandora Prediction Chart for weeks.
Zooming into their second year since its debut, the boys continue to work hard, dropping music and performing on-stage performances.
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