The making of AâTin: Filipino London-based scholar investigates SB19 fandom
SB19 releases its first album 'Get in the Zone!' today, July 31, under Sony Music Philippines.
SB19 via Facebook
The making of A’Tin: Filipino London-based scholar investigates SB19 fandom
(Philstar.com) - July 31, 2020 - 3:53pm

MANILA, Philippines — Fans of SB19 are called A’Tin. For those who are not in the know yet, SB19 is the phenomenal Filipino boy group of five young men named Justin, Ken, Stell, Sejun and Josh, which is currently breaking records in the music industry. 

SB19’s current single, “Alab (Burning),” stayed on the number one spot of Myx Daily Top Ten for 63 consecutive days, an all-time record. It has recently become the first Southeast Asian act to have reached the Top 3 of Billboard Social 50, a metrics which gauges the strength of social media engagement of artists around the world. It has recently won at this year’s MYX Awards – Best Song, Best New Artist, and Artist of the Year – an unprecedented feat for a newcomer. 

I have been following the group since its music video for another song, “Go UP,” went viral after it was posted on YouTube and Twitter on September 2, 2019. As a scholar of language, my interest revolves around the making and emergence of linguistic and cultural practices in the fandom. This means not only reading articles about them and watching their music videos and vlogs on Youtube, but more importantly also following SB19’s engagement with their fans, critics and bashers in different social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and TikTok.

While most people see in SB19 a rising Pilipino Pop (P-Pop) group which is slowly inching its way into the global entertainment scene, I track the emergence of innovative linguistic and cultural practices within the fandom which could tell us more about how our youth, and our society in general, think and behave amid the changing landscape of politics and culture. 

What's in a name?    

The making of the name “A’Tin,” for example, is one fascinating illustration of how fandoms, to some extent, are microcosms of everyday life. 

“A’Tin” means ‘ours’ (atin in Tagalog) because the group’s success is shared with the fans as well. There is no 18 without SB19. But how “A’Tin” has undergone linguistic transformation tells us a lot about how power and culture are mobilized in language use.

When A’Tin, the official fandom name, was introduced by SB19 through their Facebook Live on November 2, 2019, it immediately became an identity-defining moment. Language is a naming practice, and if a group of people is named in a particular way, the people begin to think and act according to the demand of the name. But such naming only becomes successful because there is agreement (not always mutual, unfortunately) between the “namer” and the “named.” 

In the case of SB19, fans were named and defined as being an intrinsic part of the success of the group. There is no SB19 without the A’Tin. It is an irresistible, brilliant name-making strategy, especially because it crystallized an idea which the fans have been floating all along: SB19 represents their dreams and struggles in life, and every victory in the process feels like it is everyone’s victory. Finally, they say, there is a Filipino boy group which they can be proud of and dream of seeing do well internationally. 

In social media, this is visually represented by SB19 x A’Tin in “stan” accounts and posts. The idea is repeated unceasingly in posts and comments, and SB19 themselves unmistakenly frame their understanding of their success in this way. Their “atin”-centered expression of gratitude mobilizes the everyday life of the group and the fans. The idea of “A’Tin” contributes to the establishment of a coherent fandom which in turn organizes the affective and psychological make up of those who follow the struggles and successes of the group. 

This explains why, despite their lower number of followers in social media thus far compared to K-Pop giants and American superstars, they remain comfortably placed in Billboard Social 50. Hours, especially minutes, before Billboard updates its charts every week, there is palpable nervousness and excitement among the A’Tin. 

With SB19 x A’Tin, the line that demarcates idols from fans is blurred. The heightened anticipation to see the name of SB19 in the Billboard charts is internalized as a collective experience. The A’Tin are SB19, and SB19 are the A’Tin. All Pinoys. All breaking free from life’s troubles and challenges in the name of talent, hardwork and perseverance. The naming of an idea has enabled the idea to shape emotions and practices which break down barriers between artists and their fans.

The A’Tin standardization 

The emotional and psychological coherence accomplished through the naming of A’Tin, however, also cracks open another dimension of language as a naming practice. When fans began to refer to themselves as A’Tin, they do so in many different variations. They call themselves A’Tin, A’Tins, ATin, ATins, Atin or Atin. 

In general, such varying mutations of the term did not really bother the fandom. Everyone seemed content with their own grammatical or orthographical (spelling) use of the term. Even SB19’s informal vlogs and posts use varying spelling conventions. 

The presence of many versions of the name is understandable because the communicative function of their use has not altered people’s engagement with each other. If users of a language understand each other perfectly well even if they use different grammatical norms or spelling conventions, linguistic variation should not really be an issue. This is typical in communities which have strong oral traditions. 

But as linguistic communities aim towards literacy, however, communicative function is not the only basis for successful communication. A literate community also requires its people to read and write, thus it demands – or desires – uniformity, standardization and stability. It is no longer just about being able to communicate with each other. It is now also about following formal rules of communication. But who lays down the rules, and what is the basis for people to follow the rules?

Last February 7, Sejun, the “Pinuno” or leader of the group, tweeted: 

“A’Tin”

kating kati na ko sabihin to matagal na. Wag nyo lagyan ng “s”. Nao-OC ako. Collective Noun na yan, nawawala yung sense. Wag niyo na lagyan ng S. I love you AllS. Bye everyoneS.

See you ALLs tom.

 

 

Sejun asked everyone to stop adding “s” to “A’Tin” because it is a collective noun. 

Almost instantly, this tweet spread like wildfire in the fandom – A’Tin would rather call their community a family – and took control of linguistic behavior in social media. I call it a disciplining act, represented half-jokingly with images of Sejun with a stick or hanger every time someone fails to follow the new convention of using the fandom name. There is now self-policing in the use of the name. 

There is, in fact, also a community-wide policing of its use such that one now rarely sees an A’Tin making “mistakes” in using it. What used to be a diversity of ways in using the name is now a set of correct and wrong uses of the name. One standard way of using it is the authorized one while all others are now illegitimate and thus must be discarded. 

Linguistic practices in the fandom are in no way exactly the same “outside” it. There are nuances that must be considered when one examines language use in fandoms because the stakes are obviously lower when one commits mistakes, than when one commits an “error” in school or in church.

Nevertheless, minus these nuances, what happens in fandoms gives us concrete examples of how language behaves in society. 

In the case of “A’Tin”, for example, we see how the legitimization of what is correct and what is wrong assumes an exercise of power or authority. The success of standardization also depends on whether or not language users recognize and submit to authority. Such recognition need not be accomplished through brute or physical force, but through the authority’s use of social and cultural capital. 

In the case of Sejun, his capital is his being the leader of a highly musically gifted group who also happens to be the main writer of the lyrics of their songs. He arranges their cover songs and distributes the lines among them. 

Just like teachers, lawyers and doctors (among other professions) whose cultural capital is their specialist knowledge of their respective fields or work, Sejun is recognized as a brilliant artist who knows what he is doing. Just like leaders, especially charismatic and respectable ones, Sejun is recognized as a trustworthy and competent leader.

In the process, the use of “A’Tin” has become another identity-defining practice. A “true” A’Tin uses the name without an “s” while a “fake” one does. In other words, the standardization of the name has also led to inclusionary and exclusionary practices. 

Whereas different forms of the name used to be acceptable, now, these forms take on new meanings about how one becomes and behaves like a true A’Tin. 

This is exactly how language works: by itself it does not mean or do anything. But when people use it, it now wields power over everyone. It requires you to speak, act and behave in appropriate or correct ways. If you are incapable of doing so, there will be consequences.  This is where the power of artists is most useful – or dangerous. 

Conclusion

The topic of this article is just one of the many linguistic and cultural phenomena which are shaping SB19. The making of “A’Tin” is an ongoing process. 

Thus, what is fascinating to note is that “A’Tin” is also reshaping Sejun and his groupmates in terms of how they engage their fans. Looking at SB19 from the “outside” cannot explain fully why the group’s rise has been phenomenal and will continue to be so. 

SB19 x A’Tin is changing the landscape of social media engagement not seen even among Filipino and K-Pop groups, thus, we need to take notice.

About the writer 

Ruanni Tupas lives with his wife and three kids in London. He is a leading Filipino scholar of English language and multilingualism who lectures at the Department of Communication, Culture and Media, Institute of Education, University College London. 

He also taught at the University of the Philippines, Virginia Polytechnic and State University, the National Institute of Education in Singapore, and the National University of Singapore where he completed his doctorate. 

He is an Associate Editor of the International Journal of the Sociology of Language and sole editor of “Unequal Englishes: The Politics of Englishes Today” (Palgrave MacMillan, 2015). 

When it comes to SB19, he is proudly OT5, but there are times when he gets frozen, joins the craziness in the poultry, cracks jokes in the cornfield, eats strawberries and passes time at the barbecue stand.

RELATED: How SB19 transforms social media engagement: London-based Filipino scholar shares findings

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