1st.One: Triumphs and tribulations of one of P-pop’s most exciting boy bands
The boys of the P-pop boy band 1st.One—composed of Alpha, J, Jayson, Joker, Max and their leader Ace—may hew closely to the DNA of conventional idol groups.
But while it’s easy for tracks like “One Dream,” “Oh,” “Turn Up,” “You Are the One” and the brand-new ballad “Oras” to sweep music lovers off their feet, closer scrutiny of songs like the genre-breaching “Shout Out”—produced by their management group FirstOne Entertainment Corp. and released under Warner Music Philippines—quickly reveal how 1st.One has set itself apart from the rest of the madding P-pop crowd.
But while we’ve not been seeing the group as often as we should, the boys have nevertheless been exceeding their followers’ expectations and racking up accolades that their fans—collectively called ForOne—can truly take pride in.
With the release of “Shout Out,” for instance, 1st.One became only the second P-pop group, after SB19, to scale and top Billboard’s Hot Trending Chart.
As if that isn’t impressive enough, the Pinoy idols also made history when they became the first Filipino boy band to perform at the prestigious Seoul Music Awards in 2020 in South Korea, where they dazzled the crowd alongside guests like NCT Dream, Super Junior, Twice, Itzy, Red Velvet, TXT and other K-pop luminaries.
When we met the group one rainy night late last month for this exclusive interview, we asked 1st.One, with their general manager/mentor VJ Caber in tow, what they thought was driving their career’s upward trajectory and setting them apart from their P-pop peers.
Ace said that it could be the way that they’ve managed to blur or converge individual tastes and transmogrify into “one unit.”
He explained, “We may be different individuals with diverse personalities, but when we step on a stage, we become one strong, cohesive team—so people see us as one unit. We train long and hard, so we know by now how each one of us operates and make this work to our advantage.
“It’s all about being comfortable with the artistry of each member and consolidating our individual skills. One of our main strengths is dancing. But you can also hear us deliver diverse sounds, from pop to hard hip-hop, or you can watch us channel the singing-and-dancing combo of K-pop groups like Monsta X and the original BTS, thanks to our different musical backgrounds.”
Asked to weigh in on the surge and growth of P-pop on the global scene, Ace was quick to say that the different sources of music these days, regardless of where they’re coming from (whether it’s K-pop, J-pop and so on), are often influenced by each other. But even with that interconnectivity, he also thinks that there’s something else that makes P-pop special.
“Of course there’s something unique about each sound, but in reality, music nowadays is inspired by each other,” he asserted. “The internet gives us easy access to information, so that somehow helps bridge the differences of each country, culture or music.
“At the same time, Filipinos are globally renowned not only for our singing skills, but also for having so much soul. K-pop is known for its polish, perfection and beautiful sound. But as for P-pop, and this is true for all our brothers and sisters in this industry, like SB19 and Dione, one of the first things that you’ll notice is the passion that comes through in their performances. You don’t just hear it, you feel it as well.”
Through the group’s ups and downs, the boys are appreciative of how their experiences have helped them become better and more evolved versions of themselves. How did 1st.One change them individually?
“This group changed the way I see and appreciate music,” Max admitted. “Before this, I was more of a dancer than a singer. But Ace and the other guys taught me to really listen to music and understand what it’s about.”
Jay, on the other hand, realized the importance of having harmony in diversity. He said, “I learned about pakikisama or brotherhood. I used to be part of a dance group, but the bond that we forged in 1st.One when we began living in one dorm can be likened to having another family.
“They’re always there for you, and you’re compelled to adjust to them and they to you. You also realize that you can’t always do things your way—and that’s perfectly alright.”
Alpha said that the pandemic helped them develop their chemistry as a team. He explained, “It taught us discipline and, more importantly, patience. Together, we were locked down for more than one year, so we really got to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses—and that became the source of our connection.”
Joker agreed, “Yes, because of discipline, we all got better at dancing, singing, at observing our diet, and taking better care of ourselves. So, over time, you see how all these factors are helping shape your performances—you learn what to do, what not to do, and how to make each performance count.”
For his part, Jayson described his entry into the team as a learning experience. He recounted, “From someone who had zero experience, I soon learned how to sing, dance and rap—it was like starting from scratch!
“For someone like me who comes from the province, this really changed my perspective on things—nabago nito ang mindset ko and made me realize that there’s more to life than just waiting for opportunities to come your way.”
720 degrees of change
Understandably, the member with more adjustments to hurdle was Ace, who was pursuing a solo singing career (and even recorded songs like “Ikaw Pa Rin” and “Giliw”) before joining 1st.One.
“It felt like I was going through 720 degrees of change (laughs),” quipped Ace. “I went through the first 360 degrees with my solo career, then the next one when I had to start from scratch and join a P-pop group.
“But more than anything, the rigorous training in Seoul that I had to undergo made me appreciate what it really takes to be an idol—it’s like being a soldier getting trained to understand how the whole system works. It prepared me not just to lead, but to also become a kuya to the other members of the group.
“I see myself more as a brother figure. My view of leadership is twofold: A leader is someone who can serve and someone who can lead. The guys helped me with the leading part—like, when we make a song, I just lay out the skeleton of every song, then every one of us contributes to it.”
For VJ, the group’s manager (who also happens to be a member of the illustrious Ryan Cayabyab Singers), Ace and his colleagues more than just “contribute” to the group’s success.
He noted, “They’re very strong performers who work as hard with their singing as with their choreography. For these boys, the stakes are always very high—and you feel that in their performances.
“So when you watch them perform, they’re like members of a seasoned international dance group that also happens to be an exceptional P-pop boy band. They’re a sight to behold at mapapa-headbang ka talaga sa kanila (laughs).”
When asked to discuss their songs, Ace intimated, “There’s a misconception about what ‘You Are the One’—written at the height of the pandemic—is about. Some of our followers think it’s a love song, or about our relationship with the fans, but there’s more to it than that. It’s a song about our dreams. If we go by the lyrics, it says that a world without the realization of your dreams is a fantasy.
“Other than being thought of as a love song, it carries a deeper meaning. Max and Joker mentioned earlier how our song ‘Oh’ was about the group almost disbanding because of the challenges brought in by the pandemic. But ‘You Are the One’ reflects our doubts… if it was still possible for us to debut as a group because of the perpetual lockdowns at the time. It’s about taking a leap of faith to give our dreams a fighting chance.”
J also talked about 1st.One’s latest single “Oras.” He pointed out, “It is a reminder not to waste your time over needless things. Cherish it because you can’t turn back the clock if you waste it. Although, for me, as long as we enjoy the things we do, it still won’t be a waste of time because, even if we make mistakes, we can also learn from them.”
As for “Shout Out,” Ace said that they were already writing the songs soon after finishing “You Are the One.” He further disclosed, “But we encountered a lot of difficulties at the time because of the pandemic, so it was really one year in the making! After ‘Oh,’ that was the time when our management said that we were finally ready to release ‘Shout Out.’
“We really cried after filming its music video because it became our battle cry—it’s a shoutout to victory. It means, after breaking the chains that are holding you back, it’s time for you to reach for whatever you want to achieve in life.
“It’s also about the unsung heroes at the Battle of Yultong during the Korean Civil War that had Filipino soldiers fighting side by side with South Koreans and winning against the mighty North Koreans and Chinese troops. Not a lot of people know about this, but it was a classic case of David winning over Goliath.”
Which of their music videos best reflects what the group represents?
“It’s probably ‘Turn Up,’” answered J. “The song has a very positive message. It says that even when you’re having a bad day, things will eventually get better—that’s what we are as a team. When we have problems or in times when we find ourselves fighting, we try to bear it and grin and not let things stress us out.” INQ