20 Questions With SB19’s Josh Cullen: On Solo Debut, World Tour & Sharing the Philippines ‘Both Locally and Internationally’
Last year was important for the expansion of SB19. Not only did the Philippines’ reigning pop kings expand their worldview with their first English single, “WYAT (Where You At),” and visited cities throughout North America, Asia and the Middle East on their Where You At world tour, but saw their rising impact on charts like Billboard’s Hot Trending Songs chart when they became just the second-ever act to top the real-time Twitter-powered tally. In 2023, the members have taken it upon themselves to expand their individual music careers, including the solo debut of eldest member Josh Cullen.
The rapper-singer-dancer showcased his full range of talents on his first single “WILD TONIGHT” while embracing an image much darker than SB19’s beloved Pinoy-pop style. Adopting a vampire concept, the 29-year-old lets loose both visually in the music video and musically by changing his vocal styles and approaches throughout the track. “WILD TONIGHT” marks significant growth from the more restrained energy Josh previously showed when he hopped on the remix to “Sofa,” recorded with his cousin and fellow Filipino musician Ocho the Bullet. Cullen was clearly ready to unleash something much more powerful with the star saying that “WILD TONIGHT” is just the first stroke in his burgeoning solo career.
Just when SB19’s adoring fans—affectionately known as A’TIN—thought they could pin Josh down as P-pop’s dark and wild party boy, the star switched things up with his heavier second single, “Pakiusap Lang,” that embraced edgier hip-hop and R&B beats sound while sharing his acting skills in the accompanying music video that explores the twists and turns in a complicated relationship.
Before the release of “Pakiusap Lang,” and as rumors buzz that SB19 is gearing up to release new music ahead of their fifth anniversary in October, Josh found some time to sit down for Billboard to reflect on his solo career and what makes up his musical viewpoint in these 20 Questions.
“Honestly, if I could have a vacation right now, I totally would,” Cullen laughs when he thinks about how far he and his bandmates have come in these past years. “Still, I love what we’re doing and know I have to work hard to make it happen.”
Read on for more from Josh Cullen including new stories from his career, first musical memories, hints about future releases and more.
1. Where are you living and working from right now?
At the moment, I don’t have a fixed location as I’ve been prioritizing my passion for music and exploring new experiences. Though I’ve come a long way in my personal and professional life, I know that there is still much more to learn, discover, and achieve. I’m eager to see where this journey takes me and I’m committed to working tirelessly towards my aspirations.
2. You’ve made your solo debut with “WILD TONIGHT.” Can you explain the significance of this moment for you and the meaning of the title?
As an artist, I chose to title my solo debut “WILD TONIGHT” because I wanted to convey a sense of unleashing the beast or the fun inside oneself at night. It’s about how a vampire might seek revenge or how a normal person might embrace their wild side. I think the title is significant because it represents a sense of liberation and escape from the mundane aspects of daily life. It also encourages listeners to embrace their individuality and uniqueness. To me, “WILD TONIGHT” conveys a sense of excitement, energy, and a bit of danger. It invites people to join me on a journey of self-expression and exploration.
3. Your fans might be surprised to hear you both rapping and singing. Did you want to make sure of all sides of yourself with this first single?
I wanted to make sure that my fans get a glimpse of all sides of myself with this first single. I wanted to showcase everything—from my music to dance, rap to singing, creativity, choreography and every little detail to be at its fullest potential. I have been working hard, perfecting my craft and waiting for the perfect opportunity to come forward. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for to show the world what I’m truly capable of. I’m excited to share this new chapter of my journey with them and hope they enjoy the music as much as I did creating it.
4. Going off the song title, “WILD TONIGHT,” can you recall your craziest night out?
When it comes to the craziest night out I’ve ever had, one experience definitely comes to mind. It all started innocently enough with my friends inviting me out to chill and grab a bite to eat. However, things quickly escalated when everyone ended up getting super drunk, myself included, and by the end of the night, I found myself in a situation where I was two hours away from home and had no idea how to get back. In the end, I ended up hopping on a bus and riding home, having my autopilot body switch activated. Looking back, it was definitely a wild night and not exactly what I had planned when I first agreed to hang out with my friends. But it’s a story that I’ll always remember!
5. What’s the first album or piece of music you bought for yourself, and what was the medium?
I don’t quite remember the exact title, but I believe it was a Linkin Park album that I bought. I bought it on CD format because that was the most common way to buy music back then. I remember being so excited to have my own copy of the album and being able to listen to it whenever I wanted. It was a really important part of my younger years and I still have fond memories of listening to it on repeat.
6. You wrote and composed “WILD TONIGHT.” Tell us about how you worked on the lyrics.
Working on the lyrics was a bit of a struggle, to be honest. I wanted to make sure the vampire concept was in there, but also have it relate to real life. I was stuck on the first verse for days and couldn’t come up with anything that felt right. But then, one night at 3 a.m., I had this crazy dream with the perfect lyrics and melody for the first verse. I was like, “Oh, shit, I gotta record this now!” And it turned out to be exactly what I needed.
As for the pre-chorus, I also hit a roadblock and was struggling to come up with something catchy. I started brainstorming and thought to myself, “What’s something people will easily remember and sing?” I was running out of ideas and was like, “Fuck it, let’s try this even if it sounds stupid.” That’s when I decided to throw in the “La-la la la” part. It was a crazy idea, but it ended up being the most catchy and memorable part of the song.
All in all, I’m really proud of how it turned out and I hope the people can feel the passion and love that went into creating it.
7. You also co-produced the single. What’s your background with music production?
My background with music production is pretty limited. I don’t really know much about music theory or anything like that. But I’ve dabbled in it a little bit and have been able to pick up some things along the way. I wouldn’t say I’m a pro or anything, but I think what I’m good at is having a good ear and being able to make good judgments about the sounds and overall vibe of the music. And you know what, I’m glad that my cousin Ocho [the Bullet] who is just as crazy as me, has co-produced the single with me. It’s been a fun journey working together and bouncing ideas off each other. We’re not afraid to experiment and push boundaries, which has led to some really unique and exciting sounds in the final product. Plus, being a performer for a long time, I have a good sense of what makes a great song and I think my experience on stage has given me a unique perspective on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to producing music. So even though I don’t have a formal education in music production, I’m confident in my abilities and my passion for music always drives me to learn and improve.
8. There are a lot of interesting concept photography for “WILD TONIGHT.” Tell us about creating the visuals for the single.
For the visuals I really wanted to incorporate a lot of storytelling, representations, and metaphors. I didn’t want to just spoon feed people with the answers. I had a lot of ideas and wanted to make sure every detail had a purpose, even down to the easter eggs. With the help of my production team, we were able to execute everything we wanted to do, from the CGI to the vampire traits. I’m really proud of how everything came together and I think it really adds another layer to the song.
Shout out to my amazing production team, YouMeUs, for bringing my vision to life and giving me the quality that I’ve been longing for. They were able to understand my ideas and help me execute them in a way that exceeded my expectations. Without them, the visuals for “WILD TONIGHT” wouldn’t have been possible.
9. How did your hometown/city shape who you are?
Imus, Cavite is the place where I grew up and it definitely had a huge impact on shaping who I am today. The people, the culture, and the environment all played a role in my upbringing. It’s where I experienced my firsts, my successes, my failures, and my challenges. It’s where I developed my values, my principles, and my perspectives. Living in Cavite taught me to be resilient, resourceful, and determined. It also taught me to be compassionate, empathetic, and understanding. The experiences and memories that I have from my hometown are invaluable and have been instrumental in shaping who I am as a person and as an artist. It is where I began loving street food as well.
10. What was the first concert you saw?
The first concert I saw was the Dream K-Pop Fantasy Concert 2012 featuring Girls’ Generation. As a fan of SNSD, it was a dream come true to see them perform live. They were one of my inspirations as an artist, and seeing them perform gave me a better understanding of the music industry. The concert was a memorable experience, and I still remember the energy and excitement of the crowd. It was definitely a pivotal moment in my music journey.
11. What was the biggest lesson you learned from SB19’s first world tour?
The biggest lesson I learned from SB19’s first world tour was how powerful music can be in bringing people from different cultures and backgrounds together. It was incredible to see how fans from all over the world connected with our music and performance, despite language barriers. The tour opened my eyes to the diversity of music and how it can transcend boundaries.
12. Did SB19’s world tour influence how you approached your solo debut?
Although the tour didn’t directly inspire my current song “WILD TONIGHT” it gave me a lot of inspiration for my future music. Being able to experience the different locations and cultures we visited on tour was a valuable experience that I have already drawn from in my future songs. Overall, the tour was an unforgettable experience that helped shape my approach to music and creativity.
13 Did the other SB19 members share feedback or their feelings about you debuting solo with “WILD TONIGHT”?
To be honest, other members didn’t provide specific feedback or express their feelings about it. However, they were all very supportive and encouraging. They commented positively on the music video and were happy with my solo endeavors.
14. What’s your go-to karaoke song?
My go-to karaoke song is “Martyr Nyebera” by Kamikazee, a popular rock band from the Philippines. The intro of the song actually sounds like The Flintstones theme, which is pretty cool. Whenever I sing this song, I go all out and even do some head banging. It’s a really fun and energetic song to sing; it always gets the crowd going.
15. Are these new singles indicating more solo music is coming from you?
Yes, I’ve been working on a lot of songs. I was actually surprised that I’ve managed to compose a lot of songs in a short period of time. I will be releasing more songs that would allow people to get to know me better as an artist.
16. What’s at the top of your professional bucket list?
My ultimate professional goal is to make a meaningful impact on the Philippine music scene, particularly with OPM [Original Pinoy Music]. I’m passionate about contributing to the growth and recognition of our distinct musical heritage, and I’m determined to share it with a wider audience both locally and internationally. Additionally, I hope to inspire those who, like me, dream big and show them that with perseverance and hard work, anything is possible.
17. What’s one thing even your most devoted fans don’t know about you?
I didn’t make it to the hospital. I was born inside a car, ha!
18. What’s your message to fans who have been supporting SB19 and you?
I just want to say a huge thank you to all the A’TIN and BBQs out there who have been supporting us and me personally. It means the world to me to have such an incredible fanbase behind us, whether it’s for my solo projects or for SB19 as a group. The dedication and love that you have shown us are beyond words. Your unwavering support has helped us reach new heights, and we are forever grateful for your endless encouragement. You guys are the best, and we are honored to have you as part of our family.
19. Can you share anything about SB19’s plans for 2023?
While I can’t spill all the beans just yet, I can tell you that we’re cooking up something big for everyone. You can definitely expect a bigger comeback and possibly a bigger tour. We’re putting in a lot of effort and creativity to make sure it’s a great experience for everyone. We’re really excited about it and can’t wait to share more details soon. So, stay tuned and keep an eye out for more updates from SB19!
20. What else do you want to share with Billboard readers this time?
As a representative for OPM and Pinoy pop, I would like to extend an invitation to all the Billboard readers out there to watch out for more exciting music from us. We are thrilled to bring our unique sound and talent to the global scene, and we can’t wait to show the world what we’re capable of. So, please, lend us your support by checking out other amazing artists and groups from the Philippines as well. We have a lot of incredible talent here, and we’re confident that you’ll find something you’ll love. Thank you for your time and we hope to see you soon!