How the Sexbomb Girls Raised a 'Laban' Generation

Who could forget 'Laban o Bawi?'
Photo/s: Courtesy of Sex Bomb

Sexbomb Rochelle Pangilinan started a dance challenge on TikTok that served as a siren call for fans, now grown up, who realize how the group raised them to keep fighting and never quit while teaching them the happy Spaghetti Dance.

"Para sa mga pinalaki ng Sexbomb para lumaban! Bawal bumawi," Pangilinan said in the TikTok post that got a quarter of a million likes and spawned many to take up the challenge and show off their best Sexbomb moves.

"Laban o Bawi", loosely translated to fight or back out, was popularized by the group in the early 2000s and for fans that now form the Gen Y and Z workforce, that challenge rings true during the pandemic. The Sexbomb girls raised them to fight, not to back out.

Long before South Korea popularized girl groups, Filipino kids have been shaking their hips to the "Spaghetti Song" and chanting "get, get aww!" The moves and the good vibes were made for TikTok, which would come two decades later.

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Search "#sexbomb" on Tiktok and you'll see that videos have raked a combined 95.6 million views. The most famous video? It's the one with Pangilinan dancing with South Korean artist Dasuri Choi to 'Bakit Papa,' a testament to the Sexbomb Girls' enduring popularity and influence.

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"The Sexbomb Girls are very identifiable, easy to remember...The fact na they are still recognized as such is a big indicator of how popular they are," University of the Philippines-Diliman sociologist Samuel Cabbuag told reportr.

"Pag sinabi nating girl group sila pa rin talaga -- although may mga nakisabay before, nag-try kumopya ng model -- sila pa rin yung binabalik-balikan na model ng girl group. Parang standard," he said.

They dominated Pinoy pop culture.

The Sexbomb Girls rocketed into fame in the early 2000s thanks to the longest noontime variety show in the Philippines 'Eat Bulaga.' The internet at that time was at its infancy, no Facebook, not even Friendster, and TV and radio dictated camp and cool.

From backup dancers, the group sealed their stardom with their foray into singing, and later acting. They launched their first album in 2002 titled "Unang Putok" that went four times platinum in sales. 

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Soon, the Sexbomb Girls were a multiverse on its own with the Sexbomb Singers led by Pangilinan, and the Sexbomb Dancers led by Aira Bermudez.

"Eat Bulaga really launched them to fame. Imagine, Filipinos see them every day, six days a week on their TV screens? That leaves a mark," Cabbuag said. 

Apart from dancing and singing, the Sexbomb Girls were also actors starring in the long-running "Daisy Siete" and even their own movie titled, as expected, "Bakit Papa."

"They covered almost all, if not all, aspects of Pinoy pop culture. It's no wonder that they have become so recognizable," Cabbuag said.

Their home network GMA even tapped them to lead their voter education campaign in 2010 with their rendition of "Bilog na Hugis Itlog" as the country shifted to automated elections. 

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So influential was the Sexbomb Girls that a member of the group, Jopay Paguia, even inspired Pinoy band Mayonnaise's hit 'Jopay'.

 On social media, Filipino millennials and Gen Z still reference the Sexbomb Girls in their posts with the "laban" mantra and the rejection of "bawi" or giving up.

"Na-imbibe sa kultura natin ang Sexbomb. It just shows talaga how the Sexbomb, as a phenomenon, affected our culture in the sense that we can even associate hope sa song lyrics nila," Cabbuag said.

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They are girl power.

The Sexbomb Girls was the first of its kind. Backup dancers were given more attention in a show and the fame snowballed into albums, movies, and teleseryes. It's girl power of the early 2000s.

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But the Sexbomb Girls' fame was not without controversy.

In a predominantly Catholic country, an all-female girl group performing songs (some laced with sexual innuendos) while wearing sexy outfits was a hot button issue.

Their "Bilog na Hugis Itlog' 2010 voters" education campaign for instance was even called "ominous" by the late Archbishop Oscar Cruz and was defended by the Comelec as "nothing immoral."

Did the Sexbomb Girls empower women or did they contribute to the sexualization of women on mainstream media?

How women are viewed is not the burden of women, said Nathalie Verceles, director of the University of the Philippines Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, noting that women should be differentiated from one another.

"If they want to titillate, who are we to criticize these women? You can't make it a burden of each and every woman that they represent each and every woman with her actions," Verceles told reportr.

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Just like women joining beauty pageants, the Sexbomb Girls are body-positive, said Verceles, and their sexy appearance shouldn't be taken against them.

"If women are showing off their bodies, it doesn't mean that they are opening themselves to be sexualized...Yung kultura ang dapat baguhin natin, yung pag-iisip," she told reportr.

What's important is that people respect the choices women or any other person make with their bodies and not impose one's "morals" on another according to Verceles.

"If one is not doing harm to another person, who are we to judge? And why should we even judge?" she said.

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They are iconic.

More than just celebrities, the Sexbomb Girls have become "icons" according to sociologist Cabbuag.

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Nearly two decades since they were shot to fame, Filipinos on social media still gyrate to the "Spaghetti Song." From the cassette tapes of their albums, the Sexbomb Girls are also on the largest music streaming app Spotify--a testament to their enduring popularity.

"They have become icons...The fact that this group has become mainstay, talagang yung roots nun pumasok talaga siya sa blood vessels ng kultura natin," Cabbuag said.

"Whether it's a positive thing or negative thing, talagang parte siya ng kultura natin whether we like it or not," he said.

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