At 19 years old, Filipina trained dancer turned aspiring idol Janina Antolin unveils her remarkable journey, sharing insights into her background, experiences, and the transformative pivot that led her to the vibrant universe of K-Pop. Her story stands as a testament to the universal appeal of K-Pop and the boundless possibilities that arise when one dares to defy traditional expectations to pursue their passion.
Born and raised in the picturesque landscapes of the Philippines, of diverse cultural influences, Antolin proudly takes on her journey into the world of performing arts with a delicate yet powerful pursuit with a jab at ballet. The eloquence of movement and the allure of the stage beckoned, initiating a decade-long commitment to both ballet and contemporary dance.
However, life, as it often does, took an unexpected turn during the global pandemic. Antolin faced a pivotal moment, grappling with the decision to relinquish her devotion to the art form. The arduous choice, rooted in a desire for change, led her to explore uncharted territories. It was during this period that the dynamic allure of K-pop captured her imagination.
Dress, Proudrace. Jacket, Nina Amoncio. Photographed by Edrey Paul Biteng.
This metamorphosis unfolded as she immersed herself in the intricacies of world of K-Pop, intrigued by its rhythmic cadence and mesmerizing choreography. The allure of the stage persisted, now manifesting in a different form. She shares, “During the pandemic, I decided to quit ballet, which was really hard because I always wanted to become a professional ballerina. But then my interest changed.”
Undeterred by the challenges that lay ahead, she then embarked on a journey to chase this newfound dream. Auditioning for a spot in the world of K-pop, she faced initial setbacks, encountering rejection in her pursuit, as one’s journey would.
However, resilience and determination fueled her resolve. She notes, “After the first try, I wouldn’t get in. But then after like a few years, I finally… passed my first audition and I got motivated to reach my dreams and become a performer.”
Headdress, pants, and tulle jacket, CHRISSEAN. Mesh top, Proudrace. Photographed by Edrey Paul Biteng.
Reflecting on her journey, Antolin unveils a childhood aspiration that echoes through the years, a desire to become a pop star. Influenced by icons such as Hannah Montana and Katy Perry, she draws inspiration from their electrifying performances and unapologetic sense of self. These influences, coupled with her own passion for performing, ignited a flame within her, compelling her to pursue a destiny beyond the boundaries of convention.
Standing out in Korea’s homogeneous culture, with grace and candor, she remarks, “I’d say it comes with challenges. I mean, pros and cons. Because as a Filipina, you [immediately] stand out. Korea has a very homogeneous culture, very nationalistic in a good way. They are focused on harnessing and supporting their own, which teaches us a lot of things. And, as a Filipina, I stand out since there aren’t many foreigners, so to speak.”
Acknowledging the changing dynamics, Antolin observes the gradual diversification of Korea’s demographic. She notes, “Well, now, they’re starting [to have more foreigners in the country], which is good.” This evolution, she suggests, brings both challenges and advantages, offering a nuanced perspective on the shifting cultural milieu in the Korean entertainment industry.
Embracing her role as a cultural ambassador, Antolin highlights the positive impact of representing the Philippines on the global stage. “Representing the Philippines, is a good thing because it helps us even more. It helps the whole world,” she affirms.
Photographed by Edrey Paul Biteng.
In a world where K-Pop has become a global phenomenon, she emphasizes how her presence contributes to showcasing the rich talent that Filipinos possess. “Since K-pop is very big, it helps the whole world get see that Filipinos have talent. It is a known fact,” she expresses. The rising star’s journey as a Filipina in the Korean entertainment industry transcends mere representation; it becomes a narrative of bridging cultures and breaking barriers.
When asked about the influence of her Filipino heritage on her creative work, she responds with a resounding affirmation. “Definitely.” She declares, “I think more than the bigness of the talent that Filipinos have been known for around the globe, the Filipino culture that I bring along with me everywhere is probably hospitality.” In this acknowledgment, she shows a fundamental aspect of her identity that extends beyond personal interactions and permeates into her creative endeavors.
For Antolin, the Filipino virtue of hospitality transcends mere custom; it becomes a cornerstone of her artistic persona. “I really like inviting people over and sharing things and food,” she explains. This inclination toward fostering connections through shared experiences becomes a lens through which she navigates not only her personal relationships but also the collaborative world of K-Pop.
Dress, CHRISSEAN. Tailored shorts (worn underneath), Edwin Tan. Photographed by Edrey Paul Biteng.
Training alongside fellow artists in Korea, Antolin exemplifies the spirit of generosity deeply embedded in Filipino culture. “With my co-trainees in Korea, I like sharing food with them and giving gifts,” she reveals. Through these gestures, she transforms her surroundings, fostering an atmosphere of camaraderie and mutual support.
On the challenges of training in the industry, Antolin sheds light on her commitment to injecting joy into the rigorous routine. “The training can be very tiring and rigorous,” she acknowledges. Yet, drawing from the inherent happiness associated with Filipino culture, she endeavors to infuse positivity. “Filipinos are always known to be happy. So, like I try to bring in the joy and make everyone happy,” she expresses, underscoring the power of her cultural influence.
Through her commitment to hospitality, generosity, and joy, Antolin not only represents her roots but also contributes to the cultural tapestry of K-Pop, showcasing the harmonious blend of tradition and innovation.
Antolin’s foray into the world of K-Pop was not without its reservations. She recounts, “At first, I really thought that K-Pop was just for Koreans. Like they don’t want foreigners. It was very intimidating in that sense.”
However, the emergence of global sensations like Lisa Manoban from BLACKPINK, hailing from Thailand, in itself, is a revelation. “She inspired me because she’s from Thailand, which is another Southeast Asian country. And there are starting to be Filipina K-Pop idols such as Chanty from Lapillus. I saw now, that it’s possible. So, I was like, ‘Okay, I can give it a try’.”
On her creative process, her background in ballet emerges as a foundational element. “I’ve done ballet at a young age,” she shares. This early exposure to performing arts instilled in her a disciplined routine, influencing her approach to songwriting and choreography.
Emphasizing the importance of such foundational skills, she shares, “Before we start choreography, we always have to work on basic skills. Like isolation, in dance, or vocal warm-ups in singing.” This meticulous groundwork serves as the cornerstone upon which each performance is built, ensuring a seamless fusion of technical prowess and artistic expression.
On this marriage of technique and creative spirit, Antolin demystifies the glamor of the K-Pop stage, shedding light on the dedication required for each performance. “Once we work on a piece, we work on it every day,” she notes. The routine of practice becomes an intrinsic part of this artistic journey, a commitment to refining her craft. “[Adding] up all of the group practice and solo practices, I’d say I train around five to six hours a day. I have that on top of college which is [challenging].”
When asked about her major creative influences, she likes unfolding a narrative woven with diverse threads from both the Western and K-Pop interests. “I’m a really, really big fan of Olivia Rodrigo, even Sabrina Carpenter. A lot of Western artists to me have helped me find my branding, like who I am basically.” Antolin acknowledges the transformative impact of these artists on shaping her personal image and artistic identity.
In the K-Pop domain, Antolin draws inspiration from iconic figures such as Lisa from Blackpink, Somi, and Hyunjin from LE SSERAFIM. “Because they make me feel empowered,” she explains. The theme of empowerment, coupled with a sense of boldness and class, resonates deeply with her, influencing the essence of her artistic expression.
Custom apron dress, Proudrace. Blazer, Edwin Tan. Photographed by Edrey Paul Biteng.
As the conversation pivots towards her long-term goals, she says, “I would say my goal is to become a pop star,” she declares with unwavering determination. The aspiration, rooted in a lifelong love for performing, reflects a desire to achieve a level of success that brings personal fulfillment and joy.
Antolin remains open to the possibilities within the Korean entertainment industry, expressing, “I’m okay with pursuing a career anywhere as long as it’s what’s for me.” Her emphasis on the intrinsic connection to performance underscores a commitment to artistry and authenticity.
With this, she continues to navigate the delicate balance of individuality and market appeal. As she shares insights into her approach to personal brand development, she knows that the strategy will always be rooted in uniqueness and a commitment to crafting songs with depth and meaning.
On her method for developing and maintaining her personal brand, Antolin offers a perspective that places a premium on distinctiveness. “I’d say I try my best to be unique because that’s what stands out, and that’s what they look for in an artist,” she asserts.
Recognizing the saturated nature of the industry, she emphasizes the importance of avoiding duplication. “They wouldn’t want to have like two Dua Lipa’s or two Selena Gomez’s. So, to stand out, I really try to look for something that I don’t see in other people and try to be unique.”
Photographed by Edrey Paul Biteng.
This commitment to individuality extends to her image, where she consciously integrates elements that set her apart from the crowd. “I try to put it on my image,” she explains, underscoring the role of visual representation in reinforcing her distinctive identity. This intentional curation of her persona becomes an essential component of her strategy to capture attention and leave a lasting impression.
When asked on her creative inspiration in terms of her songwriting, she responds with a simple yet profound affirmation that aligns with her overarching strategy of offering something fresh to her audience. “Whenever I write songs, I [look at writing] songs that haven’t really been made. Songs with meaning that haven’t really been explored.”
In the dynamic intersection of ballet, K-pop, and cultural representation, young as she is in her journey, she emerges as an evolving artist with a clear vision. Her journey, from the traditional world of ballet to the global stage of K-Pop, reflects a nuanced approach to personal development—anchored in uniqueness, authenticity, and grit.
As a Filipina slowly dipping her toes in the Korean entertainment industry, Antolin’s story underscores the importance of diverse voices in the global music scene. Her commitment to individuality, both in her image and songwriting, positions her as an artist poised for lasting impact.
As she continues to chart her course toward pop stardom, her narrative stands as a reminder that the pursuit of dreams is as diverse and vibrant as the melodies that echo across the global stage.
Produced by Rank Magazine
Photography by Edrey Paul Biteng
Creative and fashion direction by Leo Balante
Hair & makeup by Raffy Francisco
Assisted by: Mark Garcia
Junior editorial associate: Renzo Cabitlada
Location and creative partner: Studio LAJ
With acknowledgments to Keren Pascual, Dr. Mitzy Antolin