Sunday 8 August 2010

We don't need a new National Day song every year because...

When I think of National Day songs, the one that sticks in my mind is Rock DJ by Robbie Williams.

What, you ask, does the Robbie Williams’ Rock DJ have to do with Singapore’s birthday?

I asked myself the same question each time I heard the track played over the National Stadium’s broadcast system during the numerous National Day Parade (NDP) rehearsals I attended in 2001 when I was part of the navy marching contingent.

Apparently, Rock DJ was used to accompany one of the pre-parade perfomances which I don’t remember seeing.

All I remember is Williams’ endearingly quirky English-accented rapping over a sample of Barry White’s It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next To Me in the song while I was waiting to march onto the field with my empty rifle and crumpled pants.

Even though I still have no idea what the once-and-future Take That singer was going on about, by the billionth time I heard Rock DJ played at the National Stadium, I was convinced it was the catchiest song ever created in the history of humankind.

Yes, even catchier than the Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix).

But don’t ask me what the official National Day theme song was that year.

As far as I’m concerned, Rock DJ was it and Robbie Williams was our national mascot.

Recently, someone wrote to The Straits Times asking if it’s necessary to record a new National Day song every year

I couldn’t agree more. Being a “world city”, we could simply adopt a recent international hit (a la Rock DJ) as our National Day song. I recommend Waka Waka (This Time for Africa) by Shakira.

But the writer also suggested that we should just update the “classics”, Count On Me Singapore and Stand Up For Singapore, with “fresh, uptempo” versions.

I’m surprised he left out my all-time favourite nation-building dirge, We Are Singapore.

I still remember being forced to learn the song by my navy Encik during my full-time national service with fellow medics in Brani Medical Centre after working hours. It felt like we were back in kindergarten.

I had survived three months in the three-door bunk on Pulau Tekong. I had survived running out of air at sea bottom during my naval diving course. I had even survived army food.

But I didn’t think I would survive our dispirited, half-muttered, melody-free execution of We Are Singapore that day.

I was willing to die for my country, but singing in tune was something else.

Now, over 20 years later, We Are Singapore has become a cherished reminder of those youthful days (even though the song itself is kind of dreary) and I look forward to hearing it again in tomorrow’s NDP.

A little Rock DJ wouldn’t hurt either.

But I doubt anyone will remember this year’s National Day theme song two years from now, much less 20 years from now.

“I don’t want to rock, DJ, but you're making me feel so nice...”

Dammit, now the song will be stuck in my head all day.

- Published in The New Paper, 8 August 2010

2013 UPDATE: In defence of the new National Day song, One Singapore