Sunday 21 July 2013

In defence of the new National Day song, One Singapore

Here we go again.


It seems that every year around this time, just as the annual Great Singapore Sale comes to a close, it’s open season on the new National Day theme song.

Like the parade, fireworks and Gurmit Singh urging NDP spectators to “make some noise”, hating the new National Day song has also become the great annual Singapore tradition.

Remember how the video for Love At First Light was mocked last year?

This year's song, One Singapore, appears to have transcended tradition and attained a whole new level of loathsomeness.

The Straits Times’ headline, “National Day song hits a few sour notes”, is the definition of understatement.

The New Paper’s headline was more to the point: “Netizens slam NDP 2013 song.

One common complaint is that it’s cheesy. That’s like complaining that cheese is cheesy.

It’s a song for National Day! It’s supposed to be cheesy!

What do you want? Lyrics about staying up all night to get lucky?

Another criticism is that the song, sung joyously by a choir of 68 Singaporeans, seems to be aimed at very young people.

So I asked two very young people I know, my kids, what they thought of the song.

My son, 16, said: “I hear High School Musical with a Singaporean twist. It’s almost better than the Fun Pack Song, but that’s not really saying much. The lyrics also do not seem to fit the melody, not poetic at all. The rap lyrics especially. Do I hear the word ‘recess’?”

Sure, it’s only “almost better” than the Fun Pack Song, but then One Singapore composer Elaine Chan didn’t filch the tune from Lady Gaga.

Perhaps my son isn’t young enough to appreciate the youthful appeal of the song. So I turned to my daughter, who’s two years younger.

She said: “The singing isn’t very good. Whether or not it is on purpose is not clear. The hook sucks. What the hell do they think they are doing – ‘woah woah’? The rapping? Sucks. Children rapping is one of the most annoying things ever.”

Now that’s just mean.

Well, being young at heart (but middle-aged at every other body part), I like the song.

And I don’t mean ironically.

I wear polo shirts ironically (since I don’t play polo), but I genuinely enjoy this year’s National Day song.

I love the high part in the verse where they go, “Together, we can reach for the stars.” I even dig the “woah woah” part that my daughter detests.

I’m not so keen on the rapping though.

Just because Shigga Shay can rap his way to the top of the iTunes chart with LimPeh doesn’t mean we want rapping in our National Day song too.

Hey, maybe LimPeh should be our National Day song!

Either that or the theme song from Ah Boys To Men Part 1.

Or the one from Ah Boys To Men Part 2.

Rapping aside, I believe One Singapore would’ve been better received if it had been released together with the video, which only appeared on YouTube a few days after the song's release.

Without the video, the group vocals sound like a mess. With the video, at least you know why they sound like a mess.

There’s a cover version by a local band called Pitch Feather that’s more stripped down with decidedly fewer singers, which has received kudos.

This would suggest that the problem is not with the song itself but with the arrangement.

By the way, the cover also eschews the rap about recess.

But I’m grateful that NDP music director Chan and lyricist (and NDP creative director) Serena Tan didn’t go the mellow route with their song.

Otherwise, netizens would’ve groused that it’s boring, like the dreary ballad-type National Day songs of the last three years, which were basically failed attempts to recreate the success of Dick Lee's treacly favourite, Home.

(The 2009 song was What Do You See by Electrico, which was more “rock” and my favorite, along with Mr Brown’s Hokkien version.)

What I find ironic is that after slamming One Singapore, some of the haters would praise the “classics”, Stand Up For Singapore, Count On Me Singapore and We Are Singapore.

I’m old enough to remember that when these songs were introduced in the 80s, they were also slammed for being cheesy, meant for children and clumsy propaganda. Of course, there was no such thing as “netizens” back then.

Perhaps in 30 years, One Singapore will also be nostalgically regarded as a classic.

Nah, I’m kidding. Nobody even remembers the National Day song from three years ago – although it seems people will remember the Fun Pack Song from 2011 for a while yet.

And it wasn’t even the National Day theme song that year. You know what was?

In A Heartbeat.

Which was probably how long it took you to forget the song.

But like the reviled Fun Pack Song, this year’s National Day song has achieved a notoriety that it will not be forgotten for years to come – no matter how hard you try.

And the tradition continues.

- Published in The New Paper, 21 July 2013

Dear Mr. SM Ong (ACT BLUR),

I was reading your article on the new NDP song at a coffee shop last Sunday (21July 2013) morning and thought I should pen my thoughts on my mobile phone and it is given below:

SEAP Games 1973 (then called South East Asia Peninsular Games) I remember that time at Hilton Hotel, 1973. It was the conclusion of the SEAP Games held in the newly completed national stadium at Kallang. The dinner was held for the various participating cycling contingents.

We were the host and as with many multiple-nations occasions, each team was asked to sing a song. The Laotians, Thais, Indonesians and Malaysians and others rendered their contributions, all in their national languages. I remembered Bangawan Solo snd Rasa Sayang were sung by the Indonesians and Malaysians, as I myself know these songs in Bahasa language.

Then it was the host turn as they have to give the concluding wrap-up song. The team of cyclists assembled at the mike and started to discuss which song to render, showing their unpreparedness. At last, they agreed and the song was the hit song of that month – Beautiful Sunday.

How embarrassed we were. No national song that brings the flavor of Singapore!

So when I was with my classmates at Cranfield University for our three weeks MBA induction classes in Bedford in 1990, I brought with us the various perennial hits – Singapura (Aneka Gronloh), Di-Tanjong Katong, Geylang and a few others. This is because we had to do a presentation on the final night farewell dinner. The Malaysian in fact joined us as they knew some of these songs.

What then is a Singapore song?

1. Preferably the lyrics should be written in the National Language? But not all Singaporeans can speak that language, unlike the kampong boy that I am.

2. It should remind Singaporeans some part of the land – the flora, fauna or land mark? Tanjong Katong is still there. Geylang is quite notorious to a certain extend. Or the food – friend rice paradise? Chilli crabs and fish-head curry, perhaps.

So what is the weakness about this NDP song?

Sung one year and it is forgotten. It does not touch the heart strings of the majority of Singaporeans. Even the MPs might not even know those songs, miming wordlessly at the parade. With patriotic emotions incorporated in the lyrics, these songs may be considered to ‘emo’ on social gatherings and informal happy occasions. They may even be considered as inappropriate for such occasions.

Let us look for songs that will willing be sung by Singaporeans, who will feel nostalgic or connected to the descriptions of its various elements that represent Singapore and are truly proud of it.

Never mind the NDP songs, just for the occasion, but these are unlikely to endear to the hearts of the native Singaporeans. A song that would make even the infrequent visitors and permanent FTs (foreign talents) want to include in their repertoire when living in Singapore.

Happy National Day!

Tan Thian Seng

EARLIER: We don’t need a new National Day song every year because...