Written by Valerie Wong
It’s that time of the year again – where flags are displayed in every neighbourhood and Saturdays make way for planes and choppers soaring in the sky, rehearsing for the annual National Day Parade (NDP).
Other than the large scale performances and celebratory fireworks the National Day song of the year makes a major part in our nation’s birthday.
Since 1995, Singaporeans have had a new song to get themselves acquainted with every year.
For NDP 2019 however, organisers have gone back to basics with a mashup of We Will Get There and Our Singapore, backed up by an ensemble choir of who’s who in our local music scene.
A Where’s Waldo situation occurs in the music video as viewers try to spot notable celebrities with every passing second.
Veteran DJ Brian Richmond appears in a recording booth, speaking to listeners as he shuffles through vinyl records by 60s songstress Tracy Huang, who sings the first line. Other music greats then take centrestage, including singers Rahimah Rahim, Jacintha Abisheganaden and Ramli Sarip, before the video segues into colour.
The next generation comes into view – quite literally – with C-pop superstars Stefanie Sun and JJ Lin leading the pack, followed by their contemporaries The Sam Willows, ShiGGa Shay, and even a blink-and-you’ll-miss cameo by swimming heroes Ang Peng Siong and Joseph Schooling.
Well it is a heartwarming sight to see the young and young-at-heart interact through a grand singalong about our island home, it seems that in recent years, songwriters have started to “walk down memory lane”, revisiting classics and refreshing them for National Day.
That was also the case with 2018’s We Are Singapore, which added a preface by singer Charlie Lim and pledge recital-rap by THELIONCITYBOY, putting a slightly new spin on the 1987 tune.
While crowd favourites getting new arrangements and verses suggest these renditions are not just simply covers, it does make one wonder if local composers are running out of ideas, or if the nostalgic trip is inevitable.
In an attempt to understand the seemingly repetitive National Day songs from recent years, we ask a few questions and make some suggestions as to how to best manage the NDP theme song experience for Singaporeans.
NDP Song Issue #1: Are we looking beyond the usual songwriters?
If the people helming these NDP songs are the same few composers and producers who work on a rotational basis, the music released may start to sound more or less the same.
There is also the risk of limiting the creative control to a select few individuals instead of a more levelled playing field for any Singaporean enthusiastic about music and wanting to display their sense of patriotism for the nation.
Suggestion: Hire more (and newer) songwriters
With an ever growing pool of budding musical talent, there is actually no shortage of skilled songwriters to tap on. Offering them the opportunity to showcase their creativity and a platform where they can perform their own music is basically killing two birds with one stone.
Not only do organisers show their support for local artists (very much aligned with Singapore Tourism Board’s Passion Made Possible campaign), these musicians gain exposure on a country-wide scale.
Some songwriters have already taken their own initiative to pen unofficial songs for National Day. Former Singapore Idol and Sing! China contestant Olinda Cho wrote the rousing My Singapore with her brother, while homegrown duo The Freshman 插班生 came up with a “Singlish” version of 有空記得約我 which was written for a local telemovie. Both have been well received by members of the public who have requested that the songs be included in the NDP songs repertoire.
NDP Song Issue #2: Do we know what listeners truly want?
It could be a case of not fully understanding the target audience and what they want to hear in these songs. With every new generation comes a new set of aspirations and motivations.
Suggestion: It’s polling time (the non-political version)
Take to the streets and survey people from all walks of life. Ask them what their favourite NDP song is and if they would like to nominate any new Singaporean musicians to be the next National Day ambassador.
Consider reviving the National Day Song-Writing Contest, which can be traced all the way back to 1970. In getting Singaporeans to vote for their favourite submission, they can take greater ownership of the NDP song they want to sing at the parade.
NDP Song Issue #3: Are we forcing a new song every year?
No doubt there will be days where songwriters may find themselves experiencing the dreaded writer’s block, or may squeeze their brain juices for one masterpiece and potentially peak at that.
Even the best have to acknowledge their defeat in the face of a songwriter’s nightmare: tropes and lyrics on togetherness, harmony and excessive amounts of hand-holding.
Suggestion: Focus on making good music
It is okay to admit that the creative well runs dry sometimes. Counter this by reducing the frequency for starters: citizens will not be in an uproar if they do not get a new song every year – there are far more pressing matters to tackle.
Having an additional year or two to prepare a new track gives composers ample time to make better music. It would also allow existing songs more airtime and metaphorical space to grow familiar, instead of relying on throwbacks – not all that bad, but just a little dated.
On another note (no pun intended), Popspoken wishes you and your loved ones a happy 54th National Day!