Everyone’s heard that dark-skinned-person-in-a-dark-room joke, but not everyone stands up against it. A usually mild-mannered and passive lady off-camera, 23-year-old thought leader Preeti Nair was already riled up before our tête-à-tête could begin.
A foreigner had approached her at the cafe we had planned to meet, and commented on the traditional black dot marked on her forehead.
“He proceeded to ask which part of India I was from. It was a bit rude to make assumptions off my pottu (‘bindi’ in Punjabi and Hindi),” she said. “I’m ethnically Indian but I’m Singaporean. Some people need to be more informed about the subtleties of race and religion.”
Helping the public become “informed” is what she does full-time nowadays, albeit in a comical tone that has apparently hit it off swimmingly well with Singaporeans.
Although her afternoon might have gotten off on the wrong foot, she calms herself down and settles back into her magnetically affable demeanour, as she always does for the camera.
Better known to Singaporeans as the overnight sensation Preetipls, Nair has made videos poking fun at everything from obnoxious celebrities and clueless ‘influencers’, to Chinese New Year and Deepavali.
As if her on-camera presence is not compelling enough, Nair had even secured celebrity cameos by the likes of Joakim Gomez and Benjamin Kheng for her recent videos. In this era reigned by social media celebrities, however, what sets this young entertainer apart is her ability to command the attention of a vast audience without having to milk her sexuality.
Having recently left her full-time job to pursue success in the social media sphere, she shares that she has no intentions whatsoever of fitting the mould of the typical social media celebrity. As a child, her classmates used to tease, “Where’s Preeti?” when the lights were dim. Today, her star shines so brightly that no one can deny her.
Popspoken: When Preetipls isn’t making videos, what is she usually getting up to?
Preetipls: I’m usually at home playing with my dog. I spend way too much time with my dog!
MY DOG IS PERFECT pic.twitter.com/BKrLeCEcog
— prEEtipls (@plspreeti) April 8, 2017
Popspoken: Does your sense of humour come from home?
Preetipls: Definitely. My dad is very funny. My whole family has a great sense of humour! My brother was the class clown and I remember him always making YouTube videos everywhere. We were in the same school but he was so embarrassing that I remember pretending to not be related to him.
Popspoken: First off, I’ve got to say that your comic timing and camera presence are one in a million. Not everyone can do what you do. Did that rub off on you from a favourite comedian?
Preetipls: I don’t have a favourite one, but I like Amy Schumer, Russell Peters… ooh, and I really like Kat Dennings!
Popspoken: What about celebrity crushes?
Preetipls: Dev Patel is so hot! Bradley Cooper… Drake!
Popspoken: I think I’m Drake’s only male fan. What’s your favourite jam of Drake’s?
Preetipls: We (Charlotte from Preeti’s team and her) were just dancing to “Passionfruit” by Drake just now!
Popspoken: So I guess you like clubs like Cherry and Refuge?
Preetipls: Refuge is just perfect! I’m always there, because they play everything from 90’s RnB to Kendrick Lamar!
when you dk if you should order a teh bing or a Tay Ping Hui pic.twitter.com/Z6gqupORyM
— prEEtipls (@plspreeti) April 6, 2017
Popspoken: Singapore has been asking itself recently if we are a racist country. Do you think some Singaporeans are getting more racist?
Preetipls: What Singapore experiences is more of a casual racism. I’ve noticed that other content creators are making more and more racist remarks. I mean, you can joke about it, but you guys need to know when to stop.
Popspoken: Have you had any poignant brushes with racism?
Preetipls: I remember in primary school, I used to be the butt of jokes like, “If we turn the lights off, we won’t be able to find Preeti.”
Popspoken: What’s your take on Singaporean YouTubers making inappropriate remarks about looking Indian and “looking like they’re attending Deepavali”, and Mediacorp’s blunder with the Shane Pow blackface skit?
Preetipls: I make jokes about ethnicity too, but I know my limits. Some people don’t know when to stop. These productions have hierarchies with so many layers of editors and approvals, yet these scenes managed to air. This shows that some sort of implicit racism exists.
Popspoken: What was up with that man making racial assumptions about you and your pottu just now?
Preetipls: His assumptions were really inappropriate! Some people are not informed and they don’t make an effort to find out more. He also remarked, “So I don’t have to be from India to wear it (the pottu)? So I can wear it too?” We need to educate one another. In my videos, I’ve covered topics like these, and that’s what I want to do with my videos – keep people talking and keep people thinking. People like our videos exaggerated, but they serve to keep people wanting and searching for more information.
— prEEtipls (@plspreeti) January 30, 2017
Popspoken: So in a way, can I say that you are the Singaporean coming of South Park?
Preetipls: I love South Park!
PS: Is there anything else about how Singaporean society behaves today that irks you? I find it disturbing that the most popular news in Singapore nowadays usually involves videos of public violence taped on smartphones.
Preetipls: It’s messed up! It’s some sort of voyeurism fetish.
Popspoken: Do you think it’s because nothing much happens in Singapore?
Preetipls: Yeah, definitely because of super-slow news days.
Popspoken: And how did you take it when you became the news? I remember your first video when you parodied Saffron Sharpe and the fashion police video – I woke up to maybe 13 friends who had shared that same video on Facebook.
Preetipls: It was insane! It happened overnight! I didn’t know how to react. We had all sorts of people contacting us!
Popspoken: How did the fashion police parody video come about?
Preetipls: After I saw the original video, I texted my friends immediately and said, “we need to do something.” We went to town and shot the video on an iPhone.
Popspoken: On an iPhone?
Preetipls: And for audio, I was recording myself on my own iPhone tucked into my bra.
Popspoken: Among all your videos, which did you enjoy the most?
Preetipls: The Chinese New Year video, because I got to speak in Chinese. Learning Mandarin for all those years in school was very painful, but my parents made me learn it because they thought that it was best for my career path.
Popspoken: So you studied Mandarin instead of Tamil?
Preetipls: Yes. My parents felt that that was best for my career, and look at how I’m using it in my career now. (laughs)
Popspoken: Is your Chinese name really Mei Li?
Preetipls: Yes, a family friend gave me that name.
Popspoken: How do you write Mei Li?
Preetipls: Exactly as how you would write it, 美丽 (which means beautiful).
Popspoken: Wow. Your parents were very direct with their intentions when accepting that as your Chinese name.
Preetipls: Yes, they wanted me to grow up into a beautiful girl.
Popspoken: Speaking of beautiful girls, what do you think about the current witch hunt of social media influencers?
Preetipls: About damn time! Some people out there are always doing dumb things. Some of my friends told me that they think these influencers will stop doing dumb things soon. I told these friends that they are being too hopeful. It really ticks me off that all of them are pushing promo codes for everything under the sun. Do I need a promo code to breathe? I really don’t get it. We (society) don’t need things like that (in the media). I have boobs, but I don’t use them in that way. I don’t respect that.
Popspoken: The only other thing in the news seems to be the inflation of milk powder prices.
Preetipls: If they keep raising milk powder prices, then more babies will have less milk to drink and will grow up stupid and racist.
Photos and words by Andre Frois