Final 1 voting system is a big joke

From ‘The Final 1 a big joke’, 18 May 2013, Mailbag, ST Life!

(Daniel Dam): As one who handles contests and promotions regularly, I can say that voting for reality talent show contestants via SMS and social media is a big joke these days (Viewers Blast The Final 1 Voting System, Life!, May 10).

There are techies who are able to auto-pump votes in the thousands with some applications or devices. Thanks to this, the most popular contestant may not win, let alone the most talented. Surely MediaCorp should know this by now.

(Jimmy Wee): I think The Final 1 Contest is a big joke and it is not just the judging. As a television show, it is a disgrace, with very bad presentation and poor production value. The talents are weak and comments from the judges are stupid. One or two of them are trying to copy the American Idol judges. I do not understand why MediaCorp and the Media Development Authority would support such a show.

If Ken Lim wants to gain fame by putting his own money into such a show, it is doing more harm than good to his credibility. And someone should be honest with the participants. Tell them not to waste their time – there is no future for them in the music industry. I hope this TV show will be the final one.

Screen Shot 2013-05-18 at 6

If you’re looking for actual talent, try Youtube. The Final 1 is reality programming, which means it was designed to sell a face more than a voice. You’re not going to get a Susan Boyle out of this; Final 1 is obviously targetted at the teenage set, with fresh faces gracing the screen exuding a larger-than-life personality polished and tweaked to the producers’ liking to suit the intended ‘vibe’ of the show i.e fake. If you’ve a great voice but camera-shy and don’t like to wear Jason Mraz hats nor have a goofball smile to charm an audience, skip the talent show, broadcast on Youtube instead. After all, who watches TV, not to mention Channel 5, these days?

The thing about reality singing contests, especially in the Singaporean context, is that you’re obliged to have as diverse a pool of singers as possible. One of the promos of the Top 40 contestants speaks for itself, the usual multiracial mix with cookie-cutter character favourites: The underdog, the nerd, the babe, the diva powerhouse and an Eurasian hipster with ambiguous sexuality. It’s like musical Cluedo, and I use the word ‘musical’ very loosely. I’m not even sure if these people get along though Mediacorp certainly WANTS you to believe so.

What’s sorely missing from the Final 1 is the unintentional humour of the ‘Idol’ series. By taking itself too seriously, the end product is a pale shadow of the contest that launched Taufik Batisah’s career. We used to watch the first few episodes of Idol to laugh at bad performers, who seemed more natural than the confectionery that gets voted into the finals. But at least we DID watch Idol, nevermind if it’s for all the wrong reasons.

The Final 1 isn’t the only competition banking on an ‘unfair’ online platform to garner votes. If you’ve nothing better to do with your life you can campaign for votes via a Facebook page or fan club to vote in contestants for Manhunt International and Star Awards. You may even throw in your life savings to BUY unlimited votes via the Facebook app ($8 = 100 votes), or earn votes by getting a friend to register. The ghost of Huang Wenyong is shaking his head as we speak.

With all this revenue generated through Facebook and SMSes, it’s strange that we still haven’t found that ONE breakthrough mega popstar till this day, the closest we’ve had being, sadly, Sun Ho of China Wine fame, who just needed a generous congregation and some shady investments without going through the hassle of being judged (though she and her ilk will be judged by someone far mightier than Ken Lim).

This would be illegal if votes that actually matter

This would be illegal for votes that actually matter

Incidentally, a public voting system was already implemented during Taufik’s stint in Singapore Idol, which itself generated a ‘shock result’ when the judge’s favourite Jeassea Thyidor dropped out based on viewer ratings, her being a ‘non-Singaporean’ cited as one of the reasons of her departure (Wait, isn’t this SINGAPORE Idol?). A 2004 article summarised the benefits of being popular: A true Singapore Idol only needs to CONNECT. For the Final 1 finalists, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the winner also being the one with the most ‘Likes’ and ‘Friends’ on Facebook, is hyperactive on Instagram, Twitter, Vine,  or a member of City Harvest Church. Hell, if public voting were so critical to success, you could have Yam Ah Mee as the Final 1.

Here’s an idea for Ken Lim, have a ‘reunion’ contest for all the good singers who ‘got away’ because voting viewers are idiots, screw social media, and see what kind of superstar you can groom out of it. Hopefully the winners don’t end up being resident judges of teenybopper reality talent shows because no one wants to buy their album from iTunes.

Kids clapping between movements in Esplanade concert

From ‘Children need better guidance in arts appreciation’, 15 April 2013, Voices, Today

(Liu Yiru): I watched a wonderful performance at the Esplanade last Friday evening by the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) Orchestra and Chorus, in celebration of NAFA’s 75th anniversary. Among the audience were distinguished composers, NAFA alumni, as well as guest performers from London’s Royal College of Music.

Also in the audience was a class of Primary 3 or 4 students accompanied by two teachers. I must commend the school and teachers for exposing their students to classical music and cultivating their interest at such a young age.

However, I believe many in the audience were, like me, shocked when the students clapped between rests that marked an end to significant sections in the fourth movement. It is recognised and accepted that the audience applauds only at the end of a piece and not at the end of every movement or worse, whenever they supposed the piece “seemed to end”.

What does this say about the’ teachers? Do the teachers have an understanding of concert etiquette? Do teachers have musical background or basic musical knowledge to guide their students’ appreciation for music in the right direction? Were there enough teachers to handle the number of students? This incident shows that our teachers’ competence in developing and educating Singapore’s future in the arts has much room for improvement.

If in doubt, always take the cue from others when you’re a concert novice. Untimely clapping can earn you dirty looks as much as sitting cross-legged with your shoes off. These kids were just being polite even though they’re likely to be bored stiff, and you’d be sending conflicting instructions if you told them that there are only certain points in a performance when they’re ‘allowed’ to clap, a mentally strenuous task that gets in the way of one’s enjoyment of the classics. It’s like I’m not allowed to use my hands to tuck into the pincer of chilli crab, and can only do so for the purpose of dipping the buns into the gravy.

I doubt the teachers themselves were aware of such a custom, and most people, myself included, would shift nervously in their seat if any performance appears to end and there would be this nagging, awkward pause or the nervous, muffled cough before hesitant applause. As a consolation, even President Obama himself once joked about the No Applause rule, which itself deserves a topic in musicology and seems to have its origins in cranky maestros and composers who abhorred over-clappers and didn’t care about the fact that their salaries were paid for by their audience. Such restrictions were in place even in the 70’s, when intrusive applause ‘disrupts the pattern’ of the programme and found to be ‘very irritating and distracting’, making otherwise harmless applause sound as disruptive as blowing a trumpet into a surgeon’s face while he’s performing emergency heart bypass surgery.

I’ve never attended an SSO concert, but only because I have no idea where to get a monocle, a shiny cane and can’t clap my hands in the dainty manner or timing befitting of concert etiquette.  I’d have to restrain myself from expressing my joy if I were to find a piece so haunting it moves me to tears, that if I couldn’t bear it and had to give a standing ovation clapping my hands sore and weeping my grateful heart out, my outburst of spontaneity would be rewarded with the harsh shushing and tsk-ing from a couple of concert snobs like some menopausal librarians shutting a genius up when he’s having his ‘Eureka’ moment. If I’m really unlucky, the conductor, furious that my clapping cramped his style, would grab the nearest cymbal and try to decapitate me by throwing it in my direction like a frisbee.

According to the SCO website, it is ‘best not to clap’ between movements of a larger composition, but it’s perfectly acceptable, maybe even recommended, to blare ‘Bravo’ and ‘Encore’ as loud as a soccer hooligan when it’s finally completed. No, you can’t wolf-whistle or yell ‘Awesome!’ too. At least the kids didn’t break out into a spell of ‘annoying, distracting’ coughing for a full 80 mins of SSO concert, or play with their mobile phones, munch crackers or giggle among themselves. Clapping between movements has its supporters who deem it a necessary, reverent inconvenience as there are those who dismiss it as fatuous snobbery. If I were in a band I’d imagine playing to a bunch of disadvantaged orphans or handicapped kids to be a more fulfilling experience even if they clapped every 5 minutes, than to some snooty folks who know everything about my music and etiquette, but might as well be ‘enjoying’ themselves with a mp3 recording of my music in the privacy of a cemetery.

Gwiyomi dance craze is too ‘act cute’

From ‘The next dance fad: Gwiyomi’, 14 April 2013, article by Kezia Toh, Sunday Times

A saccharine-sweet pop tune by a South Korean indie singer has inspired a rash of dance spoofs among K-pop stars. And Singaporeans are getting in on the act. Gwiyomi, a song released earlier this year by Hari, has sparked a popular repertoire of hand gestures.

Performed to the ditty’s lyrics of a girl asking her boyfriend never to leave her, the “gwiyomi” – which means “cutie” – involves index fingers pointing to puffed cheeks, and the miming of bunny ears and heart-shaped signs.

The final flourish? Six light kisses – one for each finger on one hand, and both thumbs.

…Gwiyomi early-adopter (Alvin) Chua says gwiyomi will probably not take off in the way that the “highertempo and more catchy” Gangnam Style did here.

“In countries such as Thailand or Taiwan, it seems to be the norm for girls to ‘act cute’,” he says. “Here in Singapore, they probably view it as being overly vain.”

Somewhere in North Korea a madman is threatening to kickstart nuclear Armageddon and his southern neighbours are not only unfazed by his warmongering, but acting cute with bunny ears and finger smooching, slowly turning the rest of the civilised world into a bunch of giggly pansies. Or maybe that is South Korea’s secret counter to the North’s ballistic aplomb all along; If the North get infected with this craze, you’ll see Pyongyang soldiers saluting their Leader with Nyan Nyat cat poses and too busy gwiyom-ing to start a fight. Either that or the entire nation, bred on austerity and grimness, will barf to death. I wonder if KFC is thinking of using the No. 6 sequence to reboot their ‘Finger Lickin’ Good’ campaign. Gwiyomi makes Madonna’s Vogue look like performance art.

Something about acting cute with gestures feels distinctly Japanese, and one can’t help but wonder if K-pop adopted this contagious cute overload from the ‘kawaii’ craze many years back. The Japanese equivalent of gwiyomi was used in 1987 to describe local celebrities with that wide-eyed, deep-dimpled innocence, whose gestures were easily described then as ‘childish’. Today, if you call a Hello Kitty or Gwiyomi hardcore fan ‘childish’, you’ll likely be torn to shreds by the K-pop army with a flurry of cat paws. When I did the Moonwalk in my primary school days, all I got were awe-struck faces. If I do Gwiyomi now, I risk getting a box of lollipops for the remainder of my birthdays.

Similar dance crazes have their roots in Japanese kawaii/anime culture. It has been more than a decade since we were hit by the ‘Para-para’ wave, made popular by Hongkong idol Aaron Kwok. Slighter lower on the ick factor, the para-para at least seems to be a better cardio workout than gwiyomi, though some have complained that it may affect the studies of obsessed teens and isn’t ‘part of our culture’.

Copycat fans like Alvin Chua above suggest that Singaporean girls may find gwiyomi embarrassingly ‘vain’, but I believe there is one group who may take to Gwiyomi as babies would pucker up their lips to the sight of a plump nipple: Mambo Jambo fans. Be warned, this is strangely hypnotic stuff.

You can see the similarities in the range of moves: The number pointing, palms to face, bang-bangs, heart shapes, fake yelling, pick-up-the-phone, sad-face, thumbs-up. All that face touching should prompt HPB to ramp up hand-washing campaigns, though this gwiyomi thing may be more infectious than the H7N9 bird flu. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see some of our MPs taking to gwiyomi as how they warmed up to Gangnam style. Tin Pei Ling is probably practising this is secret, without the Kate Spade box this time. Maybe our kindergartens are already using gwiyomi to teach nursery rhymes as we speak, adding an extra dose of cute to classics like Itsy Bitsy Spider or I’m a Little Teapot.

As social animals, we evolved finger-gesturing for the essential purpose of non-verbal communication before we learnt to even speak, whether as an act of aggression (Robert De Niro’s ‘I’m watching you’ in Meet the Parents), tongue-wagging play (Neh-ni-Neh-ni-Boo-Boo!), flirtation, triumph (V for victory), acknowledgment (thumbs up, OK), tribute to the devil (horns), or making pacts (pinkie-locks). It explains why the gwiyomi has universal  appeal; the perfect combination of cute, mimicry, synchronised playfulness and the ability to bring out the gurgling baby in all of us. God help us all.

There is, however, one solution to end this trend for good in Singapore: Steven Lim, you are our only hope.

CHC youths singing about ‘The Greatest Place’

From ‘City Harvest youths record song in support of Pastor Kong Hee’, 30 July 2012, article by Jeffrey Oon, sg yahoo news.

23 youths from City Harvest Church have recorded a music video to express support for their congregation and its embattled  leadership. Titled “The Greatest Place — City Harvest Church” , the 4-and-a-half-minute video begins with an opening sequence of several youths proclaiming their love for “this place”.

The video, which was recorded earlier this month on 15th July, also describes how the music video came to be. “23 youths from different zones and cellgroups came together to record a song in support of our church and our leadership,” says an opening message in the video.

Several lines of lyrics call City Harvest the place where the youths — who by their looks range from early teens to mid-twenties —  found their “home”, “freedom” and the “greatest place I have ever known.” Although church founder Pastor Kong Hee is never directly mentioned,  he is shown preaching in several sequences while lyrics allude to him as “the greatest man that I have ever known“.

The Passion of the CHC

This tribute ends with a shot of the lines ‘The Greatest Place. I love this place (Heart)’, a couplet which wouldn’t have looked out of place in an NDP song (Someone take notes for next year). Half of this song is dedicated to a man who saved many youths with his brand of Christianity, and despite his brush with the law and alleged siphoning of funds to turn his wife into a superstar, here are 23 youngsters returning the favour, though it remains to be seen if this musical tribute/protest would save Kong Hee and his band of Christian brothers from the cold, atheist hand of Justice.

The history of music is filled with songs dedicated to the male species and masculinity including friends, fathers, grandfathers, brothers, boyfriends, ex boyfriends, husbands, ex husbands, sons, grandsons, kings, princes, cowboys, dictators, gods, Jesus, Satan, Superman, Mohammed Ali and Micheal Jackson. I can’t for the life of me think of any song dedicated to a pastor (the closest is Dusty Springfield’s Son of a Preacher Man), and one that heaps as much idolatrous praise as this, regardless of whether Kong Hee’s maintenance of integrity stands in the face of hard evidence. This feel-good hit of the year is set to be sung by more mouths in rapt unison than our current NDP fodder track ‘Love at First Light’. I can imagine people actually weeping to this, and then breaking into ungodly, ecstatic fits during the ripping guitar solo. Still, this ain’t no Bohemian Rhapsody, and thank God for that.

So let’s look at the lyrics referring to the Greatest One of All and compare it to this solemn but epic tribute to Mao Ze Dong titled ‘People Unite’, summoning whatever limited powers of translation I have when it comes to the Chinese language.

MZD: He is the People’s Great Saviour
KH: He’s a world changer and a History Maker (I don’t see Steve Jobs in the video, still this line is nerve-cringingly cheesy)

MZD: Chairman Mao. Loves the People.
KH: Of all things his love’s undeniable (especially towards Sun Ho)

The lyric of contention in this fawning Ode to Kong Hee (some insist it refers to Jesus Christ) is ‘The greatest man I that have ever known’. What about the actual FATHERS of all 23 boys and girls in the video, especially those toiling night and day for years to raise their Christian kids who are happier in a home away from home, now having to grapple for attention with another man who’s likely to be better looking and more charming than themselves? MM Lee, looks like someone has officially beaten you to it. It’ll be a long while before anyone sings a song about you, our founding father, a man who actually makes it into the Annals of HISTORY. If Kong Hee’s found guilty, this would be waxing lyrical about a JAILBIRD, and that would be, well, awkward. Wait, has any Singaporean man been sung about, ever? You mean we’ve never had a loving tyrant or a folk hero? Not even for our grandfather soldiers who died so we may live during the Japanese Occupation? You mean all these years we never cared about the real heroes of Singapore and all of a sudden we have an opus magnus about some fancy preacher man? Jesus!

But seriously, there are less controversial, more tongue-in-cheek, yet equally fanatical things to band together and sing about other than megachurches and their leaders. Take sports: In 1993, our Lions rapped to ‘The Dream Team’ song. Seeing Jang Jung go ‘I’m Jang Jung and I will TAKER you out’ always raises a chuckle. The sport has never been the same since, and maybe in a good way because we’re left with a touch of zany, fuzzy fondness just thinking about how great we used to be. The Greatest TEAM we’ve ever known.

Well dedicating a song to your church is fine and dandy if you can afford it, and having a man-crush and making your old man jealous is your own prerogative and all, but how about the cause of Gaia protection for a change? Why sing to save one man when you can, well, SAVE MY WORLD? The Greatest Kids in Weird Bee Costumes we’ll ever know.

K-pop vs J-pop

From ‘Unfair to compare K-pop to J-pop’, 5 May 2012, ST Life!

(Tay Wan Xin): I am writing on behalf of many J-pop supporters regarding the story How K-pop Beat J-pop (Life!, April 26). Although it might be true that K-pop is the in thing now, is there a need to write such a biased article?

Using Ayumi Hamasaki to compare with Girl’s Generation is not fair. Hamasaki is a J-pop icon who has been in the music industry for a long time. Girl’s Generation is an idol group which only recently became famous. Hamasaki definitely wins hands down.

Besides, I do not think that the Japanese culture is dying out. People seem to have forgotten that most of their favourite anime, such as Pokemon and Doreamon, are part of Japanese culture and their childhood. Even popular K-dramas such as Boys Over Flowers, City Hunter, Playful Kiss and many others are adaptations of original Japanese manga.

(Goh Jia Jie): …The article has incited virtual violence in social media such as Facebook and Twitter, drawing a line between J-pop and K-pop and dividing individuals who appreciate music. It has resulted in an even more tense relationship between K-pop and J-pop fans in Singapore.

Not a fan of either, but I hope nobody has died defending their musical turf in what appears to me as a rather harmless rivalry, like the sort between top England football clubs, Britpop bands of the nineties, Mac vs Microsoft users or Zoe vs Fann.  Singaporeans generally lack ‘groupie solidarity’ when it comes to supporting their own musical talents. No one will be arguing if Taufik Batistah has more ‘swag’ than Sheik Haikel, nor do our local bands and idols have the kind of obsessive, exclusive following that has earned J and K-pop ‘cult-like’ status. The rest of us who live in the real world tend to differ passionately over who makes the best chicken rice in Singapore instead. Whether fans of J or K pop, without these kids HMV would have disappeared a long time ago and I thank God that their obsession is keeping the CD format alive.

Japanese pop music has been trending in Singapore for much longer than Korean music, long before it was rebranded as J-pop and even before the first Pokemon was born. According to this ST article, the craze was born in the aftermath of the All Japan Red and White festival which was screened on local TV in 1981. K-pop really began to take off at the turn of the millennium (Seoul Music, 22 Aug 2000, ST), with girl groups like SES and Clon setting the stage for future performers. Shinhwa was the first K-pop band to perform here, and that was as late as 2006.  The genre is still relatively young and it’s hard to think of a Korean hit song without someone rapping over it, if not auto-tuned. Manufactured to bubblegum perfection, it’s no surprise that K-pop has had greater success here, riding on the tidal wave of pop exports like drama serials and horror movies. Still, it’s unlikely that your slick RnB-heavy Korean boy bands of today could rival 80’s J groups like Shonen-Tai when it comes to versatility and staying power. Or looking like actual men for that matter.

Indeed, it was a time when the hair drew as much attention as the dance movies. Shohjo-Tai, the female version of Shonen-Tai above,  look like they actually eat three proper meals a day. You also didn’t need 48 members to launch a single then. Most producers would be happy with trios, not an entire classroom.

What K-pop lacks in wackiness and variety, the Japanese have more than made up for it in style. If pop and RnB isn’t your cup of tea, you have the choice of techno (Steve Aoki), or Ogre You AssHole.  Other J-rock/punk bands have names like Maximum the Hormone, Bump of Chicken or Sons of All Pussys.  They even made a movie about a death metal band called Detroit Metal City.

If you need more evidence of J-pop’s staying power, look no further than the universally recognised catchy little 1963 ditty that is ‘Sukiyaki’, which singer Johnny Nakamura brought to the region when the word ‘pop-star’ was still in quotation marks.  It was also probably the first Japanese  contemporary track ever heard by Singaporeans. K-pop fans talk about the genre’s success in ‘crossovers’ into US markets. This guy scored a No 1 on the Billboard Charts before most K-pop fans’ parents were even born. Girls’ Generation could ‘bring all the boys out’ and will never achieve what Sukiyaki did for Asia in the face of legends of the time like the Beatles and Rolling Stones.

And of course, there’s Kitaro, still alive by the way. It’s heartening to see musicians sticking to the dying trade that is New Age Music and not sell-out by dressing like pimps. Alas, only spa owners would use his works now.


FHM magazine depicting Jesus with a shotgun

From ‘FHM pulled off shelves over articles’, 3 Feb 2012, article by Jennai Durai, ST

ALL unsold copies of this month’s issue of FHM Singapore magazine will be pulled off stands islandwide, after two articles in it sparked the ire of Christians here for being insensitive.

…The magazine, published by Media-Corp Publishing, carried an article headlined ‘Which Of These Celebs Might Secretly Be Jesus?’ and another headlined ‘Jesus 2.0: What Can We Expect?’. In the former, a number of well-known personalities, including American talk-show host Oprah Winfrey and teenage pop singer Justin Bieber, are assessed for ‘evidence’ that they may or may not be Jesus Christ.

The second article had a photograph of a man dressed as Jesus, holding a gun and strapped with ammunition. Stating the Christian belief that Jesus will return one day, the article listed ‘updates’ that people might expect to see in him, such as the ability to shape shift. It includes a review of a controversial book called The Second Coming by John Niven, which imagines Jesus coming back to earth as a musician in New York.

…The articles rankled IT professional S.W. Ong, 48, who wrote to The Straits Times about it. ‘In this country, race and religion are sensitive things. I understand that FHM is a light-hearted magazine, but they should exercise some editorial responsibility and not make fun of any religion,’ he said. He said that one of the things that offended him was a careless phrase in the second article that said that Jesus ‘only made it to 33 years of age before things went downhill’. In the Bible, Jesus is said to have died on the cross at the age of 33 before rising from the dead.

‘To say his life ‘went downhill’ is wrong and very insensitive to Christians. It’s written without understanding the religion or how Christians understand the purpose of Jesus’ life on earth,’ said Mr Ong. ‘Most of the time, Christians don’t want to appear very dogmatic, but no magazine should be making fun of a religion. It can be seen as blasphemous.’

…When told about the articles, the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) condemned them as ‘highly objectionable and deplorable, as they make fun of the Lord Jesus Christ who is worshipped by Christians’. The council noted that the articles appeared during the season of Lent, during which Christians remember the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

‘We request the authorities to look into the matter and ensure that the objectionable material is removed, and that the gross disrespect against any religion and its religious figures who are held sacred by a religious community, such as in this instance, is not repeated,’ said the council in a statement.

<image removed from source>

According to the Guardian’s review of ‘The Second Coming’, Jesus is depicted not just as an aspiring musician, but ‘smokes dope’ as well. Not sure if John Niven’s book is banned here, but this isn’t the first time any attempt to demystify the Lord Jesus Christ into a fallible militant or singing humanoid has been clamped down by churches for blasphemy. Naturally, this hasty recall would draw curiosity to what Jesus 2.0 is about (as evident from searches landing as blog hits), or how Justin Bieber is in any way related to the Son of God (Both are famous, worshipped and have the ability to make people cry hysterically). ‘Shape-shifting’, traditionally practiced by the ultimate master of disguise and deception, the Devil himself, could be seen as a demonic power that may offend Christians, though that would technically make Jesus a rather cool X-men character. The man can already walk on water, for God’s sake. Not even Magneto could do that.

In 1974, churches were riled by the screening of ‘rock opera’ Jesus Christ Superstar to the point of petitioning to the PM to ban the film. To minimise the possibility of viewers taking the film at face value and believing that Jesus is actually David Bowie in disguise, pamphlets citing ‘religious guidance’ were distributed at cinemas. Before the screening of each film, the following announcement was flashed:

This is not an authentic portrayal of Jesus Christ, Son of God. For a true and accurate account, please read the Bible – The Protestant Churches of Singapore.

In the clip below, Jesus screeches in falsetto demanding God to provide an answer to why ‘he has to die’.

In a musical film of similar religious bent called ‘Godspell’, a Superman costume-wearing Jesus is ‘crucified’ on a fence to a gospel rock soundtrack, again a ‘gross misinterpretation’ of what really happened in the Bible.

Jesus being too ‘human’ for the churches’ liking was portrayed in Martin Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ, while in the 1999 film Dogma, God was played by rock icon Alanis Morrissette. Needless to say, both films were banned here. There appears to be little tolerance, or sense of humour, for Jesus the Man to  manifest himself as anything but, in particular a singing, dancing, smoking, funky dude who fancies a little fun  and rock music on the side other than the gruelling, divine work of saving us from all our sins.To boost Christ’s ‘hip quotient’, he’s referred to in some circles as the catchy ‘JC’, urban shorthand like ‘JLo’ or ‘MJ’. In the film Jesus camp, there’s even a scene of kids dancing to ‘JC in Da House’, I kid you not. Yet if one were to put Jesus in a hoodie, ‘blinged ‘out  with gold crosses and hint at the slightest bit of ‘swag’ whatsoever, you would get the church elders up in arms. You can rap about Jesus, but you can’t suggest that he ‘busts a rhyme or two’ as well.

As for turning Jesus into Rambo, how often do you hear sermons preaching about Christians being ‘soldiers’ for Christ? In ‘The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to Timothy’,  Paul tells Timothy ‘Suffer hardship with me,  as a good soldier for Christ Jesus’. A 2002 sermon by the Gospel Light Church in Singapore was titled ‘Onward Christian Soldiers, Marching as to War!‘. I would think Jesus donning a helmet instead of a crown of thorns and leading his faithful Christian soldiers into ‘battle’ would be a more accurate metaphor of biblical mission than him rocking out and pouting defiantly with an electric guitar while his adorers wait eagerly offstage to body -surf their musical Messiah to Heaven. Maybe the folks at FHM should have fitted Rambo Jesus with a wooden sword and a shield instead.

Banning a FHM magazine, which isn’t the sort of material good Christians should be browsing anyway judging from its sultry covers, wouldn’t staunch the wave of gross blasphemy that one encounters everywhere else. On Youtube you’ll see Jesus sashaying to ‘I Will Survive’, in a Street Fighter challenge vs God, fighting Santa Claus in South Park, or matching wits with the Terminator in Nazareth. In Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, it is even suggested that Jesus HAD SEX with Mary Magdalene. In the upcoming Lady Gaga concert, you may even hear some blasphemous lyrics about the Man’s race. In the bid to spread the Word and make an ancient religion appealing to modern minds, today’s Christ has been unwittingly morphed into a fashionable target in pop culture, parodied to death like Ronald McDonald or Kim Jong Il, yet despite the abundance of comic trivialisations, the Church remains a force to reckon with, not only having the authority to pull magazines from shelves but stop their own believers from wearing samfoos to service.

I’ve read the article above myself and don’t see any intended malice in it, with the ‘going downhill’ statement referring to Jesus’s fate on the cross, not the state of Christianity. If anything it was a rather tame satire on Jesus as icon and superhero, a harmless commentary on the godlike divinity of celebrities (including Simon Cowell and Tom Cruise) without undermining His existence, teachings or the veracity of the Bible in general. It’s not a Christian version of the ‘Satanic Verses’ that’s for sure, but I think Dan Brown beats this hands down in terms of  outright heresy. A case of the Church ‘jumping the gun’, perhaps. Maybe it’s not Jesus that needs an upgrade, but the Church that needs to , and  I quote DPM Tharman, ‘catch up’ with the times instead.

K-pop fans with lightsticks like a cult

From ‘Crazy about K pop’, 10 Dec 2011, various letters in Life! Mailbag, ST

(Stella Hartono): Clearly, Adeline Chia has not studied her topic well enough if she generalises fans showing their support as being part of a ‘cult gathering’. What about fans at World Cup or SuperBowl?

In the case of TVXQ, it was their first fan meet here after a year of hiatus and problems. Is it wrong for fans to show their support by waving lightsticks to create an atmosphere of warmth and encouragement? I pity her for never experiencing such a passion in her life and criticising other people’s passions instead.

(Sharina J):…TVXQ has inspired and encouraged me in times of difficulties. When I felt like giving up on my studies, I found out that TVXQ member Changmin actually came in third for an examination he took, despite his busy schedule. That inspired me to work hard. Listening to their soft, melodic voices calms my heart.

(Noe Muhonen):…K-pop has nothing to do with cults. Where Ms Chia refers to us as cults, we talk about families. We support one another when we are going through difficult times. We cry together and we laugh together. Talking about our fandom as a ‘cult’ is highly offensive. You would not call your own family a cult, would you?

ST staff writer Adeline Chia’s rant on K-pop remains one of the more delightfully honest and scathing reads in the ST in a long time, and with such expected vehemence from the Hallyu wave ‘family’, she has not just proven that K pop fans are wildly deluded and rely on boybands to pass their exams, but have a dismal lack of any sense of humour or self-parody whatsoever, nevermind how much they ‘laugh’ together. Adeline’s ‘cult’ reference is a common figure of speech and was never intended to accuse K-pop fans of engaging in satanic, animal sacrificing rites, so these kids should just ‘lighten’ up already (hurr-hurr). This is a journalist who reviews arthouse performances, so she is bound to have a biased opinion. And, for my reading pleasure, thankfully so. In contrast here’s what she has to say about ‘Kaspar’, from her Facebook page.

Saw Lasalle’s anarchic production of Kaspar and was struck by how fantastic Peter Handke’s language play was. It twists sentences into odd shapes and bombards you with repetition and permutations, demonstrating how language is an organ of control. All this matched by anarchic, high-energy ensemble acting, which was uneven. Special mention goes to the sexy dominatrix “prompter” played by Jean Toh

Which probably gives you some idea already about what to expect from a commentary on K-pop, which is to ‘art’ as what crabsticks are to seafood. Here’s a couple of ripping, dismissive lines off ‘Sick of the K pop cult’ (Dec 8 2011, Life!):

…I am heartily sick of it. Every bit of it. The manufactured sounds, the ersatz emotions, the clone-like stars, the cult- like, weepy fandom.

…Recently, watching a sea of red lightsticks keeping beat to a song made me and my companion grab on to each other. Eyes wide in terror, we communicated wordlessly for fear of persecution. Our faces said this: ‘Are we at a cult gathering?’

Adeline’s mockery of K pop may come across as sour-grapes to the fanbase, the kind of snide cynicism that critics love to deliver at the expense of an adolescent fetish. Anyone who uses the word ‘ersatz’ to describe bubblegum pop probably belongs to the ‘serious, indie musician’ fan camp, and K pop with its addictive but hollow aesthetic of blending Western influences with demigod/goddess appeal and slick dance moves is a phenomenon just waiting to be bashed by music-fans who’d think they have better taste in music. There is no doubt a gratifying sense of achievement in telling a K pop fan that their idols’ ‘original’ song sounds like an estrogen-enhanced, hip hop rip-off of an 80’s New Wave classic. That smugness is only temporary though, up to the point you realise that to your average K Pop worshipper, the timeline of Western pop music begins only at Lady Gaga’s Pokerface, and she would even have trouble recognising household, though now prehistoric, names like Spice Girls or Boyzone (B.G, or Before Gaga)

But haven’t we grown tired bashing the same old wave after wave of synthetic boy/girl band pop? Just as K pop fans bond over a common, irrational love for manufactured sounds, likewise those who relish mocking them bond over a mutual disdain for the ‘K-cult’, to the extent of homophobic insults like rapper Sheikh Haikel’s  U-Kiss my Ass. Such polarisation could account for K pop’s ridiculous excess and success; the presence of a common enemy i.e people who profess better taste in music, that the ‘family’ needs to defend themselves against the intelligentsia with their weapon of choice: synchronised lightsticks. People either go giggly and delirious over K-bands, hugging autographed CD covers to sleep, or adopt a ‘cooler-than-thou’ attitude ready to unleash a stream of comparisons against ‘REAL bands’. Either way, you’re still part of a groupie mob, and that’s only, and sadly, human.

I’m actually impartial to the K-pop mainstream, with its catchy, predictable tunes, cutie-pie porcelain girls with dreamy eyes, perfectly synchronised dance moves, forgettable band names that sound like permutations of a bar code serial number, well-produced music videos you can’t take your eyes off etc. It’s like musical Farmville, rich chocolate cake, Mills and Boons erotica or the Hey Macarena! song, guilty pleasures that we all can’t do without, arty-farty literary critics included. In fact, I’m more likely to wince and groan at Train’s ‘Soul Sister’ (a ‘pop-rock’ abomination) than anything off the discography of the Backstreet Boys or TVXQ, for the latter only because I wouldn’t realise it even it they had terrible lyrics like Train has (or non-lyrics, it’s just one ‘hey-ay’ after another). It only becomes a problem when people take K-pop seriously rather than treat it like the disposable fluff that it was always intended to be. In most circles, that would be called ‘entertainment’.

What bugs me is whether K-pop idols are really worth emulating as role models or pursued as a ‘healthy’ obsession as what supporters would tell you. In 2007, hip hop performer MC Mong extracted his own TEETH to dodge conscription into the Korean army. Chae Dong Ha, formerly of ‘SG wannabe’,  committed suicide in May this year after the failure of a high-flying career, following in the footsteps of Yuni in 2007, incidents which spark off copycat suicidal tendencies among their fans.  G-dragon of BIG BANG, was busted for smoking marijuana. You could say drugs, sex and killing yourself are fair staple of the K-pop universe just like they would be for any international superstar, but followers making important decisions like when to study hard, how to dodge NS or whether to take their own lives, out of blind dedication and imitation of what a celebrity does or says, is, as Adeline rightly observed, borderline cult-like. If Shinee tells their fans a UFO will descend on New Years Eve and take fans on a ride across the galaxy trailing a stray comet to the ecstatic beats of ‘Ring Ding Dong’, after consuming a magical joy-juice which is actually cyanide, I’m sure a faithful handful would oblige. With lightsticks in hand.

Here’s a series of wonky activities which sound exactly like the castigations of a religious cult, though it’s actually what aspiring K pop stars go through in their ‘training’.

..Strictly no boyfriends, no mobile phones and no unsupervised trips – even to the toilet. When in public, the girls can’t ever take off their sunglasses lest their tired peepers are caught on camera. They must speak only Korean and respond to their Korean stage names. They will address their Korean management as their family – the men they will call “appa” (father in Korean) and women “umma” (mother in Korean). For most of their 14-hour days, the use of make-up is prohibited as the Koreans require a bare-faced, natural look. After 7pm, there will be no eating or drinking – even a single drop of water won’t be allowed….Five hours of gym, dance, vocal and Korean language lessons are compulsory daily.There will be no fraternising with other K-pop stars or anyone outside their “family”.

Which makes K-pop and its sinister star-making machine the guiltiest guilty pleasure of all.

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