From ‘Video for NDP theme song lacks inclusivity’, 22 June 2016, ST Forum
(Liew Kai Khiun): Although the music video for this year’s National Day Parade (NDP) theme song is made in a novel way, I am disappointed with its overall theme, which lacks purpose and inclusivity (“NDP theme song captures spirit of S’pore’s future“; Monday).
It gives the troubling impression of a Singapore of the future as a flimsy and boxed-in cardboard consumerist city-state, instead of a nation built upon real concrete and steel achievements, which characterised previous productions.
What I found more disturbing was the lack of representation and inclusivity in this production.
Although the featured band 53A has a multiracial make-up, and the performers are also multicultural, the actual footage focuses principally on lead vocalist Sara Wee. The rapidly shifting camera lens pays only passing reference to the rest of the cast, who are mainly young and able-bodied.
Over the years, there has been heightened consciousness about inclusivity in Singapore. We celebrate the achievements of female fighter pilots, scientists, Paralympians, as well as a female Speaker of Parliament.
With the elderly population growing, we are adjusting not just physical infrastructure, but also mindsets, so that seniors have a place in the Singapore of the future. Sadly, the music video for this year’s NDP theme song gives the impression that Singapore is only for the young and beautiful – defined narrowly as the cardboard, fun-loving hipster.
It is good to try out innovative artistic directions, and the production is certainly outstanding as a commercial music video. But as the video for an NDP theme song, it should encapsulate the social fabric and achievements of its citizenry, and be able to connect to the larger public in more intimate and memorable ways. One must not forget this more solemn purpose.
Another year, another complaint about an NDP song. The last time a pop-rock band tried their hand at NDP-composing (Electrico), the end product ‘What Do You See‘ was labelled as boring as Coldplay. To be fair, ‘Tomorrow Here Today’ is catchier than Dick Lee’s SG50 offering last year, though it’s clearly inspired by the rousing tracking-shot jamboree of Feist’s 1-2-3-4 only with recycled lyrics. Yes, it’s full of fun and spontaneity and if you feel oestracised by this video because you’re a grumpy introvert and shit at dancing, then that’s just too bad.
Without making any judgement of song quality, the complainant gives a scathing review of how the video is way too ‘hipster’ for his liking, and is clearly using classic propaganda fluff of the 80s and 90s as a benchmark. Videos like Count on Me Singapore and One People, One Nation, One Singapore have obligatory shots of our ‘steel and concrete’ achievements like new HDB blocks or a cruising MRT train to the tune of faceless singers. Not to mention goosebumps-inducing montages of families of different races hanging out against an unrealistic blank background with no context whatsoever. The NDP video has since evolved, from covert propaganda tool dead set on drilling multiracial harmony into your brains to something with more pop culture leanings, yet still struggling to keep up with the times. At least we try.
The ‘cardboard’ reference is also taking things way too literally. What’s intended as a stylish prop is viewed as a metaphor for our ‘flimsiness’. It’s an NDP video, not contemporary art. I’m not going to watch it and go ‘Hmm, that stool floating in the air is a symbol of how we have become ‘unseated’ from our roots’. For every viewer who associates a shot of our MBS or our MRT network with progress there are others who’re given a sombre reminder of the raw wilderness that we’ve lost for the sake of dollars and cents instead.
But do we really need another video full of stereotypical ‘solemn purpose’? Does anyone still care about NDP songs anyway? Why can’t we have some sass for change, like this super non-inclusive video featuring 3 divas competing for everyone’s attention. By the way, hard to believe that this video is 17 DAMN YEARS OLD!
If Singaporeans need an annual reminder in the form of an all-inclusive NDP video to connect them to the ‘larger public in more intimate ways’, then it would be a pretty sad affair. For all the social media slugfests that we have to deal with, the occasional 1 minute video of ordinary Singaporeans helping each other out in situational crises is far more meaningful than a supercut of all the NDP videos in history lumped together, an audio-visual monstrosity best utilised in a cold interrogation chamber to dig info out of people who breach Cooling Off Day.
Besides, if you want to put in a token shot of old people doing taijiquan or a Paralympian blazing past the finish line, why stop there? You can’t call for catch-all inclusivity and cherry-pick Singaporeans from specific walks of life. You need the good, the bad and the ugly to provide a complete ‘representation’ of society. Here’s a list of people noticeably absent from any NDP video, even if they’re as Singaporean as you and I. I’d be only too happy to be proven wrong.
- Cardboard collecting aunties
- Cat-feeding aunties
- Ah Bengs with tattoos/ex-convicts
- Opposition party members
- Instagram Influencers
- Lawrence Khong
- Street artists
- Motorcycle gangs
- Actual hipsters
So if this year’s focus is on ‘the young and beautiful’, then so be it. Because that is exactly what Singapore is – a still young, beautiful nation. Next year, let’s have Uncle Sim leading the chorus shall we?