Let Singaporeans create their own NDP songs

Kids react to One Singapore

Kids react to One Singapore

One Singapore, theme song for National Day 2013, has outed the closet music critic in every Singaporean since it was unleashed onto the unsuspecting public (unsuspecting because no one had a clue it could be this bad). The criticisms have been harsh: bad lyrics, kiddish arrangement, idiotic rap sequence. Even Stephen Chow thinks it is bad, though as a foreigner he really shouldn’t be meddling in our affairs. After seeing all these sorts of comments, I just had to check out the video to see what all the fuss was about.

My impression? Well, I don’t feel anything particular to be honest. It’s definitely not something I will voluntarily listen to again, but neither do I think it is any worse than theme songs from other years. But then I’m hardly one to judge, having paid little attention to these National Day theme songs de l’annee for some years now. I remember checking out last year’s song as well, but I can’t recall its tune or even its name now. In fact, I doubt I can name a single song from the last ten years even if you point a gun to my head.

Like many other Singaporeans, I’m still stuck in the late eighties and early nineties when songs like Count on Me Singapore, We are Singapore and One People, One Nation, One Singapore meant a lot more to me. I can still remember their lyrics after all these years. Even Home, the 1998 theme song voted the most popular in a recent online poll, doesn’t register highly on me because it sounds more like a pop song than a National Day song. Nothing wrong with that but somehow the feel is a little different. Those classics from the eighties have defined what National Day songs should sound like.

Is there a need to have a new song ever year then? Dick Lee, who has produced two, certainly doesn’t think so. He said, “Every year people only sing it once and all they want to sing are the old songs. Do we need a new one every year?” It’s true that we don’t have to rigidly produce one song every year and force it onto everyone’s delicate eardrums, but, at the same time, we can’t rely on recycling old ones forever. These old songs struck a chord with many of us because we grew up with them, but would kids of future generations identify with them as much? The affiliation will wear off as the years go by.

Dick Lee likened these theme songs to Christmas carols where everyone just prefer the classics. Indeed, if you look at the festive songs that hog the airwaves every December, most of the popular ones were written many decades or even centuries ago. Very few hits from the last thirty years have joined this select group of Christmas standards – I can only think of Last Christmas by Wham, All I Want For Christmas by Mariah Carey, and Do They Know It’s Christmas by Band Aid. If we go a little further back, there is John Lennon’s Happy Xmas (War Is Over), one of my own favourites.

That, however, hasn’t stopped modern day singers from churning out new Christmas songs every year in the hope of striking jackpot. In the movie About a Boy, Hugh Grant’s character can afford not working his whole life and permanently lives off the royalties of a Christmas hit his father wrote eons ago. Now that would be every songwriter and his descendant’s dream. Granted, our National Day songs are nowhere as lucrative, but if we stopped producing new ones we will never get the next classic. Also, some songs may be poorly received at the beginning and only become popular years later.

If there’s any good that came out of One Singapore, it is that its unpopularity has brought the limelight onto other songs produced by ordinary Singaporeans for the occasion. Several cover versions of One Singapore have appeared, and there are original creations as well. Most of these were much better received by Singaporeans than the official song.

This is therefore a no-brainer. Rather than badger established artistes and songwriters to write a song every year (Dick Lee claimed to be asked every year), we should just ask Singaporeans to create and submit songs for a contest to select the theme song for the year. Then get a few music professionals to select a shortlist out of these and put them out for a public vote.

The winner will get to professionally record the single in time for National Day, release it on the online stores, and perform live on the NDP stage. Sounds like X Factor, I know, but in this age of social media and crowdsourcing the old style of producing songs behind closed doors may not work anymore. This year’s song may be sang by a group of ordinary Singaporeans, but it is still the result of the standard production process sanctioned by the NDP committee.

Holding such a contest is a win-win situation, really. We will have a song every year that is bound to go down well with many, while talented Singaporeans get to launch their music careers. I’m sure Dick Lee will be most supportive of the idea, since it spares him from having to say a polite eff off to the NDP committee every year.