Will Singapore love the next NDP song?

Entertainer Dick Lee may promote next year's National Day theme song earlier as he hopes it will become popular through exposure.
Entertainer Dick Lee may promote next year's National Day theme song earlier as he hopes it will become popular through exposure.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE

Songwriter Dick Lee who is penning it feels pressure from high expectations for the nation's 50th birthday

How does one write a National Day song that tops Home, the most beloved of them all?

The magnitude of the task is probably bigger, rather than smaller, if the assigned songwriter had also composed Home.

Indeed, Dick Lee is already feeling the pressure, although there is a year to go before next year's golden jubilee National Day Parade. The all-round entertainer and creative director of this year's NDP has been tasked with coming up with a new National Day song for the milestone birthday.

Having previously written the well- loved Home (1998) as well as We Will Get There (2002), he knows that expectations are high. "It's very stressful, I must say, because everyone will be waiting to hear it with a bunch of stones behind their back and you're putting yourself out there," he tells Life! with a laugh.

In a text message, he is already referring to the tune he is working on as The Song.

Since Home found its way into the hearts of many Singaporeans following the 1998 NDP, he has been asked to pen a song each year the annual national celebration comes around. He says he considers the offer each time it is made, but adds: "I always realise I have to top my own song which is a ridiculous sort of thing to be doing. I don't need to write another one."

Ironically, the pressure he is feeling now might not have been as great if he had agreed to one of those requests before the Golden Jubilee. He says wrily: "If I had written a theme song for this year, there may not be so much of a push for next year."

He took a break from tradition by not having an NDP theme song at this year's parade, but, he points out: "You can say that Big Island was a theme song as it was used throughout the show as a motif. But because we didn't promote it, there was no pressure to love it." Lee wrote Big Island.

At this point, he does not know what the theme for next year will be. By definition, a theme song has to tie in with the theme of the celebration.

Dave Tan, 38, frontman of local band Electrico, who wrote the 2009 NDP theme song, What Do You See?, says: "The new song for next year should be one that invites thought and inspires, not dictate."

Lee also has other ideas he is considering. As next year is Singapore's 50th birthday, he is interested in getting a few songs to celebrate the occasion, rather than have attention focused on one theme song.

The other issue he is thinking about is the lead time - he may introduce the song earlier than the traditional one month before National Day, as a theme song becomes popular through exposure. "If we treat it as more of a celebration of an anniversary and promote it earlier, then it has a chance of becoming known."

After all, Home was not composed as an NDP theme song. Lee wrote it in 1997 for Sing Singapore, a biennial song festival organised by the National Arts Council in the 1990s. Singer Kit Chan then performed it at the 1998 NDP.

Even as Lee wrestles with The Song, he gets a vote of confidence from Hype Records' Ken Lim, who wrote and produced Together for the 1999 NDP and produced Reach Out For The Skies for the 2005 NDP.

Lim, 49, says: "Dick is a very competent songwriter, so there shouldn't be any problems."

He adds: "All these national songs over the years were basically to address a situation at a period of time and to send a message that was being promoted that National Day. It's not so much you write something you feel strongly about, but it's more about being in line with the theme and concept of the parade.

"Times are different now and I feel that the song should be more about appreciation and not so propagandistic."

He suggests: "Dick has to look at the situation from his point of view and his perspective and put across the message he likes to say to the people."

This is yet another option that Lee is considering: To not write a specific NDP theme song but instead come up with a celebratory number. "Maybe I should just write a song for Singapore and give it to everybody and that will be my gift."

Songwriter Clement Chow, 53, the original singer of Count On Me, Singapore, says: "Celebrating 50 years, that's kind of a tall order. But I always think a song's got to be honest. Yes, it should be nationalistic to a certain extent but the song should talk about setting standards for the way things ought to be. The song has to bring out that sentiment of Majulah Singapura in the sense that we have to move forward."

In the meantime, Lee, who turns 58 on Aug 24, has his plate full marking his own milestone anniversary as his first album, Life Story, was released in 1974.

He has released a two-CD compilation of his works as well as a piano and vocal songbook of his most popular works, including Home and Chase, which was performed by the late Cantopop star Leslie Cheung.

He is also holding a concert at Drama Centre Theatre on Aug 31, "a tribute to all the people who have helped me in the past and who have given me breaks". The show is already sold out.

He is directing a revival of his 1970s-themed musical comedy Hotpants, which runs at the Drama Centre Theatre until Aug 30. "I've directed only once and that was for Hotpants in 1997 and I feel this is what I would like to do at this point of my career."

He is planning to direct a revival of his hit musical Beauty World (1988) and is going to move into films. He is forming a new company with producer and distributor mm2 Entertainment called Dick Lee Entertainment. It will produce films, musicals and TV shows and also seek to uncover singing talent. Lee is planning to direct a movie about music, and the story is still being finalised.

bchan@sph.com.sg

What do you think the National Day song for the Golden Jubilee should be about? Write to stlife@sph.com.sg