Pop Culture

Singaporeans learning to embrace home-grown talent before they get international acclaim

It is nice when local talents get recognition overseas, but Singaporeans should nurture them during their journey to stardom too

Singer Nathan Hartono was already talented before his great run in Sing! China led many Singaporeans to embrace him as a success story.

Ditto film-maker Anthony Chen, who got people to take notice of him only after his triumph at the Golden Horse Awards with the 2013 film Ilo Ilo.

In Singapore, results matter, a perhaps unfortunate fact we all seemed to have internalised since the Primary School Leaving Examinations.

One is considered successful only if you have the results to prove it. Things are better if those results are given by a major international body.

That is certainly the reality that plagues the creative industries here - promising artists, musicians and film-makers alike go unrecognised by the mainstream community, unless and until a big foreign organisation gives them some credit first.

Nathan Hartono broke into the mainstream here only after he came in second in the hit Chinese TV singing contest Sing! China.
Nathan Hartono broke into the mainstream here only after he came in second in the hit Chinese TV singing contest Sing! China. PHOTO: ST FILE

It happened with Chen, who wiped out his savings in his struggle to make his debut feature Ilo Ilo. After his film took the Camera d'Or at the Cannes International Film Festival, as well as four Golden Horse awards from Taiwan, including for Best Picture, he became the country's golden boy overnight. The 32-year-old now fronts TV commercials, can readily get the funding he needs to make his next film and sits on the jury of major film festivals.

Hartono, 25, did not break into the mainstream, despite having put out albums over the last decade, until he came in second in the hit Chinese TV singing contest Sing! China, this year.

Today, even non-music fans are eager for a piece of him, turning up in droves to catch a glimpse of him at mall events.

All of this is understandable.

To be recognised by an organisation as prestigious as the Golden Horse Awards - seen as the Oscars of the Chinese-speaking world - or to get exposure from a show as popular as Sing! China - one of China's most-watched reality TV series - indicates one is good enough to make it in the big leagues.

It is nice, to be sure, when a local actor receives a local award, but the talent pool in which he competes in is so much smaller.

This is why the hype over Christopher Lee's Best Actor win at the Star Awards in 2012 was considerably less compared with that over the Best Actor trophy he received at Taiwan's famous Golden Bell Awards just a year later.

There is nothing wrong with celebrating all of their overseas achievements; they have done well and we should be proud of them.

But Singaporeans should start showing support for their fellow countrymen before foreign entities do it.

How many individuals here have had to give up on their creative passions - and perhaps that potential next Golden Horse, for example - because it appears too lofty a dream?

We need to start watching more of their films, going to their gigs and reading their books. We need to get past the idea that creative talent is such a rare find here.

And we need to continue to put our money where our mouths are.

Sadly, even when Singaporeans hail the successes of other Singaporeans, it is often only lip service.

After Ilo Ilo's international winning streak, Facebook was flooded with excited posts from people from all walks of life about how pleased they were about the film flying Singapore's flag high on the global map. That enthusiasm barely translated to box-office numbers, which means that many people did not bother to watch it in the cinemas.

After the film had a second run following the Golden Horse Awards, its total gross was $1.2 million - healthy for a local film, but far from the $12.6 million that Hollywood's Iron Man 3 earned as the top-grossing film in Singapore that year. It is not even close to the $7.9 million earned by Ah Boys To Men 2 (2013), the highest-grossing local film to date.

When Hartono releases the album he is working on, we hope everyone who wants a selfie with him now, will also want to buy the album.

Things are improving - the home-grown success of local music acts such as The Sam Willows and Gentle Bones is encouraging. Both have a strong following among local millennials.

Similarly, last year's anthology film 7 Letters - which comprises seven stories from seven local directors - received good word-of-mouth and general hype online led to snaking ticket queues and multiple sold-out sessions.

Graphic novelist Sonny Liew's The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye saw a massive spike in sales last year after controversy broke out online following the news that the National Arts Council revoked a $8,000 publishing grant over "sensitive content".

Here is hoping that the trend towards supporting local talents becomes a habit.

As much as we should reward local talents for their results, we should strive to nurture and support them during their journey to stardom.

•Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2016, with the headline 'Start by showing support for fellow Singaporeans'. Subscribe