Thank you for the xinyao

Three friends - (from left) Tay Ping Hui, Darren Lim and Christopher Lee - struggle to keep a record label afloat.
Three friends - (from left) Tay Ping Hui, Darren Lim and Christopher Lee - struggle to keep a record label afloat.PHOTO: MEDIACORP

Crescendo not only counts the costs of running a music business in Singapore, but also celebrates local compositions

In Crescendo, the current Channel 8 drama about the music business, Jiang Chufan (Tay Ping Hui) is the musical genius responsible for countless songs in the Singaporean songbook and his friend Yang Yiwei (Christopher Lee) is the businessman.

Yiwei is also the hero here. As the chief executive officer of a struggling record label he started with Chufan and another friend, Luo Dawei (Darren Lim), Yiwei takes real risks, from gulping a mystery drink (possibly urine) to appease a Chinese investor to mortgaging his own home to finance the debut of Alixia (Olivia Ong), a Singaporean singer championed by Chufan.

To be specific, Yiwei is a Singaporean hero - the latest in a long line of mavericks imagined by WaWa Pictures in dramas including Secrets For Sale and Game Plan - who runs the quantifiable risks that Singaporeans understand, but might not take.


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Singapore, in founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's formulation, is a country that can't afford poetry and it follows that music is an extravagance too.

In Crescendo, Yiwei, Chufan and Dawei have to face the costs, financial and human, of being in the music business.

In early episodes, Yiwei and Chufan lock horns over the former's plan to enter a lucrative contract to produce vanity records for a Chinese tycoon's goddaughter, which will delay the debut of the composer's talented, disheartened student, Alixia.

And in a strain of melodrama, Chufan is still good friends with Yiwei's estranged wife Wang Yafang (Cynthia Koh), who sang with the boys back in junior college, during the surge of xinyao, Singaporean folk-pop, in the 1980s.

Later, after the label decides to put Singaporean talent first and promote Alixia in the more significant Taiwanese market, she has second thoughts.

Typecast as a dummy on a Taiwanese variety show, she tires of having to play-act to draw viewers' attention, when all she wants to do is sing.

She also bumps into Xueli (Ann Kok), a former xinyao singer who is now a walking cautionary tale. Xueli, who is also Dawei's first love, landed in Taiwan years ago, never made it big and has been reduced to singing at a steakhouse.

But her unhappiness has a way of fading, or being transformed, when she sings Mavis Hee's I Know And Yet.

And in flashbacks to Yiwei and Chufan's youth, in the innocent years before the business grew prominent, the music shines: a wealth of xinyao, intimately performed by actors including Bonnie Loo, back when the characters had nothing and yet everything.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2015, with the headline 'Thank you for the xinyao'. Print Edition | Subscribe