Who and what to watch in 2020: From new entertainment options to people set to make waves

Here are some things to watch out for in the new year handpicked by The Straits Times Life! team.

From people who are set to make waves to new entertainment options, The Sunday Times writers highlight their predictions for the year ahead

While The Sunday Times writers do not lay claim to 20/20 vision, we are going to peek into our crystal ball for an educated guess at what readers have to look forward to in the year ahead.

From new entertainment options to people who are set to make waves, 2020 looks packed with stuff, and people, to watch.

The juggernaut on the entertainment front is of course Disney+, the multimedia giant's new foray into streaming. But can Disney retain its magic once the streaming wars deepen?

On the pop music front, Singapore-born talent are storming the stage.

Singer Stefanie Sun celebrates 20 years with a concert tour, no mean feat in the fickle world of pop.

Electronic music wunderkind Jasmine Sokko is another talent to watch. Hot on the heels of her participation in the Chinese electronic music reality show Rave Now and her Mandarin single, the burning question is: Can she conquer the coveted Chinese market?

Women, too, are taking the arts spotlight, with theatre veteran Natalie Hennedige appointed festival director designate of the Singapore International Festival of Arts and corporate maven Goh Swee Chen taking over the helm as chairman of the National Arts Council.

How will Hennedige's practitioner vision shape the festival? And how will Ms Goh steer the council's course through the increasingly complex world of culture creation in Singapore?

It looks like the new decade is off to a roaring start.


Stefanie Sun


PHOTO: STEFANIE SUN/WEIBO

Home-grown singer Stefanie Sun will hold a concert this year to celebrate her 20th year in show business.

On May 8 last year, Sun, 41, uploaded on Instagram a photo showing herself and her husband, Dutch-Indonesian businessman Nadim van der Ros, with Marina Bay Sands in the background.

It was captioned: "Hallo, I'm doing my 20th year in the biz concert next year. I'm not quitting. Sabotage!".

She was possibly referring to fake rumours online that she was intending to quit show business.

 
 
 

Her debut album, Yan Zi, was released in 2000 and featured hit songs such as Cloudy Day, Love Document and Turbo.

It won her the Best New Artist accolade at the 12th Golden Melody Awards.

The Mandopop singer has 13 studio albums to her name, the most recent being A Dancing Van Gogh (2017), which features the hit song, Windbreaker.

On July 23 last year, she launched the single, Eternal Love. Her other hits include My Desired Happiness, Green Light and Encounter.

Sun was among the stars who lent their voices to last year's National Day Parade theme song, Our Singapore.

She married Mr van der Ros in 2011.

The couple have a son, seven, and a daughter, one.

Benson Ang


Natalie Hennedige


PHOTO: THE ARTS HOUSE LIMITED

Theatre veteran Natalie Hennedige is the next festival director of the Singapore International Festival of Arts (Sifa).

The 45-year-old, known for her experimental works as the founder and artistic director of Cake Theatrical Productions, takes on the role of "festival director designate" this month before helming the festival from 2021 to 2023.

She will take over from Gaurav Kripalani - director of the Singapore Repertory Theatre - whose three-year tenure with the annual event ends this year.

 

"I will be looking to reacquaint myself with the festival from its beginning till present time, taking in its shifts and evolutions," Hennedige said in a statement released in October by not-for-profit organisation Arts House Limited, which is presenting Sifa.

"The festival is on a continuum and taking it forward means understanding its place in the context of the present.

"Each festival director writes a new chapter by designing an arc that corresponds to her unique perspective and artistic leanings.

"Together with the Arts House Limited team, I hope to define and deliver an inspired vision for Sifa in its next chapter for Singapore. To uplift, that would be my ultimate hope."

Toh Wen Li


Goh Swee Chen


ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Ms Goh Swee Chen, 58, succeeded Professor Chan Heng Chee as chairman of the National Arts Council (NAC) in September last year.

The corporate maven, who was formerly chairman of Shell Companies, is armed with a formidable curriculum vitae, having held various regional postings in assorted multinational companies over the years.

She may find her experiences useful in wrangling the voluble, sometimes fractious, arts community in Singapore.

While previous chairmen - from founding chairman Professor Tommy Koh to the most recent incumbent Prof Chan - were known to the arts community, Ms Goh is an unfamiliar face.

 

The mother of three has clocked in corporate positions at various multinational companies, including IBM and P&G, and served as non-executive director for CapitaLand, Nanyang Technological University and Singapore Airlines.

Her corporate nous and connections may come in useful as the NAC tries to leverage on more partnerships to implement ideas from Our SG Arts Plan on a tight budget.

But the arts community will be watching closely to see whether she will have the agility to navigate the inevitable dust-ups over funding and censorship that periodically sweep through the scene here.

The increasing sophistication of the arts scene has also thrown up more complex infrastructural questions, such as more support for freelancers, better continuity in support for older Cultural Medallion recipients and the need for an arts archive.

It will be interesting to see if the NAC and its new chairman can take on a more proactive role as a thought leader in the areas of greatest need.

Ong Sor Fern


Kwok Min Yi


ST PHOTO: BERNIE NG

This year, Kwok Min Yi becomes the first Singaporean female principal dancer of the Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT).

The 27-year-old, who trained at Singapore Ballet Academy and English National Ballet School in London, joined SDT as an apprentice in 2012.

She was promoted to artist in 2014 and first artist in January last year.

She is SDT's first Singaporean principal since Jeffrey Tan, who held the role from 1995 to 2003. She is one of the company's 11 Singaporean dancers, its highest number to date.

 

Ahead of her elevation to principal, she danced her first leading role as the feisty Kitri in Don Quixote last March. She played the dual role of Odette, the white swan, and Odile, the black swan, in the Tchaikovsky ballet Swan Lake last month - the first time a Singaporean has danced the role for SDT.

"I am honoured and humbled to get this title," says Kwok of her promotion.

"I watched SDT when I was growing up and never thought I would one day be the one centre stage."

Olivia Ho


Jasmine Sokko


PHOTO: WARNER MUSIC SINGAPORE

Electronic pop singer, songwriter and producer Jasmine Sokko made her presence felt last year, ending up as a finalist on China's Rave Now reality show and winning Best South-east Asia Act at last year's MTV Europe Music Awards in Spain.

She was also one of the top five Singapore artists whom music fans listened to the most on streaming service Spotify last year.

The singer behind electronic pop hits such as Tired and Hurt describes last year as "a series of waking up in different cities I never thought I'd get to go to and having my perspectives constantly refined by interesting people I never thought I'd get the chance to meet."

A few months ago, the 23-year-old, who is known for hiding her face behind masks, made her debut in the China music market with Mandarin single Shh.

 

She will be releasing more new music in English and Mandarin this year.

There will also be more performances - in Singapore and overseas, including in China.

There is no pressure for every new project to achieve the same level of success of her past works, she adds.

What is more important to her is she does not remain stagnant and keep on doing things that push boundaries and are unconventional.

"I've come to accept every new level in life will require a different version of you, so there's no one fair basis of comparison.

"In 2020, I will pick the problems I desire to solve and take charge of my life." 

Eddino Abdul Hadi


Hans Graf


PHOTO: SINGAPORE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

Austrian maestro Hans Graf will take on the mantle of chief conductor of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SS0) from the middle of this year.

The 70-year-old Grammy winner has been the music director of orchestras such as Austria's Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg, Spain's Basque National Orchestra and, most recently, the Houston Symphony in the United States.

He takes over from Shui Lan, who stepped down last year after a 22-year career with the SSO.

Mr Graf conducted SSO concerts in 2015 as well as 2018.

"When I first came to Singapore," he says, "I found an orchestra of international level.

 

"Now, I am pleased and honoured to be invited to work with them in the future. I feel in them the joy of making music, which fuels their assiduous effort to reach ever higher levels and it will be my goal to lead and go forward with them in this noble passion."

Mr Graf will plan and conduct six weeks of concerts in the 2020/21 season. For subsequent seasons, he will lead the SSO for eight weeks of concerts each.

"I love and find it important to teach," he adds. "I hope to create good opportunities for young musicians, conductors and players, to gain experience and to grow and to get some high-level training and inspiration with the help and friendly care of the SSO."

Toh Wen Li


Style Theory


Ms Raena Lim co-founded Style Theory with her husband, Mr Chris Halim, in 2016. PHOTO: ST FILE

Clothing rental subscription service Style Theory is leading the green charge in circular fashion.

The company opened a flagship store at 313@Somerset in October last year as a pledge to promote and practise sustainable fashion.

Since its founding in 2016, Style Theory has grown from 15,000 users to about 130,000 today. The service has also facilitated almost a million rentals from an inventory of 50,000 pieces.

"The difference is the amount of clothes that have been prevented from going into the landfill because of the rental movement. It shows how completely underutilised clothes are," says co-founder Raena Lim, 31. She runs the company with her husband and co-founder, Mr Chris Halim.

They work directly with designers to buy their clothes, in exchange for data such as what kind of fabrics can sustain wash and wear the most.

 

"With that, designers are able to manufacture better and smarter and not make clothes that end up as waste after a few washes," she says.

Encouraged by the figures, Style Theory introduced a luxury bag rental service to its tiered subscription packages in August.

For $129 a month, subscribers can rent two bags each month - one at a time.

For inventory, they first put out an open call to subscribers and women in Singapore to consign their luxury bags. Consignees get a cut of the revenue when their bags are rented.

Committing to a physical store amid talk of a retail apocalypse might be a gutsy move for the former online-only brand, but signals foresight ahead of a growing second-hand retail market here.

Pre-loved clothing and items are experiencing more mainstream acceptance from local shoppers, as evidenced by a growing interest in second-hand shops such as Refash, and swopping events, where strangers meet to exchange pre-loved items in good condition.

The Fashion Pulpit, a pioneer in the pop-up swopping scene, opened its first physical retail store at Liang Court in 2018.

The permanent space lets members pick up "new" old threads based on a point system when they drop off their own pieces.

Similarly, online global retailer Vestiaire Collective, which carries pre-owned designer clothing and accessories, opened its first permanent boutique space at Selfridges London department store in October last year.

Customers can buy and sell pre-owned items in store, from brands including YSL and Gucci.

Ms Lim adds: "We're helping people rethink the way they are consuming fashion."

Amanda Chai


Klook


Klook's co-founders (from left) Mr Eric Gnock Fah, Mr Ethan Lin and Mr Bernie Xiong. PHOTO: KLOOK

Klook has made free-and-easy travel even easier.

From airport transfers to attraction tickets, travellers can plan virtually their entire trip on the travel and activities booking platform.

The Hong Kong-based company, which turned five last year, lists more than 100,000 products on its app and website.

Klook started out in 2014 offering mostly tours and activities and has expanded to categories such as pocket Wi-Fi devices, rail passes and food - all at competitive prices.

In 2018, it surpassed online travel agencies such as KKday and Viator to become the most-searched travel and activities booking platform worldwide according to Google Trends, a website that analyses Google search queries.

Klook continued to break new ground last year, holding travel fairs across South-east Asia for independent travellers with nary a package deal in sight.

The fairs, which were held in the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam between September and November, saw 35,000 visitors at the Singapore edition.

The company, which counts international venture-capital firms SoftBank Vision Fund, Sequoia China and Matrix Partners among its investors, is looking to expand in the United States and Europe.

It will add more European languages to the current five available on its website and grow its workforce from about 1,800 to 2,500 in more than 30 offices worldwide by the end of next year.

"We hope to replicate our strong growth in the Asia-Pacific region and empower global travellers," says chief operating officer and co-founder Eric Gnock Fah.

Clara Lock


Kennie Ting


PHOTO: ST FILE

Director of the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) Kennie Ting is shifting gears with a new curatorial vision.

Since Mr Ting took over as director of the ACM in 2016, the museum has been undergoing a slow and lengthy makeover.

The new jewellery gallery, which opens by the end of March, will be the ACM's crowning glory, marking the completion of its pivot to a decorative arts museum.

The ACM, since its opening in 1997, has had a pan-Asian focus on the ancient civilisations of India and China.

Mr Ting has found a new way to present the museum's collection, shifting its curatorial focus from the distant dryness of these Asian histories to the cross-cultural connections forged in this part of the world while also asserting the Asian point of view in decorative arts.

There have been hiccups. The much-hyped Raffles In Southeast Asia: Revisiting The Scholar And The Statesman earlier last year, a bicentennial show, earned critical brickbats for tiptoeing around the more unsavoury and violent aspects of Stamford Raffles' colonial exploits.

 

But the new year holds much promise as the ACM is forging ahead with a newfound focus.

Besides the South-east Asian decorative arts angle, the museum will be collaborating with Beijing's Palace Museum on an exhibition of artefacts from the Ming dynasty.

Mr Ting also wants to organise an Indian fashion exhibit on the heels of the successful Guo Pei show and the refreshed fashion gallery will be focusing on the links between fashion and politics during the Chinese Republican era.

Batik and Singapore fashion, he promises, are topics in the pipeline.

Arts lovers will have to see whether Mr Ting will deliver on these ambitious promises in the coming years.

Ong Sor Fern


Jack Neo


PHOTO: ST FILE

The wait will be over this year, when Jack Neo film Not So Long Time Ago is released.

This is the much-anticipated follow-up to the two-parter Long Long Time Ago (2016), a loosely autobiographical drama-comedy.

Since 2016, fans have waited for the return of the Lims, a family that Singaporeans who lived through the upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s identified with.

 

In the meantime, Neo, 59, Singapore's most commercially successful film-maker, had busied himself with the military comedy Ah Boys To Men 4 (2017) and Wonderful! Liang Xi Mei (2018), a film based on his comic television-show character.

This year's film will take the story of the Lims into the 1980s.

Unless things go awry, it ought to be the highest-grossing Singapore-made film of 2020. For fans of his more intimate style, its release cannot come soon enough.

John Lui


Disney+


PHOTO: DISNEY+

Is it time for Netflix to move over?

Disney - the media conglomerate that owns valuable assets such as Marvel, Star Wars, the Disney princesses and animation studio Pixar - is giving the streaming giant a run for its money with its own streaming service, Disney+, which launched in the United States recently.

The service, which will be launched worldwide - though a release date has yet to be set - is already luring viewers with original series such as The Mandalorian, a Star Wars spin-off.

The Mandalorian has been gaining steam, especially on social media, as one of its characters, who resembles the iconic character of Yoda as a baby, has taken the Internet by storm, inspiring memes and jokes.

The service is also set to expand the wildly popular Marvel Cinematic Universe. Several spin-off series for Marvel characters are set to be released over the next two years, including Hawkeye, The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, Loki and WandaVision.

 

Since Disney acquired major media group 21st Century Fox, the streaming service will also re-imagine movies from 21st Century Fox, such as Home Alone and Night At The Museum.

Netflix, its biggest rival, began releasing original content only in 2013, whereas Disney, which launched with about 500 movies and 7,000 television episodes, has one of the largest archives in Hollywood.

However, the service's first few days were marred by technical glitches on the site and a credential stuffing attack - which is when previously leaked usernames and passwords are fraudulently re-used to unlock other sites and accounts - causing difficulties to some subscribers who were locked out of their accounts.

In a further blow to Disney+, Japanese animation firm Studio Ghibli also inked a deal to allow its complete collection of films, including iconic works such as Spirited Away (2001) and My Neighbour Totoro (1988), to stream in the US on HBO Max - WarnerMedia's streaming service set to launch this year.

Still, reviews for Disney+ so far have been good, with many praising its well-designed app interface and the inclusion of early Disney animation works from the 1950s and 1960s.

There is no doubt Disney+ will continue to pump money into original content to differentiate its service as the most desirable streaming subscription.

Jan Lee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 05, 2020, with the headline 'Who and what to watch'. Print Edition | Subscribe