It’s that time of the year again - just a few months before August and the nation is abuzz with patriotic pride prepping for Singapore’s annual National Day Parade (NDP).
Dance and footdrill rehearsals? Check.
Ticket balloting? Yes sir.
Funpack packers packing in the fun? Confirm plus chop.
NDP theme song that is widely panned and will probably be forgotten by Christmas? Abuden!
For better or for worse, you can always count on Singapore to be one united people in her distaste for the newest National Day song. In fact, it has occurred so often in the past decade that it’s fast becoming somewhat of a national pastime.
This year’s song, Because It’s Singapore, is doing a swell job in keeping this tradition alive. People have already been lamenting the song choice with comments that are harsh but not entirely unfounded.
All this angst and vitriol makes me wonder: Do we absolutely need a new song every year?
I mean, let’s be honest: How many National Day songs in the past 10 years can you actually remember and sing by heart?
Racking my brains, I can only hum along to some of Electrico’s What Do You See (2009), sing a teeny tiny bit of Corrinne May’s Song For Singapore (2010) and recall the distant refrain of JJ Lin’s Our Singapore (2015).
Yet none of them have come close to striking the same chord as the popular earworms of yesteryear.
Ask any Singaporean and chances are they still prefer classic tunes like Stand Up For Singapore (1984), We Are Singapore (1987), We Will Get There (2002) and, of course, the goosebumps-inducing Home (1998).
Truth is, we don’t actually want to hate on our National Day songs. We love our little red dot and crooning about it is a perfect way to rally together and show our patriotism. That's precisely why the Government decided to promote group singing back in the 1980s - to “develop solidarity and a sense of belonging to the nation”.
So when there’s a good, catchy and meaningful song - we sing it out loud and proud.
But when the ditty is crippled by a hard-to-follow melody and mired in cheesy platitudes and hackneyed lyrics - we get disappointed, and this disappointment morphs into disillusioned complaints, ugly comments and ridicule, all of which defeat the purpose of having a National Day song.
So I reckon it’s time to reconsider this yearly song business.
We didn’t start having annual National Day songs until the late 1990s, so why are we bending over backwards to squeeze out a song every year if no one is going to like or remember it?
Remember 2014 when the NDP committee announced there wouldn’t be a theme song that year? You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief in every kopitiam, school canteen and office pantry: “Wah heng ah! This year don’t have to endure another mediocre, forgettable song.”
In 2007 there were two National Day songs. But you can’t recall either one, can you?
Considering the amount of time and effort it takes to pen an original song, it just doesn’t make sense to have it relegated to the recesses of one’s memory the next minute. Are we just going through the motions each year so we can tick “NDP song” off our to-do list?
If anything, that’s just an extremely inefficient practice which prizes quantity over quality. Now how un-Singaporean is that?
So here’s my pitch: Let's take the pace down a notch and spend more time crafting these songs, say, every two to three years. And only songs which possess both likeability and longevity, please.
Not a simple feat for sure, given how Singaporeans can be quite hard to please. But it’s certainly not impossible.
For one thing, we have the talent. The local music scene is brimming with fresh ideas and voices. We just have to tap onto the right ones at the right time.
We could also have a little fun in the process and turn it into a songwriting competition where Singaporeans get to vote and choose their favourite entry. Who’s to say that a secondary school student or a retired housewife couldn’t write the next big national jingle?
At the end of the day, I am confident that Singaporeans are willing to wait a little longer for a song they can actually sing and enjoy singing - the same way we are patient enough to queue for hours on end for chicken rice and laksa.
In the meantime, NDPs without new theme songs don’t necessarily have to be lesser, hushed affairs. The canon of old classics is large enough and, as it stands, the crowd always gets more energised belting out the oldies-but-goodies, rather than the new ones. Dick Lee himself has suggested bringing old songs back on a more regular basis, as was the case in 2014 when Home was revived.
So to all the future NDP committees, for your consideration please. We don’t need another song to mumble and forget. We will wait for the right song to come along. And when the time comes, you know you can count on us to put the sing back in Singapore.