What happened to our National Day Songs?

This year’s National Day Song, like its recent predecessors, is forgettable. (What’s it called? Uhh… “There’s No Place I’d Rather Be”). As if admitting its own absence of originality, the lyrics and arrangement both sound like a bowdlerised “Home“.The only thing that makes this year’s song a little more memorable is that two YES 93.3 DJs have parodied it:

Their version is more likely to resonate with the public.


What happened to our National Day Songs?

Older songs like “Stand Up For Singapore”, “Five Stars Arising” and “We Are Singapore” are jingoistic, but they gave the distinct impression that they were written to be sung by a mass of people. They were meant to be jubilant and defiant at the same time, with simple language and frequently repeated choruses set to rousing arrangements.

This was expected, if you consider that National Day Songs were meant as rallying symbols for Singaporeans — avenues to celebrate our unity.

In recent years however National Day Songs have lost all flavour, sounding like the bland tinsel songs-of-the-hour that thrive on our pop radio stations.

Is this the unintended outcome of some initially well-intentioned move to make the songs more contemporary? 1998’s “Home” could probably be considered the first of this new wave of gentler, more sentimental National Day Songs. “Home” is a memorable work, but its successors have all failed to capture the imagination and memories of Singaporeans in comparison.

I’m particularly concerned with the content of the songs. Lyrics always suggest a singer in a particular context. Where previous National Day Song lyrics implied a community in Singapore celebrating its unity and togetherness, now they are sung as if by isolated individuals comparing Singapore with other countries.

It seems to me that the target audience for the older songs was broader, encompassing all Singaporeans. The new songs however, with their emphasis on individual belonging and staying in Singapore despite having experienced life abroad, appear to be geared towards a certain class of Singaporeans which constitute a minority here. Growing, perhaps, but still a minority. The majority of Singaporeans would probably not be able to identify with the globe-trotting personae of these songs.

I wonder if this isn’t detrimental to Singapore in the long run.


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