A gathering of local music talent at the Sing.Lang Concert 2019 (Photo credit: Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre)
We live in a world where culture is shaped by economic world powers, whose perspective and worldviews are spread through their news outlets (AP, AFP, Reuters), movies (Hollywood, anime) and music (C-pop, K-pop). Of course, no other nation can match the might of the United States. The world’s sole superpower (still very much so, even against China) triumphs over all other countries, in setting the tone on culture.
In the world of showbiz, they are the NBA of all the other professional leagues out there. No other league can command the same international appeal. I try to watch the Chinese Basketball League, FIBA 3x3s, Asean Basketball League and so on, but all my peers are fixated on the NBA. It’s the same for movies, TV, music and news. The biggest players are the Americans: Disney (MCU), HBO (Game of Thrones), Sony + Universal, and CNN + NYT.
There are exceptions. Kpop has somewhat eclipsed American pop music in many Asian and non-US markets. Bollywood is still probably bigger in India than Hollywood films. Japanese video games and anime/manga – Sanrio and The Pokemon franchise – has a huge international appeal. Nigeria has a burgeoning movie industry. Qatar’s Al Jazeera has done a good job pushing the Arab perspective. And, China, with Wandering Earth has shown the world that science-fiction mega blockbusters can be made in Asia (but it still needs a lot of improvement to be exported outside the domestic market).
But, by and large, the western powers (US, UK, Canada, NZ and Australia) have a stranglehold on the news we consume, the stories we read and the key messages shaping public opinion. Having lived and worked in both the US and Singapore, I have seen how this pervasive western influence can create inequality in culture and public opinion by reinforcing stereotypes of race and ethnicity.
I believe the world will be a much better place if there is a diversity in voices in the marketplace of ideas and solutions.Since my army days back in 2005, I’ve had this fascination with promoting Singaporean culture through our cultural products (movies/ music/ written word), as a means of elevating Singaporean culture and identity to the rest of the world. I had even written about this in a column for my college newspaper, that I’m sure EDB would happily support 🙂
I guess this fascination is borne from a certain comfort and pride of seeing Singapore being represented positively on the big screen and in mass media. With the advent of new media publishing tools (i.e. blogs and the like) and, now, social media, everyone has the power to push out the Singapore story. That’s what I’m doing with IG account, @mysgstory. It is also, in a way, something I’m pursuing with The Chairman.
I think the Singapore government has done a swell job in putting money into the arts and creative industries, through its agencies (NHB/ NAC/ MDA) and the ‘Renaissance City’ and ‘Media21’ plans. Back then, I volunteered at the inaugural Singapore Biennale and then returned as a Marketing Intern in the followup, and I was really hyped up about the broad plans to boost Singapore into this global city for the arts. I was that kid that was into Lush 99.5 and Arts Central, and watching all the local indie films (Eating Air, Chicken Rice War, Perth etc) and listening to local rock bands (Humpback Oak, The Observatory, Electrico).
Fast forward to today, and it feels like Singapop, as I shall coin it now, hasn’t really taken off. We’ve seen some results in Mandopop, especially regionally and in China/Taiwan, and most recently with Nathan Hartono. We’ve had some early success before with Xinyao and Dick Lee’s breakthrough in Japan (his album coincidentally called Singapop). I guess we’ve punched above our weight in making cultural waves, but we’ve not swept the world in a Spop tsunami.
That said, I recently ran into this Temasek Holding’s project, “The Great Singapore Replay“, and I was thrilled that our local musicians are receiving such support.
In the sphere of TV productions and film, perhaps we’ve a longer way to go. I recently caught “A Land Imagined” and while it was an interesting look into the lives of migrant workers, I got bored sitting through the 1.5 hours. Jack Neo’s film, while commercially viable, are super cringe worthy to watch. Maybe I’m hyper sensitive. Mediacorp’s newest TV series, Kin, seems promising, but I have not watch it since catching the first episode.
This begs the question: Is it the quality of local pales in comparison the international, or is it the case that Singaporeans are just uninterested in their homegrown talent to begin with?
Next, what then can Singapore do to propel the next wave of creative talent? Is the solution perhaps pumping more into creative entrepreneurship, given how the media business model is in sort of a flux?