Despite our best efforts, why are our recent NDP songs still not good enough?

We love our hits so much, does that contribute to the misses?

Guan Zhen Tan | May 22, 2017, 11:10 AM

If you haven't heard by now, the official National Day Parade (NDP) theme song for 2017 has been released.

Titled Because It's Singapore, the song was jointly produced by singer and lyricist Jay Lim and veteran composer Lee Wei Song for 2017's #OneNationTogether parade.

Here's the video for your perusal.


Unsurprisingly,  when The Straits Times shared footage of the song being performed at a media conference held last week (May 17), people took to the comments section to complain. 

Comments via The Straits Times' Facebook Post


Others even felt that the melody was highly similar to Piece by Piece by Kelly Clarkson, even though similarities between pop songs is not an uncommon trend, due to the same chords being used.

Comment via The Straits Times' Facebook Post

Of course, with the advent of social media, this isn't the first song that got widely mocked or criticised for its execution.

So what have we done wrong so far, at least to the Singaporeans who desperately want another mega-hit?

1) Going modern is great; trying too hard to be modern is not. 

It's not to say all attempts to adapt to changing tastes flopped.  Even 1998's Home would be considered a rather modern take on patriotic songs, because of the melody's obvious deviation from its chest-thumping predecessors.

But that wasn’t to be seen in our other approaches to catch up with the times. 

Case in point: the indie-rock music approach we did with 2009’s theme song, What Do You See, performed by local band Electrico.

It's pretty refreshing to listen to, but that’s because it’s a good formula for an indie song, not so much one that unites people on a national level.

Sorry to say, rap (which has long been misappropriated into songs expected to be youth-appropriate) is also not going to work.

The evidence? Look at 2013's One Singapore, which got so badly criticised, the creation of theme songs went on a hiatus in 2014, which broke the 16-year annual tradition after the runaway success of Home.

Closer to current times, 2016's Tomorrow’s Here Today was brimming full of positive, guitar-strumming energy - but it comes across as too "hipster" in its execution, which brings us to the next point. 

2) Recent songs feel somewhat unrelatable.

Thing is, we've been trying to make songs that resonate with Singaporeans.

In fact, Because It's Singapore was made with the idea of being simple enough to let Singaporeans sing along.

However, it doesn't have that immediate intimate appeal to Singaporeans. The emotional resonance with the song seems to be lacking, somehow.

In a recent video by GRVTY Media, it was discussed that Because It's Singapore is "not very fun to sing", and the passive energy of the ballad-like number simply makes people look on and listen.

Previous songs also suffer from how the music video is portrayed too.

As a Straits Times forum letter by Liew Kai Khiun described, Tomorrow's Here Today was out of touch because it was too focused on a selected group of youths, instead of highlighting Singaporeans from all walks of life.

Thus, despite the innovative outlook, the music video comes across as an one-dimensional impression of Singapore as being meant for only the "young and beautiful".

2012's Love at First Light was also a sweet and charming take on an NDP theme song, but the video portrayed an upper-class Singaporean lifestyle, which affected how relatable it was - a commentator on youtube even panned it for looking like a condominium commercial.

Sure, the theme song's music video need not be a realistic documentary on all our societal problems, but if there’s any time as good to focus on a very real Singapore as it is, it's National Day. 

NDP songs thus need to find a balance between portraying our ideals, and that emotional resonance that will enable Singaporeans to connect and identify with the song.

3)  Nostalgia is a double-edged sword 

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="372"] Gif via GIPHY[/caption]

Too much of nostalgia will definitely stifle the creative process.

After all, new NDP songs can’t become memorable if all we’re expecting is for it to be like another Home

If We Will Get There, One United PeopleWhere I Belong, Moments of Magic and even Reach out for the Stars were not borne out of the nostalgia of older songs, we surely can make a song that resonates with Singaporeans again.

However, before you start commenting that "isn't this contradictory to what was said about Tomorrow's Here Today", here's the catch.

A small dose of nostalgia works and even applies itself in the creation of future NDP songs to keep them rooted more closely to the people it was produced for.

And don't forget we might have actually done that in recent times too. In a Heartbeat in 2011 was a good attempt, for example.


Songs for Singapore

Whether you find yourself a fan of all songs or liking certain songs better than others, we can agree that it’s not about throwing patriotic lyrics and a random melody onto a wall, hoping it sticks.

It's not easy either, given our varying tastes and preferences, which can make the balancing act between creativity and mass appeal even more difficult.

Maybe spacing out the production of songs will not only help each song become more memorable but generate that "call to action" feeling that we associate with our favourite tunes.

For this year? Perhaps it's too early to cement our judgement on Because It's Singapore, as it may offer a greater impact when the celebratory mood kicks in.

Moving forward, it's helping these lyrics gain resonance - which is important in its melody, arrangement, instruments and visuals too.

Surely our songs can continue to find a way that’s unique to them, but yet - unironically - closer to home. 


Top photo adapted via The Wacky Duo's Youtube Video.

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