In 1998, a wide-eyed, fresh-faced 25-year-old Singaporean Mandopop songstress walked out onto the National Stadium and sang her heart out.
Her name is Kit Chan.
Unknown to the rising Singaporean star at that time, she was going to go down in history as the face and voice of this lyrics any true blue Singaporean can recite at the drop of a hat any time of the day: "Whenever I am feeling low/ I look around me and I know."
Before a crowd of 60,000 Singaporeans, and against a backdrop featuring the steps of City Hall, Chan belted out, Home, to rapturous applause -- seemingly unfazed by the scale of the event she was participating in.
Almost inexplicably, the song has aged better than well since that 33rd National Day Parade.
Home is not a National Day song
Well, here's an amazing fact: Home, which is written by composer Dick Lee in 1997, was never meant to be a National Day song to begin with.
More amazingly, and unbeknownst to many Singaporeans, the initial reaction by the committee that oversees Singapore's community songs, was scepticism about Home's melancholic tune when they first heard it.
Up till that point, the idea of a proper song for the masses was something like Stand Up For Singapore -- forceful, ra-ra and campy.
Marking the 20th anniversary in 2018 since the lowkey debut of Home, singer Kit Chan, composer Dick Lee and producer Sydney Tan have given a fresh and extensive interview with Bandwagon, detailing what actually went down, how Home has matured organically, and what it means now that it is certifiably an authentic Singaporean folk song that has gotten people across generations singing.
According to the trio, one reason Home does not sound like a regular national day song is because it was not "government-ordained".
And it was simply not written to be one.
The story goes something like this: In 1997, Lee was asked by the committee of the Sing Singapore festival, whose objective was to promote national bonding through group singing of community songs, if he would like to write a song.
There was no mention that it would be a national day song, but that it had to have heart. And the theme was "river".
So, Lee pounded out a number overnight.
One of the elements that really drives Home is its lyrics and feel, which conveys homesickness.
This is not surprising, considering that both Chan and Lee were overseas pursuing their careers when the song was written and recorded.
However, not everyone on the Sing Singapore festival committee had doubts about Home.
Two individuals, Bernard Tan, who was heading the Sing Singapore committee, and Joe Peters, who was also on the committee, supported it.
Caught on organically
Another reason Home speaks to the masses, even today, is because of its message speaks to Singaporeans as individuals.
Whereas traditional national day songs are about nation-building, where society comes together, Home addresses the person.
And the song also has a version sung in Mandarin by Chan.
With its momentum organically and steadily growing over the years, Home is certifiably becoming a rare homegrown Singapore folk song that cuts across generations.
This is a mean feat as the government had consciously created songs for the masses to sing, but none had made quite the same impact as Home -- which wasn't even trying to be a song for the masses.
Lee said he wrote the song by drawing influence from pop music, the only genre open to Singaporeans who were not steeped in any one particular culture.
And it worked.
Subsequently, as a testament to the song's longevity, Home reappeared in 2004.
Chan sang it again in 2010 at the Padang.
And in 2015.
Not trying is the best
Over time, Singaporeans have made it their song, Lee said.
Lee also said in the interview: "I certainly didn’t set out to do that. And so it’s something that I learned, which is that this sense of who we are needs to come without you trying. So I realise that I don’t have to try to be Singaporean, I just have to be me, and I think that will come about."
Chan said: "I see Home as my musical legacy. And more than musical legacy, it is also my gift to my country, and I love, love, love Singapore."
Lee also said: "I’m proud of it because of how people like it, you know. And year after year, it maintains its popularity. It’s established itself already and how I feel about it is: “Move on!” [laughs] It’s there, I’m very proud of it, I can die peacefully."
Not bad for a song that wasn't even meant to be a NDP song.
What is the Singaporean identity? A three-minute YouTube explainer video here.