‘This is Singapore’ by Hirzi is the song we could use this 53rd National Day
Madcap YouTube sensation Hirzi Zulkiflie dropped a National Day track, This Is Singapore, on Aug. 1, 2018.
It is a parody of the highly-choreographed Childish Gambino music video, This Is America, which has attained global virality since May this year.
A nod to all things Singaporean this 53rd year of independence, This Is Singapore features all the well-worn tropes, neuroses and irritations, spat and spelt out in quickfire rhymes.
What is This Is Singapore about?
To understand why This Is America became such a huge hit that it kicked a door wide open for all other countries to follow suit, is not difficult.
This is America has a lot of hidden meaning and references, but ultimately, it is about gun violence and the normality of black people suffering in the US, the contradictions of accepting black culture, but not its people’s plight.
The fact of the matter is, every country has people who face problems.
So, every country can make its own video of its woes.
So, what is This Is Singapore‘s social commentary?
It is about Singapore and money. Singapore is talked about as a place where every action and equal opposite overreaction is governed by dollar signs.
For example, the most Singaporean reference in the video that would be lost on foreigners is about reselling one’s HDB flat for profit after the five-year minimum occupation period:
Are there any surprises in this video?
Yes. The main Gambino role is actually not played by Hirzi, even though this video appears on his YouTube channel.
The person playing that role is musician-actor Ryan Rifat.
His shirtless torso and short-sleeved tan lines clearly indicate he is in this gig for the hustle. (Having tan lines mean that going around shirtless is not normal for him.)
And by the end of the video, predictably, Rifat is requesting you to check out his other original music.
Does This Is Singapore have a message about identity or diversity?
Singaporeans can recognise the myriad of characters on screen at the drop of a hat.
The students, uniformed personnel, office workers, newly-arrived PRC natives, the orang laut, the heartlanders and the cosmopolitan types.
Do these multiple categories speak to a plurality or poverty of representation? Throws hands up in the air?
And for Hirzi to cross-dress as three different types of women, namely, a tudung lady, a hypersexed parking warden, and his sassy glamour-puss alter ego, Syasya, does it convey how he exists outside of recognisable categories?
He is a Malay, cross-dressing comedian-actor, probably pansexual, who is also a successful narrowcasting YouTube star with multiple larger-than-life personalities that bear little resemblance to the real Hirzi, who is frequently seen munching with Munah at hawker centres.
If you had to draw Venn diagrams, Hirzi qualifies as a super-minority. He is a category unto himself.
Yet, in Singapore, he has thrived. Such contradiction.
Perpetually getting ready
And what about the rest of the characters in the background?
It is easy to point out that the dancers appear quite frequently dressed in school uniform.
With the original This Is America background dancers, a lot has been said about how school-going and child-like they are.
In This Is Singapore, maybe it is done to portray the dancers as children and, hence, infanitlised, or existing in a prolonged stage of adolescence in today’s Singapore, where economic progress has made growing up an even longer process (i.e. 30 and still staying with mommy).
Another message is that Singaporeans are constantly getting schooled and this is the role of perpetual preparatory training for the next level that is a prelude to another level.
You go to kindergarten, to go to primary school, to go to secondary school, to go to tertiary institution, to join the work force, where you are still schooled these days because SkillsFuture training, and the final stage eludes you because not everyone gets to retire.
What does this all mean?
To be amused by the social commentary of Hirzi’s video, is to commiserate.
A lot more textual analyses can be done, and one can be completely dismissive and disagree with this approach of waxing lyrical about references in a pop video.
But one will then be hard pressed to explain the approval of and appreciation for such pop cultural representations that are consumed and reproduced enthusiastically by an audience that finds it relatable.
If This Is America is punctuated by actual violence, then This Is Singapore is noteworthy for its lack of physical violence — but its perpetuation of symbolic violence.
And that is a discussion for another day.