S’pore’s Nair siblings tell VICE why they had to release video calling out ‘brownface’ ad

Subhas Nair initially asked if it was 'Chinese fragility' he had to apologise for.

Kayla Wong | September 28, 2019 @ 04:13 am


Preeti and Subhas Nair have stood by their decision to release the video that called out what they saw as racial discrimination in Singapore.

Felt like it was a “duty” to make a song about E-Pay ad

The video, which was a remix of pop star Iggy Azalea’s F*ck It Up, had in turn sparked a wave of tsk tsking and controversy, with a number of Singaporeans calling the siblings out for being overly sensitive in what they thought was a fairly innocuous issue.

In their first interview since the hullabaloo exploded and blew over, Preeti explained to Canadian-American media VICE that she chose the song as it leads one to think “to screw something up and make a mistake”, although the original context was different.

While she was not surprised when she first saw the E-Pay ad, in which Mediacorp artiste Dennis Chew had dark skin makeup on to portray both the Malay and Indian ethnicities, she and her brother decided they had to respond to it, they told VICE.

They went with a music video in the end as Subhas did not want to do anything else other than a song.

“It’s the most hip-hop thing to do, to use music to get people thinking, talking, and questioning power,” he said.

“I felt like it was a duty to make a song about it.”

Gave a lyric breakdown to the authorities

The siblings also revealed the process of being interrogated by the police after they dropped the video.

Preeti said she was on vacation in Bali when she heard from a friend that her video was being investigated by the police.

She quickly learnt that it was not a joke after receiving an email from the government giving her three hours to delete all traces of the video online.

The siblings were then brought in to the police station to be questioned.

While they were there, they did a full lyrics breakdown, in which Preeti said she pointed the middle finger and explained what it meant.

In addition, she claimed the authorities took her laptop, her phone, and her hard disk for “forensics”, which is something she said was akin to her killing someone.

And when asked by the police if they were willing to apologise, Preeti said she was “potentially willing to”, but she needed to discuss it with her brother.

Subhas, on the other hand, felt reluctant to do so, asking if it was “Chinese fragility” that he had to apologise for.

First apology made sense

The Nairs eventually made two apologies for their rap video, the second of which was released after the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) slammed their first as being “insincere”, adding that their video was “blatantly racist”.

Their first apology essentially mirrored Havas’ statement.

Havas is the creative agency that came up with the campaign.

But Preeti stood by the first apology they made, saying it makes a ton of sense if it is read properly.

Siblings given stern warning

The siblings were subsequently given a two-year conditional warning from the police on Aug. 14 for being in “clear contravention of the Penal Code”.

Meanwhile, there was no action taken against the E-Pay ad.

Nets, Havas, and management arm The Celebrity Agency all apologised for the ad.

Chew has also apologised for his role in the ad.

‘Brownface’ might have originated in America, but it’s still not right

In addition, the siblings responded to criticisms directed at them after the incident blew up, one of which is the argument that “brownface” is a Western concept, and so it does not apply to the Singaporean context.

While Preeti acknowledged that the conceptual idea originated in America, one still cannot say that “brownface” is not a Singaporean thing, she opined.

She said: “You are making it a Singaporean thing by doing it.”

Moreover, leaving aside this point of contention, the act of painting oneself a different skin colour is still something that is not right, she said.

Preeti also revealed the racially charged verbal abuse she received as part of the backlash towards the video, one of which was to get the government to “revoke [her] PR status”.

The fact that she is a Singaporean to begin with made her feel “angry”.

You can read their entire VICE interview here.

Related articles:

‘Brownface’ ad in S’pore in 2019 removed after getting called out for being racially insensitive

Police report lodged against Preetipls video mocking ‘brownface’ ad for E-Pay service

Shanmugam: Preetipls’ video crossed a line, govt will not allow these types of videos

MHA slams Preeti & Subhas Nair’s ‘mock’ apology, calls their rap video ‘blatantly racist’

Preetipls pens reflection after receiving 2-year stern warning over rap video

S’pore advertising code of practice to be updated with race guidelines by 2019 after ‘brownface’ hoo-ha

PSP criticises S’pore govt’s response to Preetipls & Subhas Nair as ‘high-handed’ & ‘harsh’

S’poreans ask Dennis Chew to apologise for ‘brownface’ ad in comments on his Instagram post

Dennis Chew apologises for role in ‘brownface’ E-Pay ad, promises to do better

‘Blackface’ not offensive in China due to Chinese standards, explained

Top image via @preetipls & @subhasmusic

About Kayla Wong

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