Week 48 — What do you see? What do you really see Singapore?

credits straits times

I was watching Channel News Asia’s segment called Striking A Chord: The Songs That Made Singapore and it investigated a really interesting question…

Why are National Day songs written every year and why do some songs resonate more with Singaporeans than the others? For those who aren’t familiar, Singapore celebrates National Day on the 9th of August and every celebration includes a theme and a song that is commonly known as the National Day Song.

Over the past 20 years, 20 songs have been written (one for every year) and the sentiment amongst Singaporeans is that the songs written have not represented how they were feeling in the current situation. This has led to a very real question: What’s the point of having one every year?

The documentary segment explored why some songs have endured the test of time and why others fade away and it was down to 3 main factors:

  1. What people were going through that year
  2. The musical hook of the song
  3. What the song is actually saying

Singapore started out in the heat of battle quite literally, a battle to build up as much as possible and as quickly as possible. It didn’t matter whether it was the economy or the infrastructure, Singapore had nothing.

And so, the national day songs in the yester-years reflected the need to galvanise and steel ourselves to fight and overcome whatever challenges may come. But, as time passed on and as Singapore began blossoming, the need to build and fight for survival started to fade away gradually.

As Singaporeans began to evolve and change, the need to feel like they could express themselves and what it meant to be Singaporean began to grow stronger.

That’s why I feel particularly strongly for two songs at this point of time, in this corona-age we live in.

This year’s The Road Ahead By Linying and Evan Low and What do you see by Electrico (2009).

The Road Ahead is written beautifully and it has accurately represented everything this generation of Singaporeans are going through. It is easy to swat the song aside and treat it as a well-crafted propaganda campaign tune, but one look at the lyrics shows that family is the national agenda, not pride, not dying for your country.

It’s an extremely personal interpretation of what your country means to you.

See this island, every grain of sand
Hear this anthem, it’s the voices of our friends

Look at every grain of sand and look at how far we’ve come, look how far YOU’VE come.

Look at everyone around you, these are all your friends, your neighbours. In a society that thrives on labels and political divides (vaxxer, anti-vaxxer, racist, feminist), the song reminds you that we’re still one people. There’s no need to see them as that Chinese neighbour or insert every other race in there. We’re all moving in the same direction and no matter what comes our way, we’ll adapt and overcome.

What do you see by Electrico echoes a similar message and sound. Written in 2009 during the great recession, it asks the same question. What do you see? What do you envision Singapore to be? What do you want country to be?

I catch myself thinking about this, trying to digest what this song means to me.

Although Singaporeans have remarked that these national day songs have been really subpar and at times flat out corny, we begin to see how important having something to rally towards is during times of uncertainty and suffering.

Do I see Singaporeans of the future working their brains off mindlessly in a job?

Yes, but I believe there will come a time where they snap out of this illusion and just ask themselves…

Why the hell am I working for this nincompoop?

Is there more to life than working for a boss you hate, doing a job you clearly do not like?

the elderly doing odd jobs

As Gen Zs begin to become more “woke” to this new reality and see the gaping holes in life that the Singaporean Dream can never patch up, everyone will begin to observe this generation asking culturally deep questions that challenge societal norms.

These questions will inextricably change the fabric of Singapore and what it means to be a Singaporean.

I am also very certain that this upcoming generation will usher in a strong wave of Singaporean entrepreneurs. Our job as the predecessors of this generation is to carve out and chart new paths into different fields and sectors for them to follow and carry the torch when the time comes.

We also have to inspire and motivate them to not only dream big dreams but to pursue them the way our founding fathers have done so. Many label Gen Zs as lazy and unwilling to work, the same was said about millennials too. But, understanding this generation and the struggles that they are going through will uncover the reasons behind this perceived laziness.

This laziness is merely a symptom to a problem. It is not the problem but the manifestation of it.

I have many friends who say they don’t think that they can stay in Singapore till they retire, and I get it. Costs are high, life is extremely fast-paced and stressful. But, as someone who has lived and worked in other countries before, no matter where you go, Singapore has a strange pull on you. The food, the culture and the people draws you back in, you can’t help but miss it.

I may not know what’s the road ahead for Singapore and how things will turn out in the next 50 years of our country. All I know is that this is my imperfect home and my job is to fix it, tend to it and expand it in my own capacity.

Till next week!

Entrepreneur In Training