Majors and Minors: National Day to J.J. Lin with Denise

This is Denise Looi, a first-year from Singapore. She’s planning to double major in international relations and music, and this semester she’s taking some courses for international relations as well as History of Western Music. Denise has been playing the piano for 16 years, the flute for six years and has been singing since she was 10 years old. She is a soprano in Concert Choir at Tufts and she is in the Singaporean Air Force. Denise shared her insight into contemporary music in Singapore.

Haruka (H): What’s pop music in Singapore like? What genre, and which artist, is most popular right now?

Denise (D): We have a huge range. If we talk about English pop, we listen to a lot of American artists, so what’s popular here in the U.S. is popular in Singapore too. We also have Chinese pop, and that’s what I listen to the most. Most songs come from Taiwanese artists. We do have some home grown artists like J.J. Lin, but he was trained in Taiwan. Our musical scene is pretty mixed, since it’s mostly imported music from abroad. We’re in tune with the K-pop culture too. I like artists like GFriend and Infinite.

H: What’s traditional Singaporean music like?

D: We don’t have a singular traditional form since we’re a multi-ethnic society. When people think of traditional music, they’d think of Chinese, Gamelan [Balinese and Javanese traditional ensemble-style music], Indonesian, Malaysian, Indian music.

H: Is there a tune that everyone knows in Singapore?

D: The national anthem, since we sing it every day. We do have a lot of National Day songs. National Day is on August 9. That’s the day when Singapore was separated from Malaysia and gained its independence. It’s a momentous day for us. Since we are a small country, it’s really scary to exist among so many other countries, and it’s pretty amazing that we built up from a third to a first world country in 50 years. These songs help us remember our efforts and unify the country. Most schools have community singing, a gathering in which we sing patriotic songs. Those songs are really easy to pick up and are about nation-building. I like it since it’s a good bonding experience. We learn a new song every year. If you sing one of those songs, every person on the street would probably know it. “Home” by Kit Chan is an old but popular example of a National Day song.  

H: How, if in any way, do you find Singaporean music different from other music you’ve encountered?

D: I don’t think there is much of a difference, but that’s also because I listen to pop music from around the world. One thing that’s different is that there’s a huge mix. You could go into one cafe in Singapore and hear Justin Bieber, go to another and hear K-pop and then in the third cafe hear an Australian artist’s song. That’s what’s really cool about the Singaporean music scene.

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