National Day songs



The Singapore government has commissioned national songs since the 1980s. The early songs featured strong nationalistic themes and resembled advertising jingles.1 Since then, national songs have taken on a pop sensibility and become a showcase for local musical talent. These songs play a major role in the annual National Day parade.2

Background
Singapore songs and community singing became a government concern in the 1980s. In 1980, then Senior Minister of State (Prime Minister’s Office) Lee Khoon Choy was appointed to chair the National Folk Songs Committee and stage a “quiet campaign” to popularise community singing.3


The government saw group singing as an important way for Singaporeans to develop a sense of belonging to the nation and solidarity. Lee said: “This is one way of building a nation, and it is a very necessary way. We want to encourage this habit of singing.” Several songs, including “Singapura” and “Di-Tanjong Katong”, were selected to be sung by popular singers and groups; the songs were popularised through radio and television and score/lyric sheets were distributed to the public.4

Even as Singaporeans were being encouraged to sing, there was the question of whether the songs would be widely known. Besides the national anthem as well as folk songs of the various communities, there were few songs that Singaporeans could sing together at communal and national events. In response, the then Ministry of Culture (now known as the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth) organised a number of committees to compile suitable Singapore songs. Despite these efforts, Bernard Tan, who sat on several of the committees, recalled that it was hard to get songs that “fitted the bill” or which met their standards.5

Songs of the 1980s
To make up for the lack of Singapore songs, the government began to commission the composition of songs with local themes. One of the first national songs was “Stand Up for Singapore”, composed in 1984. The song was part of a larger campaign conceived by advertising agency McCann-Erickson in celebration of Singapore’s 25 years of self-government.6 At the time, songs were also used by the government to promote campaigns such as Total Defence and energy-saving.7

Canadian Hugh Harrison, a former jazz pianist who worked for advertising company McCann-Erickson, composed “Stand Up for Singapore”. Harrison recalled getting the brief on a Friday and spending a weekend conceptualising an appropriate theme before writing the music. “I sat down at the piano and laid down a demo version. I can only think that the words must have flowed quite naturally from the theme and the music flowed from the words,” he said.8


Song sheets for “Stand Up for Singapore” were distributed to all schoolchildren (primary four and above) to help them learn the song in time for the National Day celebrations in 1984.9 In September the same year, an orchestral version of the song was arranged and played by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra to a crowd of 27,000 at the National Stadium; the following month, the Singapore Symphony Orchestra also performed the piece.10 In 1985, a version of the song was recorded by local celebrity singers together with members of the Singapore Police Force for an album produced during Police Week.11

With the success of “Stand Up for Singapore”, Harrison was asked to compose two other songs, “Count on Me, Singapore” (1986) and “We are Singapore” (1987).12 The latter included quotes from a 1966 speech at the Victoria Theatre by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to school principals: “This is my country, this is my flag; this is my president, this is my future. I am going to protect it.” The song also incorporated the national pledge in the song. “We are Singapore” was planned to be broadcast on television about 100 times from 23 June to end August 1987.13


These songs have gradually come to be regarded as classic national songs and play an important part in the National Day parade. In 1985, “Stand Up For Singapore” was sung as part of the finale of the parade, during which 2,000 balloons were released.14 Subsequently, new national songs were incorporated into the parade and sung during the finale.15

The national songs, however, had their detractors. A 1987 Straits Times article reported that some young people were frustrated at being “fed” the songs, while others felt the lyrics were “too repetitive and sentimental”.16 Jeremy Monteiro – jazz musician and producer of many national day songs – said the following in response to criticisms about the songs being “too chest-thumping”: “[T]here is a time for everything, including chest-thumping and feeling patriotic, and the National Day period is probably the right time to feel and express the pride we have in Singapore and in being Singaporeans.”17

Songs of the 1990s
In 1990, Monteiro composed his own national song – “One People, One Nation, One Singapore” with lyrics by Jim Aitchison, who was also from the advertising industry.18

The next National Day song to be introduced was in 1998: “Home”, written and composed by Dick Lee, was used as the theme song for the National Day parade that year. “Home” was originally written for the Sing Singapore festival, a biennial event launched by the government in 1988 to promote community singing with the aim of nation-building.19


Lee said that when he was writing the song, he was examining the notion of “home”, as he had then been living outside of Singapore for seven years, and came to realise that Singapore was home for him. The song, sung by local pop singer Kit Chan, quickly became popular among locals, so much so that it was reused as the National Day parade theme song in 2004, albeit as a remixed version. More than a decade after its release, “Home” was voted the favourite National Day song in a 2013 poll conducted by The Straits Times.20

The song was said to strike an emotional chord. According to Monteiro, “[I]f you were a Singaporean who was overseas and you heard ‘Home’, it would make you miss home… And I think that’s the magic of ‘Home’.”21 The song was also the first National Day tune that featured a mandarin version; some subsequent national day songs such as “Shine on Me” also included mandarin versions.22


After “Home”, a new song was commissioned for every subsequent National Day, except for the 2014 edition. These songs were written by local composers and tended to be pop ballads featuring popular local artistes. The song “Together” was written for the 1999 National Day parade by music producer Ken Lim and sung by rising starlet Evelyn Tan and local pop trio Dreamz FM.23

Songs since 2000
National Day songs since 2000 continued to be written in the pop vein, featuring leading local singers such as Tanya Chua, Stefanie Sun, Corrinne May, Taufik Batisah and rock band Electrico. Iskandar Ismail, who was the music director for five National Day parades, said that national songs had to be imbued with a pop sensibility so as to appeal to the younger generation. He added: “We have to make it different to stay relevant to the young. In fact, if you played the songs in a disco, you would think it’s a pop song.”24

These songs also become less overtly nationalistic. Some songs, such as “There’s No Place I’d Rather Be” (2007) and “Love at First Light” (2012), do not even mention the word “Singapore”.25

As Singapore’s repertoire of national songs expanded, locals also became more critical of them. The song for the 2009 National Day, “What Do You See?”, written and performed by local band Electrico, met with mixed reception. The rock song – the first National Day song of the genre – was criticised for not being mainstream and catchy enough for a sing-along.26 The 2013 song, “One Singapore”, was lambasted for its “bad lyrics” and resembling a nursery rhyme.27 Some Singaporeans also began to question whether there was a need to have a new song every year.28 Due to the flak received from the recent years’ songs, the government decided not to commission a new song for the 2014 National Day parade; familiar favourites such as “Stand Up for Singapore” and “Home” were sung instead.29

Reactions
Some Singaporeans have also taken to releasing their own versions of National Day songs. “One Singapore”, for example, inspired at least five cover versions in a range of styles, including R&B, acoustic and punk.30

In addition, there are Singaporeans who compose their own “national song”. Singer-songwriter Lorraine Tan composed her own original patriotic songs and released them online. One of her videos, “Shine Singapore” has garnered thousands of views.31 This trend was noted by Monteiro, who commented, “It’s a good thing that people are willing to spend their time and resources coming up with their own songs. It’s a great way of expressing their patriotism.”32

Parodies of National Day songs by local humourists have also surfaced. Original lyrics are replaced with satire, touching on subjects such as the increase in Singapore’s cost of living, NEWater, materialism and Singaporeans’ quirks like being kiasu (meaning “afraid to lose” in Hokkien).33


List of National Day songs
1984: “Stand Up for Singapore” (music/lyrics: Hugh Harrison).34
1986: “Count on Me, Singapore” (music/lyrics: Hugh Harrison; performer: Clement Chow).35
1987: “We are Singapore” (music/lyrics: Hugh Harrison; performers: Jonathan Tan Teck Meng, Roslinda Baharudin, Robert Fernando and Anne Weerapass).36
1990: “One People, One Nation, One Singapore” (music: Jeremy Monteiro; lyrics: Jim Aitchison).37
1998: “Home” (music/lyrics: Dick Lee; performer: Kit Chan).38
1999: “Together” (music/lyrics: Ken Lim; performers: Evelyn Tan and Dreamz FM).39
2000: “Shine on Me” (music/lyrics: Jim Lim; performers: Mavis Hee and Jai Wahab).40
2001: “Where I Belong” (music/lyrics/performer: Tanya Chua).41
2002: “We Will Get There” (music/lyrics: Dick Lee; performer: Stefanie Sun).42
2003: “One United People” (music/lyrics: Joshua Wan; performer: Stefanie Sun).43
2004: “Home” (remix; music/lyrics: Dick Lee; performers: Kit Chan and JJ Lin).44
2005: “Reach Out for the Skies” (music: Elaine Chan; lyrics: Selena Tan; performers: Taufik Batisah and Rui En).45
2006: “My Island Home” (music/lyrics: Joshua Wan; performer: Kaira Gong).46
2007: “There’s No Place I’d Rather Be” (music/lyrics: Jimmy Ye; performer: Kit Chan).47
2007: “Will You” (music/lyrics: Jimmy Ye; performers: Janani Sridhar, Asha Edmund, Emma Yong, Lily Yong Rahmat, Jai Wahab, Shabir Mohammed, Sebastian Tan and Gani Karim).48
2008: “Shine for Singapore” (music/lyrics: Benny Wong; performers: Joi Chua and Hady Mirza).49
2009: “What Do You See?” (music/lyrics/performers: Electrico).50
2010: “Song for Singapore” (music/lyrics/performer: Corrinne May).51
2011: “In a Heartbeat” (music: Goh Kheng Long; lyrics: Haresh Sharma; performer: Sylvia Ratonel).52
2012: “Love at First Light” (music: Iskandar Ismail; lyrics: Paul Tan; performers: Olivia Ong and Natanya Tan).53
2013: “One Singapore” (music: Elaine Tan; lyrics: Selena Tan; performers: Sing A Nation choir, comprised of 68 ordinary Singaporeans).54



Author
Stephanie Ho



References
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9. Pupils get song sheet for 25th year joy. (1984, August 6). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Ee, B. L. (1984, September 26). SSO to play Stand Up for Singapore. Singapore Monitor, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Some outstanding gems in star-studded salute. (1985, September 15). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Foo, J. (1989, August 6). In search of the Singapore song. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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34. Theng, A. J. (2013, July 27). Favourite NDP songs composed by Canadian ad-man. The New Paper. Retrieved from Factiva.
35. Foo, J. (1989, August 6). In search of the Singapore song. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chan, B. (2014, August 21). Will Singapore love the next NDP song? The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Theng, A. J. (2013, July 27). Favourite NDP songs composed by Canadian ad-man. The New Paper. Retrieved from Factiva.
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40. Narayana, S. (2000, August 8). Mavis to shine at parade tomorrow. The New Paper, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ministry of Communications and Information. (n.d.). Music/songs. Retrieved from Singapore.sg website: http://app.singapore.sg/media-gallery/music-song
41. Sing ‘Where I Belong’ with Tanya. (2001, May 23). Today, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
42. Boon, C. (2014, August 21). Will Singapore love the next NDP song? The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
43. Tor, C. L. (2003, July 7). Mix & match wear for NDP. Today, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, W. (2003, June 12). 400,000 bids so far for national day parade tickets. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
44. Chang, M. C. (2004, August 9). Feeling at home in school. The New Paper, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ministry of Communications and Information. (n.d.). Music/songs. Retrieved from Singapore.sg website: http://app.singapore.sg/media-gallery/music-song
45. Boon, C. (2014, August 21). Will Singapore love the next NDP song? The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Ministry of Communications and Information. (n.d.). Music/songs. Retrieved from Singapore.sg website: http://app.singapore.sg/media-gallery/music-song; Home voted the most popular NDP song. (2013, July 30). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
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49. Chow, J. (2008, July 8). Joi, Hady to sing shine for S’pore. The Straits Times, p. 35. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
50. Boon, C. (2014, August 21). Will Singapore love the next NDP song? The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
51. Eddino Abdul Hadi. (2013, August 22). Foreign attraction: Singaporeans musicians say being based abroad helps fuel their creativity and lets them make a living. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Ministry of Communications and Information. (n.d.). Music/songs. Retrieved from Singapore.sg website: http://app.singapore.sg/media-gallery/music-song
52. Creative director inspired by her parents. (2011, July 7). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Ministry of Communications and Information. (n.d.). Music/songs. Retrieved from Singapore.sg website: http://app.singapore.sg/media-gallery/music-song
53. Sim, R. (2014, May 15). No new national day song for this year’s parade. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Tong, J. H. (2012, July 12). NDP homecoming for Olivia Ong. MyPaper. Retrieved from Factiva.
54. Sim, R. (2014, May 15). No new national day song for this year’s parade. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Eddino Abdul Hadi. (2013, July 28). Hitting the wrong note. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.




The information in this article is valid as at 11 March 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic. 

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