Conversations on National Day Videos (Part 2)

Before August ends, take a trip down with us through memory lane as we briefly discuss four National Day song videos from the years past. It's a continuing struggle for local filmmakers to find non-generic themes, images and stories that bind, represent and move us, so it's with this in mind that we turn to each of these official videos, looking out for what catches our eye, what works for us and what doesn't.

Continued from Part 1!

Colin: 2009 marked what seems to be a new turn in the NDP theme songs, involving the commission of local singer-songwriters to perform their own self-written pieces. The first of these was pop rock band Electrico's "What Do You See". While I like this new approach to the NDP songs in the sense that they feel less committee-decreed, I find this inaugural attempt to be a mere rehash of tired expressions of possibilities ("future is an open book", "sail the seven seas", "climb the highest mountain").

Its music video is a different matter. While it is "individualistic" as you have noted, Jeremy, in the sense that it follows the MV trope of following the singer around, I love that it captures a Singapore that is so night-drenched. Has there been an NDP video before this one that spent most of its time in the dark? This makes for some unintentionally funny lyrics ("Look around at our faces, they shine brightly in the sun"), and there is a predictable lead-in to sunrise. But it also unearths some beautiful images, like the reflection of the bay waters shimmering on the underside of the Esplanade Drive bridge.

Raymond: I think Colin has pointed out most of the things I love about the video. I like that we get to see Singapore in the night, and the result is actually quite a sight to behold. I like the concept of showing Singapore during different times of the day, from the night to the day; I think it might have some metaphorical meaning to it - our dreams finally getting to see the light of day and eventually coming to pass.

I think this video will appeal to the Gen X and Gen Y people, just because of its celebration of the individual rather than the usual focus on families that was common to previous NDP videos. Some of the shots in these videos are just of young couples of a bunch of young friends having fun, chilling out together at Marina Barrage - which is also a popular hangout spot among the youths.

Jeremy: This song is inherently difficult to fit into the NDP scheme of things. You can't really sway or sing to it as a finale at NDP. But on its own, it appeals to my testosterone and actually inspires me. I like the fact that the video does not try too hard and the images are not too agenda-driven. It basically features the singer most of the time just singing to the camera with the occasional cutaways. While keeping most things naturalistic, there are a couple of surreal moments as well to give the video a bit of needed detraction. Two such moments include the crowd walking in slow motion up the Marina Barrage and him catching the mike as it is tossed in the air.

However... something is not quite right when you examine the spirit of the visuals and the lyrics. Colin, you have rightly pointed out that some of the lyrics are indeed lame and unintentionally funny. In fact, without the swaggering tune, the lyrics sound occasionally 'hao lian' (show-offy). And several phrases don't carry much meaning, which sound weird when they are supposed to be sung with a BIG attitude.

Finally, with one concrete show piece every year, one wonders if the screenwriters are being lazy and have resorted to a formula.

Colin: Would you say this of "Song for Singapore", this year's National Day theme song written and performed by Corrinne May? The story told by the video's montage is fairly simple, following a girl who grows up to fulfill her childhood ambition to become a music teacher. But I quite like the way that its motifs are developed, such as how her music teacher inspires her to the same calling (but from him in a classroom with blackboard, to her in a full-scale auditorium), and how her supportive father continues to fetch her home (from school on a bicycle, and then from work in a car).

The chief draw here is our interest in its human story, of a private dream harboured and fulfilled (with the tangential fact that she's teaching a National Day song at the end). So I object to to the more crude pairings of some overly public images with their lyrics, notably: NSFs carrying blank targetboards ("sometimes the best things are taken for granted") and various skyscrapers in the CBD ("with every generation, there's more to be grateful for"). To be fair, one of the most effective images in this video for me is about economic progress, but it manages to be succinct and original. Namely, the quick dissolve from our present-day city skyline (a standard icon) to our less-developed skyline of the past (sneaky reversal!). Because it's so fast, and leads us into the flashback story, it feels less preachy about the very aspects of Singapore that I presume most Singaporeans feel only impersonally about when we are being nationalistic.

Raymond: A point I wish to bring up is that I am doubtful how many children actually aspire to be a music teacher. A teacher yes, but I'm rather convinced most children who are interested in music would want to be a professional musician, not a music teacher. I may be nitpicking here, but the video really does give the impression that education is revered in Singapore; on the flip side, it may be perpetuating the stereotype that 'those who can't do, teach'. I find it a rather odd choice of a dream.

Also, I think sometimes less is more and that is certainly the case with 'Home' (still one of the best NDP songs and videos ever). The thing is that the story for the video of 'Song for Singapore' is so generic and even bland, and the link between the public/social context of the video and the tale of personal achievement of the female protaganist in question is tenuous and contrived.

Jeremy: Indeed, a friend of mine reacted to the string of past National Day videos that we posted and said how much he misses some of the older videos that keep the messages simple like appreciating home (like in “Home”) or loving your brothers and sisters. The agenda of showcasing that we are Number One in this and that’s seem to be more and more salient in the recent ones. The laughable and “epic-like” 2007 video “Will You?” is like Singaporeans in some “Great Leap Forward” campaign. The 2009 one with Electrico again, tells us to open our eyes up to the changing Singapore skyline. This 2010 version appears warm and personal at first glance but it doesn’t take long for one to realize that the “agenda” creeps back again and the CGI imposition of the Singapore flag on various landmarks is rather in-your-face, don’t you think? In fact, I would even go a step forward to say the Corrine May’s coming-of-age story feels too generically treated. It could be any singer’s story, which really doesn’t add any value to the video.
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