Going viral has long been – and still is – the fastest route to fame. We've all danced along to the 'Baby Shark Dance' video, and watched in amazement as the Walmart Yodeling Kid (who, by the way, ended up performing at the Grammys 2020 alongside Lil Nas X and BTS) yelled his lungs out. It may have been harder to gain such traction on the internet back in the early 2000s, but Singapore has also had its fair share of iconic videos that feature unlikely music heroes who show that music can be created by everyone and from any situation, good or bad.
Below, we take a look at four Singaporean music-adjacent videos that set the Internet ablaze.
DANIEL NG, A.K.A SINGAPORE'S BOB DYLAN
Daniel Ng isn't a typical, run-of-the-mill busker—if you ever hear the familiar twang of Bob Dylan's 'Blowin' In The Wind', at a MRT station, chances are you might be surprised to find that what follows isn't the lyrics you're used to. The busker, who is visually-impaired, catapulted to fame when an onlooker's video of him busking at Toa Payoh Mrt Station went viral, sparking off much amusement online and earning him the title of Singapore's Bob Dylan.
In the video, Ng is seen performing his own, uniquely Singaporean rendition of the song, wherein oblique lyrics relating to American life in the 60s were replaced by modern issues that undoubtedly plague Singaporeans of all ages and backgrounds with a blend of satire. In a time where local music is often depoliticised, his no-holds-barred performance comes as a surprise, especially when he cheekily references politicians such as Lawrence Wong, Khaw Boon Wan, and Gan Kim Yong in light of the rising costs in COEs, housing and medical expenses.
In an interview with Our Grandfather Story, he performs snippets of more original work, such as—'Fatty Bom Bom' to 'Soldiers of Hope'—and even spontaneously comes up with a song dedicated to the youths of Singapore. "Don't worry, be patient," he sings, "You are always blessed by your time." He also reveals that when he completes his set, he serenades onlookers with a tender original, 'Bye Bye Love'.
PAUL SEOW, PRODIKEY'S VIRAL STAR WHO WAS SAMPLED ON A FRANK OCEAN ALBUM
Paul Seow made waves on the internet when he appeared in a hilariously creative commercial advertising Creative Technology's Prodikeys, where he performed what would have been a rapid drum solo—on a keyboard. His innovative demonstration drew much fanfare online, with many expressing astonishment over the dissonance between his aggressive percussion and straight-laced appearance. The endearing "This is Rock 'n' Roll!", declared by Seow himself as he plays, also proved to be of entertainment value for its sheer lack of irony and the gusto with which it was delivered.
In an interview with Bandwagon, Seow — now the Marketing Manager of Creative Labs — shares that the video served its purpose well; according to him, as long as he played a demo on the keyboard, "90 percent of the people would buy". The fanfare over his demonstration also extended to the Western hemisphere: his demo has been sampled by Frank Ocean, shared by American drummer Meytal Cohen, and the video was apparently even used as teaching material in the US.
SUTHASINI, A VASANTHAM STAR WINNER WHO TOOK THE ULTIMATE CLAPBACK AT HATERS
Anyone under the spotlight would be familiar with the relentless judgement and scrutiny that come with fame, like a 2-in-1 package deal that no one really needs or asked for, but Vasantham Star winner Suthasini took it all in stride when she was faced with a barrage of hate comments, many of which were directed towards her physical appearance. Not one to take it lying down, she responded with a tongue-in-cheek video of a song composed entirely out of the comments she had received. The video gained traction, amassing over 70k views today, and earned her praise for turning shame into positivity.
The song is mostly in Tamil, although there were English snippets such as "Your voice super but your teeth is comedy", "Very dangerous face", and "Dance & voice super but pls don't smile". The refrain of her song involves the repetition of "mokka", a Tamil slang used to refer to someone as exceptionally boring. This doesn't faze Suthasini, though, for she transforms the insult into a catchy hook, enhanced by her dance moves in a play on the "over action" she was accused of.
PHUA CHU KANG, THE SAR-VIVOR
Humour is a handy coping mechanism in even the most dire occasions, so when Phua Chu Kang, the eccentric contractor from the local sitcom Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd, made an appearance in 2003—when SARS hit Singapore and kicked up a storm of panic—with a rap video, it attracted much fanfare and remains an iconic fixture in popular culture even today.
In the video, titled 'SAR-vivor', Phua delineated the precautions to take to guard against SARS in his distinct comical style, peppering his rap with Singlish ("Some say 'leh', some say 'lah' / spread kaya but don't spread SARS!") while grounding the comedy in concrete instructions, such as "Wear a mask if you see doctor / see the same one, don't be a doc-hopper!" and "Hey, if you 'kena' home quarantine, don't go out except in your dreams".
In light of the current COVID-19 situation, Phua's trademark mole, perms and yellow boots have made a reprise in a new video, 'Get Serious on COVID-19'. While not exactly a rap, he does reference a line from 'SAR-vivor' in the beginning ("SARS is the virus that I just want to minus") before snapping back to the situation at hand, before realising, "Aiyah, it's not SARS anymore".