Yesterday, The Sam Willows announced on its socials that it will be going on hiatus.
During their seven-year run as a band, Ben and Narelle Kheng, Sandra Riley Tang and Jon Chua ingrained and endeared themselves to local consciousness and emerged as not just one of its most successful pop acts in the English medium but as musician-celebrities, each with a distinct pull that led back to the totality that is the band. As a unit, the quartet emblazoned its brand on the firmament of Singaporean music, with each of its four members commanding the spotlight as next-gen stars. Even onetime U2 producer Steve Lillywhite acknowledged its spellbinding trajectory.
As we look back on the band’s career arc, the realisation that the best way to celebrate the band is through its music is undeniable. To that end, each member of the Hear65 team has picked their favourite song from the band as a tribute to its legacy.
Walk down memory lane below.
“Willow, willow, willow / Lemme hear that”, indeed!
Chalk it up to strategic marketing, if you will. But the decision to release ‘Papa Money’ to herald the high-gloss, Technicolour, electronic and instrument-less iteration of The Sam Willows was definitely an astute call. A year on, this song’s first impression – that it’s such a departure from the earlier work – endures, because of the astounding power of the transformation.
Swedish producer Fredrik Häggstam, who worked on The Chainsmokers’ ‘Pari’, which, as of this writing, has amassed 718 million streams on Spotify, brings a deluxe mesh of celebratory, funked-out sounds for the band’s disparate voices to inhabit. Everything sounds crystalline and flawless, denoting that The Sam Willows have arrived, which syncs up well with its started-from-the-bottom-now-we-here narrative.
Last year, when I interviewed the band about the song, I asked them if it served as a manifesto for the band. Each member paused for a beat before nodding in agreement. The hustle-celebrating anthem of self-actualisation is vital part of any artist’s catalogue, especially for a band that exists as pristinely as it does in the public space. Because being able to put hand to heart and say, “Papa Money didn’t buy me those things”, as you survey the fruits of your labour, comes with a fulfilment that is sublime.
And if you haven’t quite gotten there yet, don’t worry: “Oh, couple years and I’m gon’ kill it”.
You can’t look back at the history of The Sam Willows and not think about ‘Take Heart’. It was, after all, the name of the group’s debut album. It was also the first song the band played at its sold out concert at The Coliseum in 2016. It’s the first song that a lot of fans heard from the pop quartet – it’s one of The Sam Willows’ crowning glories.
‘Take Heart’ is an uplifting song that undeniably inspired a legion of fans to embrace the next generation of home-grown musicians. Looking back, it’s a celebration of just how far Ben, Sandra, Narelle and Jon have come. From selling out The Coliseum to performing at the National Day Parade, to performing at huge festivals in Japan and Indonesia, ‘Take Heart’ is an ode to the feel good vibes and joy the band has spread across the region, and with the band announcing its hiatus, the song is a throwback to the good old days, now more than ever.
‘Keep Me Jealous’
‘Keep Me Jealous’ is an undeniable bop. One of the singles that kick-started the I Know, But Where-era of The Willows, this song is your quintessential electronically driven pop song with all its defining characteristics – a catchy hook, MIDI-loaded drops and all. In essence, the song chronicles a toxic relationship that started off with one partner having a not-so-innocent habit of trying to make the other party jealous with various antics; a game that has been played one too many times. The poppy heft does little to mask the edge in the lyrics, which conjures memories of the one that got away and the bittersweet feelings that come with it.
"I think we're desperate for the fire, fire / Can’t let the heart rest 'cause it's tired, tired / Baby, call me crazy but I think maybe we need it", sings the quartet, laying it out flat, that, in relationships where the passion between two lovers has weaned, some people turn to toxic approaches to spice things up, bringing much strain and hurt into their lives. It’s a point that many couples never hope to reach, but alas, such is the reality and the business of romance, a business that so many, a mere writer included, have fallen prey to.