Supporting Local Talent…

June 24, 2008

The Sunday Times editorial (22/06/2008 ) on “Stars at home or aboard – let’s cheer them both” threw up the quandary of how Singaporeans are generally apathetic in showing support for talented local individuals.

For the purpose of this discussion, we shall overlook local born-and-bred MediaCorp TV artistes, who generally film local drama serials without any real opportunities to break into the overseas market. These artistes naturally appeal to the mainstream masses, as watching television forms one of the most popular pastimes in the country. This is especially so for the local evening drama serials filling both the 7pm and 9pm slots. Of course, there are instances when local drama serials are marketed overseas (for instance, The Return of the Condor Heroes in 1997, which ignited regional fan bases for local stars such as Fann Wong and Christopher Lee), but that is another story. As such, it is hardly surprising that most of them make their mark and are popular among locals alike.

On the contrary, for other Singaporeans pursuing other fields, reception from fellow countrymen, as mentioned within the editorial, is generally lukewarm.

It certainly takes more than sheer luck for Singaporeans to make it big overseas as compared to making it big within the country itself. For once, on the international arena, these artistes will have to compete with the global talent cohort for a chance to make their mark in their respective fields. It is no longer about standing out to a crowd of 4 million people, but about leaving a deep impression on the world.

Naturally, there will be both hits and misses. Let us take a look at the Chinese pop scene first, where the number of local artistes seeking breakthroughs is countless.

Stefanie Sun, Tanya ChuaThe likes of Stefanie Sun, JJ Lin, Tanya Chua, Kit Chan, Mavis Hee and A-Do have all become household names around the region. On the contrary, they all have one thing in common – all of them based themselves in Taiwan first, gaining considerable success there, prior to turning their focus onto the Singaporean market. It remains to be seen how successful would they be if they had based themselves locally first instead. Meanwhile, in 2005 when Tanya Chua clinched the Best Female Vocalist award at the acclaimed Taiwan Golden Melody Awards, she had griped at how she was widely regarded as the shoo-in for the award in Taiwan, but was regarded as a dark horse in local reports.

Singing competition “Project Superstar” produced alums such as Kelvin Tan and Kelly Poon, who are widely popular within the country, having emerged victorious in the competition where audience polls are a decisive factor in the results. However, they have failed to emulate their success on the regional arena as their debut album in Taiwan failed to create ripples.

Kaira GongHowever, lukewarm reception to singers such as Jones Shi Kangjun and Kaira Gong has resulted in similarly lukewarm reception here.

Meanwhile, Singaporeans seem to be a forgetful bunch as with the case of Joi Chua. Her story is a roller-coaster one with her debut effort based in Taiwan in 2000 falling prey to poor sales. Neither did that effort raise her popularity locally, resulting in her being dropped by her record company then. Venturing into the local music scene again in 2004, her breakout release was a success locally with a number of chart topping hits. However, her popularity seemed to have fallen here as she turned her attention to the regional market instead for her subsequent albums. While she is currently widely popular in China, her latest effort translated into critical acclaim but not sales in Taiwan.

It is worth noting that in the forthcoming 19th Taiwan Golden Melody Awards, Singaporeans Stefanie Sun, Tanya Chua and Joi Chua have all been nominated for the Best Female Vocalist, an unprecedented first for the country as locals take up half of the nominations for the category.

Olivia OngIn English music, will local songbird Corrinne May shift albums off the shelves in Singapore had she not been successful in the United States? How about Olivia Ong, a jazz singer based in Japan? What about the lukewarm reception which local bands such as Electrico, Ronin and The Great Spy Experiment receive at their gigs?

While young local designers are setting sights on international runways, these ripples are not being felt by Singaporeans who subscribe to tried and tested fashion labels such as Gap and Topshop. As reported in the International Herald Tribune article in the previous link, a new generation of young Singaporean designers is “trying to break away from the cosy domestic market, where it is relatively easy to be a big fish in a small pond”. Designers such as Jonathan Seow (head honcho of design label Woods & Woods which has been presented in Paris but remains relatively unknown in Singapore), Andrew Gn and Ashley Isham have their own influences in Europe before venturing back into their home countries.

Similarly, it seems, for movie directors. Eric Khoo is the only Singaporean film-maker to have three movies premiere in Cannes, with the latest offering “My Magic” up for the prestigious Palme D’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival, but how many Singaporeans have seen them? It appears that the more “arthouse” or critically-acclaimed the film is, the more turned away the local crowd is towards actually supporting them. The key, it appears, lies in mass appeal. Jack Neo is certainly mainstream in his films which depict the everyday lives of Singaporeans in an everyday manner. On the other hand, his films have yet to make much of a critical impact. Royston Tan had debilitating box office results with his earlier releases such as “24” and “4:30”, but earned a box office hit with the mainstream “881”.

In the meantime, Kelvin Tong and the Pang brothers hit big time with box office hits in their respective horror movies, “The Maid” and “The Eye”, with the latter even going on to their directorial debut in Tinseltown. However, does it seem strange that they were not promoted as local directors in the first place?

This article also highlights the success of local comics artist Foo Swee Chin whose works are being published in a monthly manga magazine in Japan, but alas, she is not a household name in Singapore.

It remains to be seen when, as our auteurs and artistes find their voices and identities and live their mark in their respective fields, the rest of us learn to be willing to discern and advocate their works, instead of following the crowd in supporting tried and tested formulae. Or when, the rest of us will discard our skepticism and bias towards performances which may break the mould, and readily accept local art ventures and local bands as well. All this will definitely go a long way in promoting a unique Singapore.

One Response to “Supporting Local Talent…”

  1. orthai25 Says:

    Worldwide Update for Movie Box Office Results, Weekend Box Office Results, Movie Reviews and Movie Trailers Links

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