I have never lived outside of Singapore. I can imagine how liberating it must be to be a part of an arts scene somewhere else that knows no bounds, whose censorship laws aren’t based on stupidity and whose artists are recognised for their hard work. and I can also then imagine the need to slam Singapore for all the things you might have felt cheated of when you realise what there is out there. but I also already know what I would miss if I was living away from home.
no one should be told what they should and should not be proud of. everyone is entitled to their opinions and beliefs. but if you slam something, prepare to be slammed back. and if you make sweeping generalisations, no matter how many disclaimers you make, get ready for people who know a little better to knock them sideways.
I just spent 13 minutes of my life watching a video made by a 21 year old YouTube sensation named Steph Micayle (or Stephanie Koh), who was defending a statement she made that she is “not proud to be Singaporean”. I’m responding not because I feel like I need to add to the drama, but because I genuinely have something to say.
let me first start by saying it’s great when people speak up and she makes a couple of valid points. and as an artist myself, I understand (to a large extent) that she feels Singapore is not made for someone like her. but it’s because I am Singaporean and an artist that I feel like a pretty good contender to address and muse over some of her arguments.
1. some countries are made for artists and some aren’t, but that doesn’t mean art doesn’t get made.
I am an artist born and bred and living in Singapore. I have made a living here off my gigs and music for almost 14 years and while I will agree that it isn’t getting any easier, we still get paid for gigs and corporate events better here than in most cities in the world because there is money to be spent here. I can’t in good conscience deny that that does something detrimental to the quality of the art, but no matter where you are, if you are serious about your craft, you will nurture it, in spite of your circumstances. I am an artist by nature and a creator and if my atmosphere stifles me, I will make use of it. that’s what an artist does.
I think that the very Aussie-sounding Steph Micayle has possibly not spent enough time here and in the scene here and doesn’t know many true Singaporean artists. I have been around for some of the peaks and the slumps and as of right now, these are exciting times. and I don’t think it’s a trend. people are getting serious about their art. movements, bands, labels, filmmakers, writers, designers – it may be a small scene, but we are not shying away from creating honest work.
Stephanie said Singapore is a beautiful country, but only for those who can afford it. I wholeheartedly agree with that, and I know better than most what it means to be a struggling artist (or a struggling anybody) in a country with a standard of living like Singapore. I wonder how her family of doctors and lawyers struggle here or how her broke ass (she said she was broke herself) ended up in Sydney (or with that accent) or her sisters in international schools in Taiwan. I don’t want to assume anything but I wonder if it’s really a matter of her not being able to afford living here, or a matter of not running away and making art that can expose a fundamentally culture-starved* society to something bigger and more important than they know. I know how inspiring it can be to write a piece of music in a different place because everything seems open to you and you create work you might not have been able to create in Singapore. living out of here and expanding your experiences and making relevant art is not just great, it’s sometimes necessary; but if people think they need to slam the country and tell everyone they’re doing all they can to get out, because that is what is supposed to make a better artist out of them, then I think that’s misguided.
* when I say culture-starved, I don’t mean Singapore has no culture. I mean “culture” in the sense that the word is used in the West to describe the arts and civilisation. for the most part, I love Singaporean culture, or at least I find absolute joy in making fun of half of it. it doesn’t embarrass me. it’s part of me and it’s just the way it is.
2. creativity is subjective.
I have much to say about the current state of the arts in Singapore, and about how excited I am that so much is happening right now.
but first, this: correct me if I’m wrong, but I haven’t heard anything original from Steph Micayle. obviously creativity doesn’t mean the same thing to her as to me, and is therefore, subjective. I don’t knock cover artists and I’ve just watched a couple of Steph’s videos and I think she has a great voice and is impressively hardworking, but is there creativity in what she does? again, I am not putting her down in any way, but if she’s going to be that indignant about the state of emergency our creative industry is in, shouldn’t she herself be actually creating? so does her creativity lie in her music or in the fact that she had enough foresight to cash in on the YouTube generation? if it’s the latter I still take my hat off to her, and if she has original stuff in the works, that’s great, but I still think she needs to grow up a little if her only reference to Singaporean film is Jack Neo (who is racist and sexist) because that is probably the least creative (and unfunny) example of Singaporean art one could think of. it points to the fact that she’s pretty clueless and has no right saying a society as a whole is not creative when she doesn’t know enough of the artists in it.
I understand Stephanie clarified that she wasn’t speaking about “all” Singaporeans, she was just speaking about “the majority”. it’s still a very broad generalisation to say that “the majority” of Singaporeans are not creative. (it also seems to me that this girl seems to make MANY generalisations, which she says are based on her wealth of “personal experience”. she will learn a lot in the next few years but for now, some humility would be cool.)
I agree, our education system beats the creativity out of our young, and I completely understand the desire to send kids overseas for a more rounded education. having said that, I again urge Steph and others like her to look at how things are slowly changing. nothing happens overnight and I don’t dream to see anything huge erupt in my lifetime, but we finally have more art schools, we finally have more people thinking about art not just as a career but as a way of life. and this is where creativity is born in any emerging society; in these pockets of communities, among like-minded people who have something to say and need to find a way to say it, with support from classmates and teachers and colleagues, companions along for the same ride, moving towards the same goal.
again, I think the girl doesn’t know enough people in the country. possibly because she thinks she’s all that and above it (and has also spent a chunk of time away from it). but hey, everyone I know here has ideas spilling out of their ears. there are creative people in Singapore, she’s just doesn’t seem to be clued in, so how can she slam it?
3. ever been to New York City? it’s a haven for artists but do you think people are happy and nice there?
you know why most Singaporeans are unhappy? because it’s bloody expensive to live in their hometown. what else do they really complain about? overcrowded trains and sky rocketing price tags. we are experts at complaining, and Steph has indeed displayed that penchant in her rant. she’s probably more Singaporean than she thinks. but all big cities are similar. if you work on Wall Street in Manhattan, your stress level will be just as high as someone working in Singapore, never mind the middle class salesman or the homeless guy. if you go to school in Tokyo, you’ll be just as anxious about your grades as students are here. if you’re an artist in Russia, forget about it. and if you think you’re going to get a smile from a London Underground official when you’re asking for directions, think again. Singaporeans are not unfriendly and selfish because they’re unhappy. they’re unfriendly and selfish because they live in the First World. granted, Australia is very different. they’re almost too nice for me, an assumedly disgruntled Singaporean.
I know my country. I know exactly what my country people are like. I am not in denial of their selfishness or their inability to see beyond some of their ignorant, prejudiced noses. I am not a fan of my government. I do not like how my country is run and I do not appreciate for a second the bullshit ideals we are constantly being sold. but I also know that there is movement and there is something fresh to make you go mmmm everyday. I am proud of who I am and the things I have done, and I am proud of the many many many Singaporeans I know who have gone against the grain and have stood up for things they believe in and chosen their own paths. I am also proud of the Singaporeans I know who have decided to go the so-called “regular” route and are settling down and having children here and are teaching their kids what it means to be responsible citizens, not of Singapore, but of the world. I know many many of these Singaporeans and it makes me wonder why Stephanie doesn’t.
she has this myopic idea of one kind of Singaporean, whom she calls “the majority” and thinks they’re all unhappy and narrow-minded. I’ve lived and loved in Singapore for 32 years and I know exactly the kind she’s talking about, and she’s probably right, they are the majority. but she’s kidding herself if she thinks these are the same people who are lapping up headlines like fools. people don’t believe that shit, not even the majority. sure, many people bitch about it and don’t end up doing anything to change it, but some people are speaking up. and loudly. I don’t know where she’s been but if she doesn’t know this is happening, then she has run her mouth again.
I thought for a long time before I decided to respond to this. I didn’t want to sound patronising and I didn’t want to make a gunung out of a bukit. she’s a young musician who is figuring things out and has the right to speak her mind. but I am a part of this country and this creative scene and I do not appreciate anyone who doesn’t know what’s happening on the ground, pissing all over it. we have enough work to do without needing someone who doesn’t even want to be here telling us what is wrong with the system. change takes time and many of us are doing our part to flip things.
on the other hand, I have to thank this chick for making me think about the reasons I AM proud to be Singaporean:
1. the Singaporeans I know take care of each other, we support each other and help each other make dreams come true, as cheesy poofs as that sounds. we have an Asian sense of family values that transcends obligation and resembles the “kampung spirit”. I am immensely proud that I have the Singaporean family of blood relatives and friends that I have.
2. I love Singlish. it is the most efficient language in the world and it is the one thing the division of race cannot take away from us.
3. our food is unrivaled. (the Malaysians will disagree but my argument is, Singapore has everything in one, compact space. beat that.)
4. we can only move forward. every single step forward, is exactly that, a step. the government will slowly change as the old guards from each sector move on. the movements will get bigger and if there’s no more space, we will overflow to other parts of the world and represent. there is nothing wrong with being part of a young society that gets things wrong. but there is something wrong with being part of it and not trying to make some sort of a change. and I am very proud that I am that sort of Singaporean, and that all the people I know are too.
I did some snooping on Steph Micayle’s page, because I didn’t want to, like her, make any generalisations. this was one of her most recent posts:
“Trying to come up with points on how creativity can be encouraged in Singapore. Spent 2 hours on it and realized… I’m only one person, how in the world am I supposed to make a change? People aren’t going to see it, and even if they do, who is going to sponsor my ideas?”
honey, is everything about sponsorship to you? and if you think that one person (with a million YouTube hits) can’t make an effective difference, then you’re being indifferent and not very creative and are just all talk. don’t ever stop speaking your mind, but maybe next time have something more constructive to say.
I’m an underground artist and I don’t have a crazy following but I am all heart and truth and everything I say here is based on that. sometimes I feel like I need to say what’s what.