Welcome to a special workshop I'll be conducting today. "How to write a National Day song". Before I begin, I would like to warn you of material you might personally identify as racist, but rest assured, they are mere observations of stereotypes that could be disappointed (I must assure those who have the habit of reading things too literally).
When I was younger, I always wanted to write a National Day song. However, that sense of pride and belonging has faded along with that musical inspiration.
But that does not mean the following advice and tips aren't helpful at all in getting your National Day song accepted for future National Days, right?
First and foremost, you must write a good and catchy melody. Simple enough for sing-alongs and translations into Mandarin, Malay and Tamil. And since we are getting more chummy with China, along with our ferocious learn Mandarin campaign (sorry Malay and Indian friends), you must definitely write a song that can be sung in Mandarin.
That means, no complex chord progressions, but more singable parts with reachable high and low notes. The melody should not jump here and there, otherwise mass singing would not be possible and there is only so much 50,000 thousand people and the millions watching on their television can take from errant voices.
The melody also cannot have too much soul, because the ethnic Chinese are just too stiff. And speaking of ethnic Chinese, we cannot afford too many "R"s in the lyrics because they'll probably be forgotten when sung. Since we leave no Singaporean behind, the Ah Lians and Ah Bengs must be spared from singing too many "R"s. Imagine "fiftein yeal-old teenagel eating flied lice in the aftelnoon".
Siah la, don't forget about our Malay friends too. You should always write a National Day song in all the key signatures, because while most Malay folks are savvy with their rhythm, they often go off a few keys off pitch. You wouldn't want your National Day song to be massacred by the droning Chinese and off-pitch Malay voices, would you?
As for the Indians friends, well, who cares, right? As long as we appease the Malay folks, Singapore is ok, no?
Just make sure you dedicate 10% of the song to feature instruments that are significant of Indian culture, or what non-Indian Singaporeans will (culturally and stereotypically) imagine as representative of Indian culture. There is no point incorporating vibrato and complex Southern Indian singing techniques, because they are just the minority. They are such a minority that most Singaporeans think they only (and uniformly) speak Tamil, and they are probably least significant because the MRT trains only play the Tamil instructions on security and graciousness as the last language. Such a forgotten segment. But for the sake of the National Day song, you must dedicate a few seconds for the Indian drums and string arrangement.
To have a widespread appeal, it is best the song be composed in 4/4 beat. It matches the military regimentation half the nation (excluding the exempted foreign talents) have to go through. Don't be like Radiohead and write 5/4 beat songs. Even a 6/8 beat would be pushing the boundaries in a Nation where most of us can only count up to 4. Given the majority Chinese exposure to pop music from the west and east asia, it is best that we cut the 70% (and dwindling due to poor birth rates) of the population some slack with a simple tap-along 4/4 beat song. If not, you will get an unintended and hideous canon-singing rendition of you proud National Day song.
For tempo, it should be just right. Not too slow, not too fast. The young will complain it's too slow, the old will complain it's too fast. So we must uphold the status quo and move on, because that is what the majority wants. Tee hee hee, I can be a minister too! Tee hee!
A good melody will go well with the right tempo, but sometimes it is difficult to make it very melodious. Most Singaporean men are so insecure with their sexuality that they probably see singing well as something that's "sissy" or "gay". It's okay to sing the song with our bellowing voices and it's okay to sing them out of tune. HAROOH! (300 spartan-like, minus the insane bodies, because most of us are ravaged by poor diets and lack of work-life balance)
For example, a true man will sing the melody of "Home" in only one note of his choosing. Of course, this is outside the context of the Karaoke lounge, and on the national platform. What better way to re-emphasize your masculinity and manhood than singing a song in a monotonous manner.
For the lyrics of your National Day song, think about being politically correct. There are certain key words that you have to include in you song for it to be approved by the powers that be:
5) Hand in hand
6) Heart to heart
7) Share / care
10) Reach out
And once you include these words, you need to find their rhymes!
1) Home - condom, foam
2) Nation - masturbation, erection, authoritarian
3) Land - man, fan, li-ann
4) Flag - wag, hag, fag, sag
5) Hand in hand - demand (ambiguously American and Brit pronunciations clashing), see land
6) Heart to heart - butt, fart, jelat, jihad
7) Share / care - dare, compare (with Malaysia)
8) Together - hot weather, elite very clever,
9) Hope - dope, cannot cope, drop the soap
10) Reach out - usually used at the beginning to signal that we are trying to grope something
Don't forget your "believe" and "achieve" rhymes too. We love songs that harness the nationalist conscience for the economic imperative.
And always be forward, if not upward-looking. "Love" and "above", because we need to look up and reach out for the bird-bird.
Speaking of birds, try not to have "peace" in your song, because the Ah Lians will kill it into "piss".
Try not to have "rock" in the song, because although you would like to write, "Singapore you rock!", you'll probably be stumped in finding a decent rhyme, as "cock" and "sock" are not very flattering for a young nation.
Same goes with "long", because the feminists and the George Lim Heng Chyes will not appreaciate "schlong" and "dong" in the song. It is offensive on many levels too, as "Chok Tong", "KS Wong" and "Hsien Loong" shouldn't feature in the song. Moreover, we should avoid negatives like "wrong" and "talk cock sing song".
We love Christian-imagery in the music too, because most of the educated elite are Christian any way. So "light", "sight", "fight", "delight", "fright", "bite", "kite", "flight" and all that are useful words.
It'll be great to have "presence" and "heavens", but if you're out of ideas, you could include "peasants" and "tumescence".
Every child loves "best" in a song. "Do our best" or "do your best" rhyme with "breast", "distress", "caress" and "harass". We can include education on child sex crimes in the sing-along too.
And since the government wants everyone to believe they have a part to play in nation-building, you should include the word "participate". The words that rhyme with it include "demonstrate", "hesitate", "masturbate", "irrumate" and "fellate". Well, the last two words best describe what most of us have to do to survive in the rat race. Who cares about "procreate"?
As for song structure, it is best to keep the song really simple with an A-B-A-B structure. The verse could end with a short pre-chorus and we can climax into the chorus.
For the sake of making it a long singalong a la Oasis songs, we can repeat the chorus. To add variety, we can keep transposing each chorus that repeats like a Michael Jackson Heal the World song. You'll start the song in C major for example, and after a few repeated choruses, end it one octave higher. Reaching up, mah? So must go higher and higher, right?
To go higher and higher, just read the score/lyrics alongside your latest utility bills, because the invisible hand of the government will be literally squeezing your testicles, which some believe may give you a higher and wider range to sing out the rest of the song.
As the choruses are repeated, you'll be able to add in the orgy of cultural instruments representative of the 4 major races in Singapore. Be sure to put the Malay instruments first, because the Chinese elite are rather sensitive to pissing off this 20% of the population, most of whom are thought to be PAP voters. Next, put in some Chinese instruments, followed by the poor token Indian instruments. It is better to space the Malay and Indian instruments apart, because most Chinese Singaporeans probably can't tell the difference given they are probably too culturally ignorant, relativist, or simply besiding themselves with lazy Malay and drunk and drama Indian jokes.
The message of racial harmony should be a subtle one, but not too subtle otherwise most Singaporeans will not know what hit them. You need not preach racial harmony through lyrics, as the presence of these cultural instruments will do. So if your song is fast, slow, with orchestral or rock band backing, sung by a woman, a man, a child or a government official, or rapped, you have to include these instruments.
Religion and sexuality issues are a no-no in National Day songs, and even though we are already rapidly developing, we will still enjoy songs that talk about building and progressing.
Your National Day song must essentially capture the spirit of the middle-class Chinese folks. Every ethnic Chinese's wet dream is economic progress and stability. Peace and harmony are only a means to achieving these materials, not to forget happiness.
And what is a National Day song without a music video? You have to rope in all the four major races. Since we are visual creatures, their skin colour must be contrasting enough for the average Singaporean viewer to recognise that these guys actually look different. You need children, because nobody cares about old people in Singapore. And you need some young adult to guide these children to do something meaningful, but they should keep their distance from these kids otherwise George Lim Heng Chye will have yet another letter published in the Straits Times Forum reflecting his obsession with inter-generational love.
Block out the ungracious behaviour, block out the middle-aged man pissing at the void deck, block out the old woman collecting recyclables, block out that persistent tissue paper-selling man at Maxwell Hawker Centre, because you must portray Singapore as a haven for the middle class, who will have the freedom to chase the 5 Cs.
There you have it. This is your guide to writing a National Day song. I hope you will take this advice and embark on a inspirational musical journey, and maybe one day, we will be singing your song!