Thursday, June 13, 2013

Save my world, Saving Gaia, Saving music

Amidst the NEA-WP hawker centre saga, the dengue situation (please do your part, guys) and the government's move to control the web, there is something that deserves far greater attention.

You're right! I'm talking about that irritating campaign song from Saving Gaia. As Mediacorp puts it, it's a Mediacorp initiative.

Initiative. Check.
Thought put into songwriting. Hmmm.

First off, I find it difficult to connect with the music video, since I'm not a skinny middle-class electric car-driving ah beng who's trying to taunt you into better environmental ownership.

"NOW IT'S TIME..."
"No! Sorry sir. Sorry! I thought I paid my protection money last month liao!"
"NO NO NO... NOW IT'S TIME TO CHANGE!"

And since we're into ah beng cultural imaginings fueled by nostalgic stereotypes...
KWA SIMI KWA? AI XIO PAK AH?
YOU NEVER RECYCLE! KNN LI SI LIAO!
*flips the table and runs to a nearby hedge to retrieve a 20-inch parang*

Might as well have a video that shows a person who litters and is later set upon by a gang of 6-7 teens armed with sharp plastic combs, pocket knifes and parangs, chanting "GAO SAH GAO! GAO SAH GAO!" (the last three numbers of Mediacorp's postal code, what were you thinking?) to promote civic consciousness and environmental awareness.

No wonder those back-up kids are shitting their pants, and on the vocals. I'd rather just have a couple of kids sing the song, solo, duet, whatever.

Musically, this year's version is as bad as the previous. It's bland and reeks of the contrived attempt to use hip-hop so that the random teenager on the street will suddenly open his/her eyes and exclaim, "WOW hip-hop! That is something I sure can identify with! *wink*"

Kudos to MDA and their use of hip-hop to connect with the younger generation, because everyone in that demography sure as hell listens to hip-hop and speak like they're from the 'hood, ya'll.

At least the first Saving Gaia version, no matter how stomach-churningly awful it was, was a better attempt with some choral singing. Not Corrine May choral, but still there was some attempt at technique. It came across as earnest, but didn't help much with Singaporeans perception and attitudes toward having children. "Damn, the government wants us to have kids and after looking at this video, hell, keep your baby bonus, I'm going DINK! YOLO"

And with this year's video, potential parents will be like, "I'd rather my teenager not separate his recyclables than have that get-up and demeanour in the video."

Since we're on the topic of music, this song is irritating because it has the ingredient of irritation. No, not just the sharp-sounding kids' vocals. It's the melody.

The melody, in C major key signature I believe, is obsessively repetitive in tune and in the use of the C note. Just like the PAP's vice grip on every day Singaporean life, this song clings onto the C note a little too tightly.

Let's look at the pre-chorus melody:
A(la) B(ti) C(do) C(do)
A B C C
A A B C C B B A A G G (holy shit, that's Grammy-standard music there)

And the chorus:
C C B (that's probably how I feel about the song)
C C A
And rinse and repeat.

The melodies for each of the song's movements (verse, pre-chorus and chorus) are all tightly clustered. Only the verse has some range (within an octave but one note shy).

But the irritating factor is, as mentioned, the use of the C note. The pre-chorus builds to nothing and the chorus is anti-climatic. It's far too simple to be a singalong, never mind an anthem.

You want a proper build to a climatic chorus and then begin your chorus with a base note, then use that note (high note) sparingly, rather than abuse it. This songwriting debacle is what makes the song irritating.

And yes, monotonous too. The song is so monotonous it makes Gregorian funeral music sound like a heavy metal cover of an ABBA disco song.

No idea who wrote that song. You know what, JJ Lin's Youth Olympic Games cheer/ditty "You are the one, Singapore" is way better and has nuances that are telling of his songwriting pedigree. Some may think it is irritating probably because of its incessant presence, but if you listened carefully to the chord work and songcraft, you can tell a lot more thought has been put into it. Want to write a song that targets the masses next time? Email that guy first, pay him well, listen to him, and not micromanage (the production) too much.

Even one bar of another local song, Count On Me Singapore, has more quality than the entire production of the Saving Gaia song. I like to apologise for using Count On Me Singapore as a comparison, but to elaborate, just look at just the first bar of the chorus, the melody similarly starts with a high note but is climatic and charming, at the same time yearning and aching for something - that's artistry. Next up, the chords (in C major key signature) - F to G/F (before going to C or C/E depending on the rendition of the song). That mere sequence is a touch of class in the whole song.

Ok. Count On Me Singapore chorus' melody begins with G, the fifth note. You want to know about climaxes that begin with the base note (i.e. C)? Look at Fun's We Are Young. The verse and pre-chorus are very understated, which magnifies the crescendo that is the chorus. Not just 1, but 2 Cs to explode into the chorus. Saving Gaia has 2  Cs too but the chorus' delivery is as feeble as its build-up.

By the way, (Count On Me Singapore's chorus) G/F means G chord on F, but you could think it's "fucking good".

As for the Saving Gaia song, it is only as good as the first line of its chorus - C C B.

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