10 things to know about the 90s

10 things to know about the 90s

The Straits Times and Business Times are organising an all-star concert in August to celebrate 50 years of popular music in Singapore. In this fourth instalment of a five-part series, Paige Lim looks at the entertainment scene in the 1990s.

1 ZOUK

Other clubs come and go. (Goodbye Sparks, Centro, Supperclub and Avalon, just to name a few.) But Zouk has stuck around for 24 years, opening a branch in Kuala Lumpur in 2004, and is still a regular on the lists of the world's top clubs.

Whether you sipped your first drink at this Jiak Kim Street institution when you were 18, or mass-danced weekly to classics such as Square Room and Forever Young during Mambo, you need to thank Mr Lincoln Cheng, who had the idea in 1991 to turn three ramshackle warehouses along the Singapore River into an $8-million nightlife hotspot.

Currently, this club is still ahead of the pack with iconic events such as ZoukOut. This two-day ravefest in Sentosa is still one of the region's top parties, drawing people from all over the world to party near sand, sea and setting sun.

2 Michael Jackson Dangerous Tour

Jacko fever gripped Singapore hard when it was announced that the King of Pop would be holding his first concert here in August 1993 as part of the Asian leg of his Dangerous Tour.

Sistic and American Express ticketing phone lines were jammed, public queues snaked overnight at ticket counters, and airlines and hotels here reported heavy bookings over the concert weekend with the massive influx of fans from neighbouring countries.

More than 10,000 tickets were snapped up on the first day of priority sales, and all $200 and $125 tickets were sold out within an hour when public sales opened.

On Aug 29, Jackson enthralled a capacity crowd of 45,000 fans in an exhilarating two-hour spectacle of lasers, lights and pyrotechnics at the National Stadium. Complete with his signature moonwalk, the pop star sang songs from all stages of his career, from albums Off The Wall, Thriller and Dangerous to a Jackson 5 medley.

His second concert, scheduled for Aug 30, was postponed to Sept 1 after he collapsed off-stage before the show. In 1996, he returned for one night at the same venue. Sadly, that performance proved to be his last in Singapore. He died from a cardiac arrest at age 50 in 2009.

3 Four Heavenly Kings of Cantopop

The kings of the 1990s Cantopop scene were Jacky Cheung, Andy Lau, Aaron Kwok, and Leon Lai, who all held concerts here in the early 1990s.

Before J-pop or K-pop were hot, Cantopop was booming here. Cantopop clubs and discos mushroomed all over the island, such as Pub 1997, Thunderstorm, Club Triple Seven, The Live House and Canto.

Even English-speaking professionals flocked to these clubs, drawn to the unique experience of listening to home-grown singers Angie Liu and William Scorpion belt out Cantopop hits on stage in a contemporary Western pub ambience.

4 The opening of mega record stores

Tower Records, HMV, Borders - these CD and record megastores of the 1990s were a godsend to music fans.

Before these shops opened, music lovers had to import obscure discs from abroad when they wanted speciality and independent labels not normally found at smaller CD shops.

United States-based Tower Records was the first to pop up at Pacific Plaza in December 1993, followed by HMV and Borders at The Heeren and Wheelock Place in 1997.

Occupying three levels of The Heeren, HMV was the largest music retail outlet in Singapore with stocks of more than 250,000 CDs.

However, the last decade saw the fall of these music retail giants due to the rise of digital platforms for music and piracy. Tower Records was the first to go in 2006, while Borders closed its last outlet at Parkway Parade in 2011. HMV is the only survivor, with its sole outlet still in business at Marina Square.

5 Najip Ali

This multi-talented entertainer rose to fame as the flamboyant host of 1990s regional singing contest Asia Bagus. After the show's inaugural season in 1992, he became a household name with his madcap antics, ostentatious fashion choices and the merciless way he poked fun of contestants. While he was widely credited for Asia Bagus' good ratings, he left the show after eight years, citing a desire to move on to other things.

The Jack of all trades - who is a dancer and choreographer - also showed off his singing chops with two albums released in the 1990s. His second Malay pop album Oonik was released in 1995 and sold 5,000 copies here and another 5,000 in Japan. This was followed by Rawjak in 1997, with six of its 13 tracks co-arranged and written by him.

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