Home wasn’t written for NDP: Here’s how NDP songs have evolved

Screengrabs from the music videos of various national day songs. Clockwise from top left: Count On Me Singapore (1986), Home (1998), Everything I am (2020), Our Singapore (2019)
PHOTO: Screengrab/ NDPeeps YouTube, motorbehaviour YouTube

Love them or hate them, it's hard to deny the place that National Day songs hold in our memories. After all, which one of us who grew up in Singapore doesn't have memories of music lessons and assemblies in school where we're taught to sing these patriotic-themed songs?

One of the reasons you can probably still hum along to them, other than the fact that they are played during National Day Parade, is due to their advertisement jingle-like catchiness. Think songs like Stand Up For Singapore, which is also the very first official National Day Parade (NDP) song introduced in 1984, Count On Me Singapore and We Are Singapore. 

The originals: Rousing tunes filled with collective national pride

The catchy melodies of the three songs are the brainchild of former Canadian ad-man Hugh Harrison. He was tasked to write Stand Up For Singapore as part of advertising agency McCann-Erickson's bid for a campaign commemorating Singapore's 25th anniversary of self-governance.

Count on Me Singapore was subsequently written for the 1986 NDP and We Are Singapore for NDP 1987. Appropriately, the latter incorporates the national pledge as well as quotes from Singapore's founding father, Lee Kuan Yew — "This is my country, this is my flag."

Even though these songs from the 80s are considered classics today and most Singaporeans have fond memories of them, back then, they had their fair share of detractors. Young people were frustrated at being "fed" the songs and there were those that felt that the lyrics were "too repetitive and sentimental", according to a 1987 The Straits Times article. 

This era of national songs closed with One People, One Nation, One Singapore, composed by local musician Jeremy Monterio, which carried the same message of nation-building and pride about how far we've come along as Singaporeans. 

And its lyrics were also penned by a non-Singaporean from the advertising world, Jim Aitchison.

As local playwright Alfian Sa'at shared on Instagram, the National Day songs from this period were "singalong anthems, with rousing choruses and the unapologetic 'we' pronoun".

Reflective, forward-looking lyrics by local songwriters and singers

The 1990s saw a lull in the National Day song department. That is until 1998, when the now crowd-favourite Home was released. 

Though this song is sung at least once during every National Day Parade, it was not originally written as a theme song for the parade. Instead, it was meant for the Sing Singapore Festival. 

There was another ditty written exclusively for NDP 1998, the much lesser-known City For The World.

Home marked a new period of National Day songs for Singapore in more ways than one. 

It was the first time that a National Day song was sung by a local singer and composed fully by a local songwriter, Kit Chan and Dick Lee respectively.

It also didn't run in the same chest-thumping national pride vein that previous National Day songs carried. Instead of using the collective 'we' noun, the song took the first-person perspective with 'I' and gave an introspective look into what it meant to call Singapore home. 

In another first, a Mandarin version of the soundtrack was also released.

Perhaps buoyed by the resounding success of Home, the next 15 NDPs had theme songs that by and large followed a similar formula — local singers, local songwriters and more mellowed, pop-driven tunes that weren't as jingle-inspired as those from the 80s. 

A bevy of local artistes have fronted these songs, including Tanya Chua, Mavis Hee, Stefanie Sun, JJ Lin, Taufik Batisah and Rui En, and Corrinne May. 

And they haven't gone without criticism. Local band Electrico's 2009 NDP song, What Do You See, was said to lack broad appeal and failed to strike a chord with people. 

In 2013, when the decision was made to use a choir of 68 ordinary Singaporeans for the song One Singapore, netizens slammed it for sounding too much like a children's song or nursery rhyme. 

Hence for the first time in nearly two decades, there was no NDP theme song in 2014, with the NDP committee for the year deciding that it would be better to have "songs that we grew up singing together" instead.

New musical styles and modern remixes of old favourites

The pause was only for a year though, and from 2015, the tradition of having an NDP theme song every year was revived, though with some changes in the types of songs. 

2016's Tomorrow's Here Today took on an indie and pop-driven vibe that was different from the typical national song melody. The music videos too have since moved from being singular artiste-fronted to showcasing more of everyday Singaporeans, with multiple local singers participating in the songs. 

Additionally, while it's not the first time that a remix of an older song was used as an NDP theme song — 2004's theme song was a Home remix — both 2018 and 2019's songs were remixes of earlier NDP theme songs, and their updates incorporated new rap verses. 

2018's version of We Are Singapore included fresh lyrics from homegrown singer Charlie Lim, and the national pledge in a rap, while the 2019 theme song was a mash-up of 2002's We will Get There and 2015's Our Singapore.

2020 NDP theme song Everything I Am brings with it a more laidback melody and is fronted by singer Nathan Hartono. It's perhaps more reflective too, of the current times that we are living in. 

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Will this mark a new direction that our National Day tunes will take? We'll only know for sure when NDP 2021 arrives.

But for now if you don’t have enough time to plough through all the National Day song videos individually, here’s a mash-up by local acapella group, MICapella, that runs the gamut of National Day melodies.

kailun@asiaone.com