Confessions of a getai singer: She once received 'hell notes' in hongbao

She's tipped to be the hottest getai star this year and Sherraine Law is definitely not missing the cue.

She has started the Hungry Ghost month with 30 bookings and that looks set to increase.

Last year, she had about 80 bookings.

Miss Law, 22, explains in English: "I have more hosting gigs this year because of SG50 celebrations."

Other than getai, Miss Law also hosts or sings at weddings, corporate events and community centre shows.

She attributes her rising popularity to the GeTai Challenge, a TV singing contest for getai performers.

The programme aired weekly from May 25 and ended last Monday.

She says: "People have a very different impression of getai now.

"They tend to see us as more professional. After the Channel 8 variety show, many people have changed their minds about the getai industry."

YOUNGER CROWD

Miss Law says the audience used to be mostly made up of the older generation. But since the TV show, she has noticed a younger crowd.

"Now I have younger fans, who come just for me," says Miss Law.

She also had bit roles in several local movies, such as Ah Boys To Men, in which she played IP Man's girlfriend Mayoki.

At a getai show at Sin Ming Lane on Wednesday where she performed, fans were seen holding placards with lights spelling out Miss Law's name in English and Chinese.

The number of her Instagram followers doubled after the show, she noted, to more than 4,300.

Miss Law, who won one of the 10 Most Popular Getai Artiste awards last year and the year before, has also received requests to appear in gigs in Johor Baru, though she turned them down.

She says: "I don't do JB gigs yet. My mum is not comfortable with me travelling there."

Young, energetic and bilingual, Miss Law is more popular as a host than as a singer, says Mr Aaron Tan, Singapore's most prolific getai organiser.

It is a far cry from when Miss Law started getai singing five years ago at the age of 17.

She reveals: "A lot of people looked down on me when I started out.

"I got bad comments. They would say things like, 'You will never get famous. Don't waste your time'."

Describing her first few stage experiences, she says: "It was really stressful. I wasn't sure what I could or could not say, so I was very quiet. The host was quite angry with me.

"Emcees are a bit irritated with singers who can't chat. They will shorten the interaction time, as it's not so engaging. Getai is all about entertaining."

Miss Law charges more than $100 per gig, and she can earn up to $10,000 during the month, not inclusive of red packets.

Mr Tan says that getai artists can usually earn $6,000 to $10,000, before deducting expenses like transportation and costumes.

On average, an artist can get about 50 bookings within the month while more popular ones can get 80 to 100 bookings, he says.

Traditionally, getai artists receive hongbao from fans and supporters as a sign of appreciation for their performances during the Hungry Ghost month.

But there can be also be strange gifts.

Last year, she opened a hongbao to find not cash, but "hell notes" (Chinese incense paper) and a $1 coin. One of the hell notes even had a bank account number and a name scrawled on it.

Recalling the incident, Miss Law says: "I was so freaked out that I didn't dare to take the $1 coin. I donated it to the McDonalds' donation box."

She received not one, but two such hongbao on the same night.

Once, she suffered a wardrobe boo-boo on her way up the stage, when she accidentally stepped on her long skirt, which was fastened with Velcro, and the skirt came off.

She says: "The audience went 'wooo', followed by silence. Luckily I was wearing tights inside."

A dancer on stage quickly used an umbrella to shield her as she pulled up her skirt.

On another occasion, a man tried to kiss and hug her in the middle of her performance of a Hokkien song.

She says: "He was drunk. He just came out from nowhere and climbed onto the stage. I was halfway through my song, so I couldn't stop singing. He ended up chasing me around on stage.

"I was shocked. My mum was shocked too and she tried to get the host to get him off the stage. Finally, they dragged him off the stage."

She has since learnt how to manage the crowd and to ensure that there are no more wardrobe malfunctions.

Miss Law starts preparing for getai as early as a month before the seventh lunar month, learning 10 to 15 new songs every season.

"We have shows every night, so we don't want to be singing the same songs," she says.

As she is not a native Hokkien speaker, she has to learn the language using hanyu pinyin.

She says: "Initially, I sang my kind of songs, like those by Jolin Tsai. But an uncle complained that those pop songs were too noisy."

Miss Law also designs her own outfits, getting ideas from those of Taiwan and Hong Kong singers. She spends at least $200 per outfit.

She says: "I like to design my own clothes. I don't like too many feathers or sequins. I'm not flamboyant and I can't wear those ribbon stuff. I try to be a bit younger and more K-pop-ish."

But she basks in the applause at the end of her performance.

She says: "I enjoy the applause. In recent years, as people get to know who I am and they see the improvement in my singing, I get a lot more applause from the audience and I am really happy."

SECRETS OF THE TRADE

1. Get a driver who is familiar with the roads in Singapore so that you don't get lost.

2. Wear a tube top and tights inside your costume so that you can change in public without revealing too much. It also helps in case of a wardrobe malfunction.

3. Be outspoken and interact with the audience. You must be able to handle the crowd, otherwise you could be heckled by them.


This article was first published on August 23, 2015.
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