Essay by sociological students


Staff member
Essay by sociological students - Farah and Belmont

In spite of the hegemonic restrictions and the massive bombardment of cookie-cutter mass-appealed popular music, a significant segment of Singaporean youths are still relentless and tenacious in their continuing efforts to impress their own unique brand of identity. The phenomenon that is true-blue Singaporean bands has been on the rise in recent years. They have the task of negotiating their position in a culture that still finds it difficult of accepting local bands as serious contenders to imported acts. At the same time, they are trying to find a suitable position in Singapore's unique culture without having to constantly run the gauntlet of criticisms and being pigeon-holed as mere amateurs or professional sell-outs. Leading this pack of musicians is the uprising of Singaporean youths who have taken up their musical instruments to make a statement. This paper examines these youths that fly in the face of popular culture rules and have flagrantly chosen to flaunt them. Some have even decided to throw caution to the wind to make music professionally in a local music scene that has barely established itself and stake a claim within the popular culture sphere. In addition, our objective is also to discover the extent by which these youths are still abiding by the rules that have come to subordinate them.

Methodologically-wise, the research of this paper included interviews done with two newspaper reporters from The Straits Times, two members of local bands who are signed by recording labels, a guitar instructor with Yamaha Music School, the founder of S.O.F.T - It's music in Singapore, an online website which caters to the interests and support of both the local bands as well as their fans ( and responses from three avid music listeners. Candid questions such as the possible reasons of the public's general lack of support for the homegrown bands to the much talked-about debate about the feasibility of the local bands' futures were asked. Our interviewees were separated into three main categories, namely the perspectives of the local bands, the perspective of persons working in the media and music industry and lastly, the perspectives of the public. Surveys were emailed to the people concerned, each categorical survey differing slightly in the scope of their questions.

Secondly, references have been made from numerous books borrowed which addressed relevant topics such as "hegemony", "music" and "popular culture". In addition, heavy research was made through online websites which featured valuable information pertaining to local music. Furthermore, a particular music event, the National University of Singapore's Law Faulty alumnus concert, was also attended to better understand the psyche of local bands, the context of their performances and what they come to mean to the performers.

"Youth" is a multi-faceted term which is actually more complicated than it seems. The multitude of definitions that accompany it makes it arbitrary and thus, cannot be defined rigidly by any standard definition. A check at the website,, produces a variety of definitions, ranging from "The condition or quality of being young" to that of "The time of life between childhood and maturity". ( On further checking, Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia, refers to youth as "...a person who is neither an adult nor a child, but somewhere in between, scientifically referred to as an adolescent and, in the United States, commonly referred to as a teen or teenager." In addition, the consideration of the term "youth" is again defined on a slightly more detailed manner. The latter is cited by the educational webpage as being "...defined as being somewhere between age 12 and age 25, with different countries and administrative regions choosing more narrow definitions within that frame." (

Its arbitrary nature stems from the varied age ranges, promulgated by different organizations or individuals, which take root from their own subjectively aligned criteria. Thus, vis-à-vis the Singaporean context of our paper, we have consensually agreed to define the concept of "youth" in accordance to the working definition set by The National Youth Council. The latter, a governmental organization which functions as a coordinating body of youth affairs, defines "youth" as "...encompass(ing) those between the ages of 15 and 30". ( This a broad definition that includes a portion of the Generation-X (1960s-1970s), as well as those of the Generation-Y (1980s-1990s) groups of youth who have made their transitions from 20th to the 21st-century while being either in their teenage years or in their early adulthood.

The most potent hegemonic force to reside in Singapore since its founding of independence 40 years ago is the ruling governmental regime, otherwise known as the People's Action Party (PAP). PAP has been the singular political party whose pre-dominance has contributed much to Singapore's nation-building process. In addition, the seemingly permanent tenure of the PAP in the government arena, coupled with the support of the majority of Singaporeans, has allowed the ruling party to instil its ideological and repressive state apparatuses with greater ease. This is especially evident in the arena of economic pursuit.

Singapore's first-world economy is in the post-industrialized stage whereby service-oriented industries have overtaken the expertise of manufacturing sectors. The emphasis in the past has been on building the capital economy, whereby quality standard of living and overall gross domestic product are the key lingo in terms of achieving a higher standard of living. Most recently, this resulted in a rigorous channelling of energies into the scientific trajectory focused on the area of life-sciences research and development.

This asymmetrical outlook has left the artistic sector of Singapore parched and in urgent need for an equal revivalism. The arts, in our perspective, is not merely constrained to that of the bourgeoisie or elitist type of performances, such as ballet recitals and orchestras. In fact, it also encompasses the more mainstream and "localised" type of performances, such as critically-acclaimed films and also inevitably, local music - which has not receive widespread acclaim in many years.

It is only in recent years that the government has encouraged diversity and growth in other sectors, otherwise shunned during the formative years of the country's nation-building. Thus, the re-outlook pertaining to the arts began with several rigorous implementations. A prime example would be that of Arts Central, a channel solely dedicated to the arts on free-to-air television. It was launched on the 30th January 2000 ( with its transmission hours allocated in the evenings. The ambitious construction of the infamous durian-shaped domes that is The Esplanade is yet another instance of Singapore's rapid conversion. This newly built Singapore landmark made her long-awaited debut on the 12th October 2002 ( A positive indication that the general public's increasing interest in the Arts industry is evident from the increased attendance of various arts performances.

Similarly, more attention has been riveted to the creative manifestations of "ordinary everyday" individuals, one example being that of the local bands. However, this does not come with no-strings attached. The hegemonic forces' negotiation with the local bands is made in such a way as to accommodate the government's ideology of an inclusive and thriving artistic hub. Henceforth, from being historically overshadowed, the arts sector is now commanding a powerful presence of its own. Along with the long-overdue recognition and support by the government, a more dynamic, competitive and creative environment is on its way of breaking out from the cloistered shell that it has all along been relegated and subordinated into.

Nevertheless, it is imperative to remember that Singapore, like many other nations, is not immune from the pseudo-omnipotence of globalization. The strategic geographical location of our island-state contributes to its conception as a cultural cross-road. Thus, the average Singaporean is not averse to ingesting imported popular cultures from overseas, whatever the individual extents are. Influence of taste in music, movies, fashion and generally all forms of consumption trends have largely been governed by the exports from the West, namely that of Britain and the United States of America (U.S.A.), as well as from regional neighbours such as Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Throw in Singapore's multi-ethnic society and the resultant product of this glocalization process is that of a quintessentially unique and indefinable "Singaporean identity".

Regardless of the idealism of a democracy (in its liberal sense), the potency of a hegemonic force's potential influence is almost always never compromised. Vis-à-vis the local popular culture in Singapore (and thus, its identity), the hegemonic forces involved are manifested in the forms of the government, the state-controlled media industry and the major music labels in Singapore. As mentioned earlier, the Singapore government's overriding power in virtually anything and everything in the country leads one to the natural conclusion that it is always involved in every aspect of its nation building. An example to further highlight its pervasive influence can be seen in its relationship with the media industry. For instance, although the government's influence on the arts is not explicitly obvious, the media has never been given full autonomy and is obliged to work accordingly to the restrictions imposed by the former. Thus on closer inspection, it is not exactly an exaggeration to say that the government has its finger in every pie.

The media industry has been integral in its capability to capture and maintain the attention of the majority population. In our opinion, the two big players which are set at the forefront of this venture are the local broadcasting industry, Mediacorp and The Straits Times newspaper, a daily circulation with a readership of 41% percent of the population. (The Straits Times, 15 October, 2005). These two mediums have been notorious for their roles in aiding the establishment and promotion of the government's interests and agendas. Inevitably, the local popular culture is not far from its influential grip. In keeping with the "Asian values" that was once rigorously promulgated by the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the value of "wholesomeness" has been heavily vaunted in its application to the various mass media productions.

The intimacy of power and money also has a huge part to play in the socio-political climate of Singapore. The pursuit of economic success could only be achieved by one thing: profits. Thus, anything which is deemed as remotely unprofitable will be cast aside or downplayed. This relates to the fates of many of our home-grown local bands. The major recording labels in Singapore are few in comparison to countries such as the U.S.A and Japan. The former includes the likes of Sony-BMG, EMI, Time-Warner, Jive Records, Avex Trax and Pony Canyon. As subsidiaries of parent companies, record labels in Singapore are likened to flagship stores opened by multi-national corporations. These companies are required to entertain only potentially lucrative diamonds-in-the-rough, signing local bands that can increase their market share locally and generating immense profit turnovers. This is integral in the preservation of the companies' reputations and (of course) economic interests. Hence, it becomes imperative for all three of the above-mentioned hegemonic forces to work in a network of mutual interdependence, which would ultimately result in the mutual gains and benefits for each of them.
"Teenage angst has paid off well/ Now I'm bored and old."
- Kurt Cobain, 1967-1994

Local youths are to a great extent, influenced by the popular music groups that originated from Britain and the U.S.A. These two nations are arguably at the forefront for their exportation of their cultures to the rest of the world. Both countries had collectively formed an expansive market where the business of the music-making industry is immensely profitable, as it caters to the every whims and fancies of its audiences. The eclectic mix of tastes and the hodgepodge of genres catapulted much diversity and endless possibilities - a powerful ideological vision which feeds the aspirations of many youths. This perhaps could be the major motivation on local youths to form bands in order to assert their chosen identities. The band is not only concerned with the making of music, it is an extension of their personalities that is associated with individuality, originality and most importantly, uniqueness. It is both an individual expression for each member of the band, as well as a collective identity of the Singaporean band scene as a whole.

Identity has always been an imperative aspect of an individual's life. According to the online website,, "identity" can be defined as either, "The set of behavioral or personal characteristics by which an individual is recognizable as a member of a group" or "The distinct personality of an individual regarded as a persisting entity; individuality". ( Paradoxically, notwithstanding the importance of identity and its subjective nature in relation to its manifestations by the various individuals, people are usually caustically critical when they are unable to accept others for who they really are. This is true in the case of the homegrown bands. They are usually slammed for having a lack of distinct identities or conversely, for having pathetic ones. The former is most often (mis)attributed to the bands' attempts at playing cover versions of songs. This is quite the norm especially when the particular band is just starting to break into the scene. Like the old adage goes, the greatest form of flattery is imitation. Paradoxically, that is exactly how the local acts are perceived - just an imitation or a bland copy of the real McCoy.

"Capitalism reduces rock and roll to the lowest common denominator, what which will sell to the largest audience. The music itself becomes part of the hegemonic culture, incapable of resistance… "

- Lawrence Grossberg, Dancing in spite of myself, pp. 68

Capitalism and rock and roll are supposedly on opposite spectrums, since rock music is meant to be a statement about anti-establishment. This conflict of interest when capitalism encroaches on rock and roll leads to a conflict of interest. The desire for mass appeal results in the loss of "artistic integrity."

Local bands, in general, start out with the aim of popularity. In line with youth ideology, the notion of popularity and integrity can be maintained. However, youth culture also leaves room for disillusionment when artistic integrity is infringed upon. This was the situation apparently faced by Nirvana's front-man Kurt Cobain during the height of his band's fame during the mid-90s. Thrown into the limelight and fame after years of obscurity, his firmly held personal beliefs against commercialism and popularity left him disillusioned as to whether or not to dissolve the band that made him famous. In the midst of his uncertainty, he committed suicide by shooting himself in the head with a shot gun, effectively dissolving his band for good. This is an extreme example, but it epitomises the dilemma faced by every bands in general. Youth ideology leaves them disenfranchised and disillusioned with the capitalist system.

"Singaporeans don't take music seriously and don't appreciate the effort that goes into making good music."

- Ting Yong Hong, aged 21, guitar instructor of the Yamaha Music School.

The receptiveness of the audience is another factor which is integral in determining the success of a band. Based on our interviews with our "public" interviewees, 2 out of 3 of them were cited as unsupportive of the local bands. The reasons given were that the songs played by the latter are "boring" and that there is very little radio airplay of locally produced music. Despite the gradual increase in the recognition of local acts, most Singaporeans are lacklustre when it comes to supporting them. The main gripe among local musicians is that Singaporeans are "slow to show their appreciation and quick to criticize". Thus, local bands are quick to be side-lined and relegated to receive little or no publicity in their attempts to reach the mass. As aptly told by the vocalist and guitarist of the local band Force Vomit, "You have to work harder to look for local bands and most people are not passionate enough about music to make that effort." This absence of pro-activeness translates to the general inclination towards supporting mainstream bands (and pop culture in general) which are accepted and supported by the mass media industry.The mentality that is of local audiences is that so long as the media broadcasts it, it has to be good enough to be consumed. If local bands are not making it on the airwaves, in print or showcased on television, it is assumed that they are not worthy to be given a second thought.

This brings us back to the idea of the media's influence - The School of Rock competition. The publicity blitz that accompanied it was the result of widespread media coverage. The Straits Times newspaper endorsed the event and promoted it relentlessly as it hogged headlines in the newspaper on a weekly basis leading up to the finals in the end of July. The unflinching support it lent made the enormously successful competition a national event. It witnessed an overwhelming response by youths, eager to crank up their creative juices and display their talents to the "world". Apparently, the supposed subordinated role of local bands became the dominant focus overnight. Local bands were for once, no longer merely caters to a niche audience. As quoted from a journalist of The Straits Times, "In my opinion, The Straits Times supports local acts - but only those that are worthy of publication. Meaning that they have not necessarily a substantial body of work behind them, but a good one."

This achievement is synonymous to that of the Singapore Idol competition. However, it is important to take note that the immediate embrace of the latter is due to the extensive and well laid-out business plan of the media industry. Audiences were pulled into participating and investing their time, money and emotions with the concept of "audience votes". This empowers them and lends an excitement in determining the winner of the competition. In addition, the contestants were likeable individuals who possessed a wide mass-appeal. This only serves to further highlight the commodification of music. In contrast, this is usually not necessarily the case for many local bands.

Even with the evident success that a competition can bring, the support of the audience is not always present for other music competitions. This is usually due to the fact that they are not well-advertised and are not sponsored by prominent companies or industry players. Annual competition such as the Yamaha's Band Alert is an example of a band competition that pits local bands against one another. The eventual winner of the competition goes on to compete against regional bands from Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia. Even the fact that this competition is a regional one, media attention paid to it is minimal or negligible. Another example is Top Band, a band competition held by Swee Lee Company, a music instruments distributor. Such competitions help foster a community of support and acceptance of each other. In addition, local band talents are also showcased each year at The Bay Beats Festival held at the outdoor stage at The Esplanade. This can be seen as the blatant incorporation of local bands into the mainstream arts arena, thus boasting their credibility in the process. Unfortunately, even with this infantile attempt, the support base is only of a niche segment.

As these two examples clearly shows, a collective audience ultimately dictates the flavour of the day, week or month. The choices that are made visibly and readily available to them are the ones that are incorporated into their fundamental existence. The media and record industry depend on these individuals as they are profit-oriented and these masses depend on the industry to present to them the choices of music. A member of the local band, Ronin, feels strongly that the media industry has the capabilities of changing the fortunes of local music, "It would be good if they decide to shape our local music culture too." It is a reciprocal relationship whereby popular culture is dependent on this form of collectiveness, which subsequently reinforces the notion of familiarization. Nevertheless, the local bands' relentless challenge to demystify this ubiquitous notion of popular culture and their need to make sense of themselves, proved undaunted against these impediments.

Making it "big" in the industry is not an easy feat. It usually proves to be an arduous uphill task, especially in the initial stages of a band's establishment. In addition, local audiences have been fed with a constant diet of imported music. They have come to identify themselves with these foreign acts or artistes, which take the form of re-hashed and formulaic mass reproductions of the same thing. The attractiveness of packaged acts with highly marketable looks and slickness is desired. Familiarity breeds contempt - which is contempt for the unfamiliar (in this case, the local "indie-rock" bands). Its inaccessibility has been its major downfall and its failure of being located within the Singapore popular culture radar.

Despite the relative non-receptiveness of the general public, it is however unwise to generalize the situation simply as a hostile climate in relation to the nurturance of our local talents. This is evident in the tenacity of the local bands' determination to continue "jamming". In addition, the seeming obstacles and apparent difficulties proved no impenetrable barriers to the emergence of more homegrown bands. Furthermore, this is further facilitated by the increasing support of the mass media and the entertainment industry. The success of a band hinges on both the collective efforts of the bands themselves, as well as the support of the media industry. It is irresponsible and irrational to channel the blame for a band's tepid success solely to the media industry. As mentioned by the founder of S.O.F.T - It's music in Singapore website, "If their (the bands') goal is commercial success, they must work with the commercial sector and do everything they can to be popular... If their goal is just to have a good time jamming then by all means just enjoy whatever they are doing." Nevertheless, and fortunately for us, local bands are here to stay. Professional or otherwise, these local bands are representatives of the Singaporean youth culture. A youth culture which is not easily defeated in its pursuit of carving out a unique identity which it could call its own.
Will this article be published in a journal or just in their own newsletter? Imagine SOFT being mentioned in an international Journal :D
Slash04 said:
Purpose of thread: Sing praises for Soft!

WOAH! SoFt Pwns JoO!!!~

Diwali Murtabak Pwns JoO Nazri.

We're constantly harping on how bands "suck" because they've "sold out". Like it or not, these guys are ultimately the ones with the pesos in their pockets.

It's 1 connosouier vs. 100 screaming fangirls. Who do you think is gonna win at the end of the day?
let's give some respect to the content in this thread. although SOFT is an open forum, let's not make every thread into a joke.

if i may make a few suggestions

if the writers can give a more in-depth look on the straits times influence on local bands (stomp, school of rock) then it will be useful to us on how local media has exerted its influence and also allows to see its after effects on the band scene. because its so recent, a study of it will help us engage the media to better expose local youth culture to singaporeans.

another possible angle to look into is to study the culture of local band competitions. that would be quite interesting for us as well :)
very interesting article... what kinda sociology course is this?

some comments if you still have time to refine ur paper... use more, and better citations/sources. i'm not sure if the relevant citations are shown (maybe you used footnotes and they're not reflected here), but most of your ideas are not backed up strongly. especially the theoractical ones like hegemony. instead of using online dictionaries for your definitions, find a sociology dictionary.

and the best advice i can possibly give you is... NEVER CITE WIKIPEDIA. it is far from an authoritative source and most tutors/lecturers i know will mark you down the moment they see it cited.

that said, any academic article that quotes cobain deserves a friggin' A!
if this is an "article" published by the Department of Sociology of NUS, it is not very well written. Firstly, quoting wiki? siao bo? plus they are many areas where the are big holes in the logic. maybe James would serve them better by putting up the orginal word document for download so we can see the references as well.

It is a good attempt i must say, because this reads more like a SC2210 assignment by students rather than a something from the department. But the lack of hard data or more in-depth sociological research to substantiate their broad claims don't convince me.

btw, whats the title of the article/question?
this IS an assignment by the students.

my appologies if i did not made it clear.
urm then maybe you should change the title

Essay by sociological students

rather than

article from NUS Department of Sociology

its very very different and potentially libelous 8O
soft said:
let's give some respect to the content in this thread. although SOFT is an open forum, let's not make every thread into a joke.

First of all, let me clarify that I am in no way attempting to make light of the content in this thread. I was merely sharing a friendly exchange with someone whom I am acquainted with in the real world. I apologise if I stirred such a sentiment. 8)


The author of this paper makes a strong point about the downplaying of arts over the course of the last couple of decades as the result of having to place significant emphasis in other areas not pertaining to artistic pursuits, in the interest of national advancement no less.

I think that the real problem lies in the fact that the current generation of parents, particularly the local ones, tend to associate such pursuits with social degeneration, something they are all very aware of and very much afraid of in these times where pretty much anything goes. Consequently, they attempt to "opress" if you will, longings expressed by their children to partake in such freedoms that living in a post-industrialized society has granted us, as best they are able to, for fear that their children may backslide into the backside of the modern world by shifting their spectrum of focus away from more "proper" pursuits such as academics, in favour of wholeheartedly devoting their time and energy to the arts.

That's not to say that the are no exceptions. I know of parents who are fully supportive of their children in such areas and are more than willing to make accomodations.

On the other extreme there are the parents who, quite literally, try to force art down their chilldrens' throats. You see them everywhere. The ones who have to drag shrieking toddlers into music schools, the ones who go around bragging about how their kids possess grade 6 or 7 theory qualifications that are often directly proportional to age of the child, the ones who seek advice from their friends on methods to convince their kids to go for violin lessons instead of asking their children if they wanted to take up the piano instead, the ones who send 3 year olds for painting classes where the teachers do little more than chuck the kids in a corner and allow them to splatter goulashes of poster paint over perfectly good canvas. It's saddening to see how an aspect of life that should be celebrated and appreciated is instead relegated to being another way of getting a headstart in the paper chase.

Another issue stemming from this is the lack of public acceptance for anything deemed to be "new". A fine example would be the case of Kevin Jackson during his set over at NAB.

He was boo-ed off the stage for spinning a blend of deep house and electronica instead of the usual blaise RnB, Hip-Hop and Top 40s. Granted, being a professional DJ, he has to adhere to the requests of the crowd to some extent, but don't you reckon their response speaks volumes about the crowd itself?

The circumstances of that incident were just damn nigh amazing. A guest DJ which they brought all the way from the United Kingdom. The crowd had a chance to experience something new, something that they would possibly like, and very likely would not hear again any time soon once he finished his set, packed up and jetted back home. Yet they wanted him to do a job that could have easily been done by any local DJ, and one who possessed a bare-bones knowledge of operating the decks and sets at that. The booing started with only few people, then the comments turned nasty, and pretty soon the whole joint just got cheesed off.

Enter the case of Armin van Buuren. His sets are pretty unique in sound, and definitely very different from the usual RnB and hip-hop fodder the local scene is used to in oth sound and style, but nobody boo-ed him when he spun here. Why? Because everybody knows Armin van Buuren. He's one of the top DJs in the world. 8)

This just illustrates how we have built a culture whereby a prerequisite for public acceptance is that the entity in question has to be popular, and probably not because it's actually appreciated, but simply because it's "the hip trip to be on".

My point in saying all this? Launching campaign after campaign in an attempt to heighten the public profile and significance of the arts is pretty, well, useless.

You need to start at the roots and build a culture of deeper appreciation and discernment starting from before the age whereby people begin to be influenced by the sheer crassness of the majority view. On the other hand, you shouldn't saturate peoples' minds with it like it's the flavour of the month either, because in doing so, you'd be shooting yourself in the foot with a pretty large-calibered gun.

Above all, quite a bit of work has to be put in to educate the current generation, as well as those in the future, and tell them that the arts are something to be embraced and celebrated rather than shunned like the black plague on account of its darker aspects, or we'd just be stuck in a neverending, vicious cycle. The government is doing a very good job with this these days, and is even opening up the option of a career in the arts as a viable means of earning a living (yet another concern harboured by the current older generation, and often times an argument that they'll pull out, rinse, and repeat over and over again).

A deeper appreciation can only come about with receptiveness to fresh ideas, and if you are unable to achieve that, then don't bother trying, cos you'll just be banging you head against a cement wall till it bleeds.

I'm not saying that everyone should be a connoiseur of fine art or somthing in that vein. I do, however believe that some rudimentary knowledge on the appreciation of the arts as a whole would be a blessing.

A good indicator that we've "made it", is the day when you can stop a random beng in the streets with the name "Salvatore Dali", and be able to garner a more intelligent response than;