In Living Digital 2040: Future of Work, Education and Healthcare (the title of the report for our project Future of Cities – Living with Technology), we pointed out the possibilities of using digital technologies to broaden appreciation of the arts. In 2016 for example, the Wall Street Journal analysed the hip hop-inspired lyrics of the award-winning Broadway musical Hamilton. In 2017, the New York Times analysed the enduring appeal of Jane Austen’s works.

In honour of Singapore’s National Day (August 9), we decided to see how existing online analytics tools could help to understand the evolving nature of the National Day songs. Different from the National Anthem, a new National Day song is written and featured as an integral part of the annual National Day celebration (here is a brief history and a recap of the songs). The first National Day song was commissioned in 1984 and since then 23 songs have been written (24 songs if you count the remix of Home in 2004). Given the sizeable repertoire, we wonder: why do some songs ‘stick’ stronger than others? Is it the theme, or the rhyme, the ability to evoke strong feelings of national pride – or something else altogether?

There have been many attempts in the past and recent months to analyse National Day songs, ranging from write ups in the NLB to the press, to more homourous and entertaining YouTube videos from the likes of Mr Brown and MiCapella. This is even being done informally in schools to engage students and spark interest in humanities (here’s a recent example from one of our teacher friends to analyze the theme of each year’s song).

To conduct our analysis, we explored the use of existing analytic tools to delve deeper into the each song in hopes that it will help to unravel some of the mystery behind why some songs seem to resonate more than others.

We evaluated each song for the following:

  • Word composition. For each song, we analysed the words that were in the songs and present this in a word cloud. The more frequently a word appeared in the song, the larger the word appears in the graphic.
  • Rhyme. Next, we analysed the rhyme in the songs using an algorithm written by The Wall Street Journal’s Graphics Team to automate rhyme detection (which they used to characterise rhyming styles in the award-winning Broadway musical Hamilton). The algorithm analyses the song and provides a visualisation of the rhyme. Notwithstanding, rhyme is highly subjective and resides in the faculty of experientialism.
  • Count of ‘Singapore’ or ‘Singaporean.’ Do all of our National Day songs contain the word ‘Singapore’ or ‘Singaporean’? To answer this, we did a count of the number of times these words appeared in each songs.

Finally, to gauge popularity, songs denoted with ** indicate that they were voted as one of the best 5 National Day songs in a 2013 Straits Times poll (n=2217).

1984: “Stand Up for Singapore” (music/lyrics: Hugh Harrison)

Singapore(an) counter: 9
 

1986: “Count on Me, Singapore” (music/lyrics: Hugh Harrison; performer: Clement Chow) **

Singapore(an) counter: 14

1987: “We are Singapore” (music/lyrics: Hugh Harrison; performers: Jonathan Tan Teck Meng, Roslinda Baharudin, Robert Fernando and Anne Weerapass) **

Singapore(an) counter: 22

1990: “One People, One Nation, One Singapore” (music: Jeremy Monteiro; lyrics: Jim Aitchison)

Singapore(an) counter: 10
 

1998: “Home” (music/lyrics: Dick Lee; performer: Kit Chan)**

Singapore(an) counter: 2

1999: “Together” (music/lyrics: Ken Lim; performers: Evelyn Tan and Dreamz FM)

Singapore(an) counter: 7

2000: “Shine on Me” (music/lyrics: Jim Lim; performers: Mavis Hee and Jai Wahab)

Singapore(an) counter: 0

 

2001: “Where I Belong” (music/lyrics/performer: Tanya Chua) **

Singapore(an) counter: 0
 

2002: “We Will Get There” (music/lyrics: Dick Lee; performer: Stefanie Sun)

Singapore(an) counter: 0

2003: “One United People” (music/lyrics: Joshua Wan; performer: Stefanie Sun)

Singapore(an) counter: 9

2004: “Home” (remix; music/lyrics: Dick Lee; performers: Kit Chan and JJ Lin)

See above for 1998’s analysis of Home.

2005: “Reach Out for the Skies” (music: Elaine Chan; lyrics: Selena Tan; performers: Taufik Batisah and Rui En) **

Singapore(an) counter: 0

2006: “My Island Home” (music/lyrics: Joshua Wan; performer: Kaira Gong)

Singapore(an) counter: 0

2007: “There’s No Place I’d Rather Be” (music/lyrics: Jimmy Ye; performer: Kit Chan)

Singapore(an) counter: 0

2007: “Will You” (music/lyrics: Jimmy Ye; performers: Janani Sridhar, Asha Edmund, Emma Yong, Lily Yong Rahmat, Jai Wahab, Shabir Mohammed, Sebastian Tan and Gani Karim)

Singapore(an) counter: 0

2008: “Shine for Singapore” (music/lyrics: Benny Wong; performers: Joi Chua and Hady Mirza)

Singapore(an) counter: 6

2009: “What Do You See?” (music/lyrics/performers: Electrico)

Singapore(an) counter: 0

2010: “Song for Singapore” (music/lyrics/performer: Corrinne May)

Singapore(an) counter: 15

2011: “In a Heartbeat” (music: Goh Kheng Long; lyrics: Haresh Sharma; performer: Sylvia Ratonel)

Singapore(an) counter: 0

2012: “Love at First Light” (music: Iskandar Ismail; lyrics: Paul Tan; performers: Olivia Ong and Natanya Tan)

Singapore(an) counter: 2

2013: “One Singapore” (music: Elaine Tan; lyrics: Selena Tan; performers: Sing A Nation choir, comprised of 68 ordinary Singaporeans)

Singapore(an) counter: 4

2014: No new National Song this year.

2015: “Our Singapore” (music and lyrics: Dick Lee; performer: JJ Lin)

Singapore(an) counter: 9

 

2016: “Tomorrow’s Here Today” (music and lyrics: Don Richmond; performers: 53A)

Singapore(an) counter: 0

2017: “Because it’s Singapore” (music: Lee Wei Song; lyrics and performer: Jay Lim)

Singapore(an) counter: 6

 

In closing…

There are probably many more ways that the National Day songs can be analysed, especially with the help of digital tools, to help us understand which songs resonate and why. We are interested to know other ways that this can be done. Get in touch with us!

Interested in how we did this?

We used Nvivo for the word clouds but you could use free online tools too! For the analysis of rhyme styles, we used the analytic tool created by The Wall Street Journal.

– Samuel Chng and Poon King Wang