Let's Hear It For Singapore: Our Honest Thoughts On NDP Songs Through The Years
STORY: Janelle Yong and Sim Ding En
02 August 2022
With National Day just around the corner, I've been looking up old National Day songs and listening to my favourites for the 500th time. In the process, I discovered there's a whole bunch of NDP songs that I've never heard of until now. Being a self-proclaimed amateur music critic (or rather, a critic of everything), I found myself listening to all of them one after another and judging how I feel about them.
Of course, it wouldn't be fair to evaluate these songs solely based on my Millennial music taste. So I called upon my Gen X colleague Sim Ding En to review these 34 NDP songs with me. Here are our thoughts:
1984 to 1985: Stand Up For Singapore
Janelle: I can see why this is the OG NDP song. It's an excellent crowd song; perfect for pumping up the audience at the National Day Parade and getting them to stand up, clap and cheer. Very fun to listen to, and almost impossible to avoid singing along.
Ding En: Wah, this could possibly be my all-time favourite NDP song, not only because it harkens back to a more care-free time just at the onset of the digital era, but also because it's the OG rah-rah NDP song. It's short and sweet, and so catchy, and you can remember how it goes from start to finish.
1986 and 1996: Count On Me Singapore
Janelle: Ah, yes: The song that's so good, a guy from India tried to claim he wrote it. To be honest, the verses don't really stick in my mind that well, but the chorus is alright. Overall, this is one of those songs that I don't really like or dislike.
Ding En: MEMORIES OF PRIMARY SCHOOL! Some might say the lead singer has that very "old-school" kind of voice, but all I can say is "Wow! Clement Chow!" When the song was first released, it was so refreshing to hear a Singaporean singing in English with such musicality and clarity without any affected accent. Very few NDP theme-song singers have come close to this kind of delivery - to me lah.
1987 to 1988: We Are Singapore
Janelle: I really love this song. To me, it feels like both a rallying cry and a promise. It says "Look how far we've come and what what we've managed!", and also "this is only the beginning, we're going to stand strong together and keep going".
Ding En: I remember this was released a couple of years after "We Are The World" (the charity single written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie, and recorded by a supergroup of artists who called themselves USA for Africa), so because of that, I didn't feel it was as original cuz it had the same vibe as that huge number. What I did find original was setting our National Pledge to music! So clever and melodic.
1989: Five Stars Arising
Janelle: This is a fun and upbeat tune! Short and sweet, and super catchy too. I also find it pretty interesting that the word "Singapore" is never mentioned anywhere; a rarity for NDP songs.
Ding En: I have a particularly fondness for this song because it was my grandma's fav NDP song when she was alive, and she would sing it every time she saw a Singapore flag, and not just around the National Day period 🥲 Plus, it's the only song dedicated to our flag. A national flag is an object of great pride and real comfort, especially for those of us who travel and have to spend long periods of time away from home.
1990: One People, One Nation, One Singapore
Janelle: I'll admit that I usually can't remember the lyrics to this song's verses, but they're short enough that it doesn't matter much, and the chorus is super fun to sing. Definitely an enjoyable song.
Ding En: Musically, it's one of my favourite NDP songs, but lyrically, it's tricky. I've always found it very tough to sing or listen to the phrase "our vigilance will never rest". I mean, ya lah, it's a very important sentiment, but making it a lyric is like, very awks leh.
1991: It's The Little Things
Janelle: Um... This song is okay, I guess. Kind of slow and meh, but nothing too bad. Sounds like the sort of song used in those "touching" advertisements that try to tug at your heartstrings.
Ding En: Agreed! Pretty tune, but not very "NDP" leh. Sounds more like a theme song for some insurance corporation or a national movement (like the "Courtesy Campaign").
1995: My People My Home
Janelle: I feel like I remember this one from somewhere. Maybe National Day half-day assemblies/concerts back in school? It definitely sounds like the sort of thing that would be sung at school assemblies (and the video seems to suggest likewise).
That said, it's surprisingly catchy and easy to hum along to (though the lyrics themselves are somewhat difficult to remember, especially the verses). I quite like it, though I don't think it fits as a typical NDP song.
Ding En: You do?? Omg what's this?? So parade-like and so... "choral". I feel like I need to stand up, keep my back straight and start marching. I've never heard it in my life. And I don't think I'd like to listen to it again, thanks! 😅
1997: Singapore Town
Janelle: This is a nice upbeat song that gives off tropical beach vacation vibes. It's very catchy, and the lyrics are easy to remember (too catchy, in fact; I can't get the lyrics out of my head 😂).
Not exactly something I would consider a NDP song though; it sounds more like a song meant to appeal to tourists rather than Singaporeans. I wonder if Singapore Tourism Board ever used this for advertisements back in the day? It makes me want to play tourist, and I've lived here my whole life!
Ding En: Very dangerous to names places in a song! Will they still exist or still be as "happening" decades down the road? These days, I wouldn't put Collyer Quay and Raffles Place at the top of my list of must-visit spots to visit in Singapore lah, just sayin'. (And I think many of the disgruntled PMEBs who work there would agree with me 🤣) I like the beachy vibe, but did you know a more recent version of this song by the Music and Drama Company (which I prefer) exists?
Janelle: Unpopular opinion: This song is okay, but not really one of my favourites. Don't get me wrong; it's a good song, and I can understand why everyone seems to love it, but it just feels a bit too hao lum to me.
Ding En: If it weren't so overplayed, overdone and over-arranged, I'd disagree, but ya, I'm honestly getting "Home" fatigue liao. Objectively, when it comes to telling a story musically and lyrically, I think no other NDP theme song does it better than "Home". Plus, the range is not that big, so anyone can sing it in any key. "Home" needs to be sung in a simple and heartfelt way, like the very moving version done by those from elderly, children's and special needs homes, which is my favourite.
Also 1998: City for the World
Janelle: So, fun fact: there were two National Day songs released in 1998. I didn't even know this one existed up till now.
It's actually a pretty good song; catchy tune, rocking beat, and well-written lyrics. I think if it had debuted any other year, it would probably have become fairly popular. Unfortunately, it had the bad luck to be released the same year as "Home" and was promptly overshadowed by it.
Ding En: Never heard this before either! And nope, I don't like this. To be honest, it just brings back the trauma of sitting in the school assembly hall, and being forced to listen to and watch fellow schoolmates perform.
Janelle: This song is sweet but not overly saccharine; it hits just the right balance between sentimental and cheerful, and the lyrics are pretty good too.
Ding En: I concur! They ought to include this in NDP more often. Catchy and nice melody.
2000: Shine on Me
Janelle: This one definitely gets a no from me. The melody is disjointed, the lyrics are hard to sing, and the transitions between verse and chorus are rather abrupt. It feels more like a jumble of notes than an actual song.
Ding En: Ikr! Never heard this song too - pass. The phrasing is awkward and the music keeps going in circles. The moment the song ends, I can't even remember the tune!
2001: Where I Belong
Janelle: This song feels like a reverse lullaby to me; listening to it makes me want to greet the morning with a smile on my face. It's like a heartfelt love letter to Singapore that somehow makes me feel homesick while listening to it (while I'm already in Singapore, no less!).
Ding En: The reflective, introspective vibe of this song is what appeals to me. It's tough to sing, but Tanya does it so well and effortlessly. As they say of the greats: often imitated, never duplicated. Just let the OG Tanya version do its best work.
2002: We Will Get There
Janelle: This is another so-so song; the tune is okay but doesn't really stand out, and there's nothing really special about the lyrics either. I don't find it particularly memorable, but it's not terrible.
Ding En: Ya this is okaaay. I don't like it, but neither do I loathe it.
2003: One United People
Janelle: I honestly don't remember this song at all. Which is strange, because I'm pretty sure this is supposed to be one of the more well-known ones? Anyway, this is another song that doesn't really strike a chord with me. The melody feels a bit bland, and the lyrics are average at best.
Ding En: I have the same indifference towards this song as I do for "We Will Get There" - don't love it, but don't hate it. It just... exists.
2004: Home (Remix)
Janelle: This is definitely subpar compared to the original. While I'm ambivalent about the original version of "Home", this one sounds like it's trying too hard to sound cute and appeal to listeners by getting kids to sing and over-harmonising.
Ding En: Wow, I really don't like this. It's over-arranged, and too much emphasis has been placed on diction, musical accuracy and technique, so much so that the song has lost its heart and soul, kind of like when tourist attractions are overly manicured. It's too "Stepford Wives" or, worse, "Children of the Corn" - sorry, kids!
2005: Reach Out for the Skies
Janelle: Now this song I definitely remember! I was in primary school the year it came out, and I remember we spent a few months learning the dance steps during PE lessons (and I can still remember most of them, as I discovered while listening to this song again).
This is probably my favourite song on this list. It's cheerful and upbeat, and while the dance steps may feel a bit silly to me now as an adult, they're nonetheless fun and still have their own charm.
Ding En: I love Taufik and his voice! I voted for him when he took part in (and won!) the very first season of "Singapore Idol" in 2004. But I'm saying all this to make up for the fact that... I do not like this song 😅 It's quite impersonal, and I generally don't like songs telling me what to do.
2006: My Island Home
Janelle: I don't really like this one, to be honest. Despite the relatively fast beat, the tune still feels too slow and draggy to me. Maybe because the lyrics seem a tad melodramatic? I feel like I'm watching one of those old Channel 8 Chinese dramas.
Ding En: Is it an age thing? Cuz I like it leh 🤣 I clicked the "Replay" button, which is a good sign, right?
2007: There's No Place I'd Rather Be
Janelle: Uhh... This sounds more like an influencer's travel log recorded in musical form than an NDP song to me. It just doesn't click with me, and the tune is rather unremarkable as well.
Ding En: Hahaha yes leh - it's like those annoying friends who IG their legs stretched out in a Business Class seat. I've never heard this song before! Can't connect and can't relate to it - I've never "seen Hollywood" nor "the sunsets in LA" nor "crossed the River Kwai". NDP songs should be more inclusive and accessible; this one is quite alienating.
Also 2007: Will You
Janelle: 2007 was the second year to have two NDP songs (the first being 1998, as mentioned earlier). This song is still not great, but at least it's better than "There's No Place I'd Rather Be".
It has a pumping beat that makes it nice enough to listen to as mindless background music, but the lyrics are somewhat generic, and the song itself sounds more like a mainstream pop song from that era than a NDP song. Still, as a standalone song it's not bad.
Ding En: This is also a dud. The "Euro House" beat reminds me of:
- the music they used to blast at pasar malams, and
- "Go West" by brit-pop duo Pet Shop Boys - that shouldn't be one of the first things that come to mind when I think of Singapore's birthday, right?
2008: Shine for Singapore
Janelle: Another slow ballad... Yawn. Aside from that, this song sounds like a paint-by-numbers NDP song that just takes a bunch of cliched patriotic/nationalistic phrases and throws them all in as lyrics.
Ding En: Ya eeks, so formulaic and meh. It has all the words that are expected for an NDP song ("dreams and hopes", "reach out for the sky", "strive for your goals", "vision so bold"), and comes across as a song that needed to tick boxes. Next!
2009: What Do You See?
Janelle: This is a nice one. Where some of the songs on this list try so hard to sound polished that they feel artificial, this one has a very down-to-earth vibe that makes it feel more real, like it belongs to all of us instead of just being an atas-sounding performance by some glamorous singer.
Ding En: This is so underrated - the raw, grungy, indie vibe is everything. It's sincere, accessible and thoughful - and the song doesn't even need the word "Singapore" or "Singaporeans" in its lyrics to do that! I also love the folksy rendition of it by Fauzie Laily, Jack Ho, Kartik Kunasegaran, Sivadorai Sellakannu and Shaun Jansen.
2010: Song for Singapore
Janelle: I stand corrected: This song is even slower and draggier than "My Island Home" (see my comments on that song earlier). I get that it's meant to be a soulful ode to our country, but there are ways to express that sentiment without sounding so... wistful? Almost mournful, even. At any rate, this is a miss for me.
Ding En: Eh? I like it leh! Singer-songwriter Corinne May is like Singapore's Carole King, and I like that she went to the word "sing" in "Singapore". Only gripe is the lyric "you're my brother, you're my sister". Sorry lah, some Singaporeans I don't even want to be acquaintances with lol.
2011: In a Heartbeat
Janelle: This is okay, I suppose. It's a pretty slow song with an alright tune and admittedly poignant lyrics. I'm neutral to this one, I think.
Ding En: This feels like it should be part of a musical, especially at the start. Sylvia Ratonel - the runner-up in Season 3 of "Singapore Idol" in 2009 - delivers it well. Some people might refer to the kampung life (depicted in this MV) as "the good ol' days" - but honestly, who wants to go back to the days of a night-soil bucket system or rat infestations?! 🤮
2012: Love at First Light
Janelle: Ehh... This was another one that didn't resonate with me. The lyrics are actually not bad, and even though I'm usually not too keen on slower songs, this one felt alright to me. But the young girl's singing kind of put me off the song. She's not bad, but it just sounds jarring compared to the singer she's performing the duet with and the rest of the singers in the chorus. (My apologies to the girl who was singing if you're reading this.)
Ding En: Dun like. I also don't get the reference to "love at first light". Maybe cuz I'm not a morning person. Next!
2013: One Singapore
Janelle: Apparently, the poor reception of this song is the reason there was no new NDP song in 2014. Hot take: This song is actually not that bad. Or, at least, it's not as bad as I was led to believe it would be from the way everyone seems to describe it as one of the worst NDP songs.
Admittedly, it has a "How do you do, fellow kids?" vibe that reminds me of High School Musical (and just saying that makes me feel so old!), but the singing is pretty good and fun to listen to in a guilty pleasure sort of way. The rap bit in the middle should have been cut out though.
Ding En: Eh? S Club 7 ah? Was that the vibe they were going for? Actually, writing an NDP theme song is so damn tough - you can never please everyone, and everyone has something say about it 😞 Truthfully, this song reminds me of those annoying team-building cohesion activities led by gratingly peppy counsellors. Sorry ah, I need to take MC.
2015: Our Singapore
Janelle: Now this is what I meant about a song that celebrates Singapore without having to be slow and melodramatic. It's a tribute to our country and a rallying cry for us to stand together, but also a very vibrant and lively song. Upbeat tune, catchy beat and lyrics that are both inspiring and memorable – a perfect combination.
Ding En: This is a winner in a few ways:
- JJ Lin. Nuff said.
- The lyrics are meaningful and, more importantly, singable. They aren't stumbling blocks or cringeworthy, like the words "vigilance" or "united".
- The "oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh" is catchy and memorable.
All in all, it's upbeat yet thoughtful and inspiring - that's a power combo.
2016: Tomorrow's Here Today
Janelle: This song is a solid headbanger! Upbeat and optimistic, with fantastic lyrics to go along with it. 10/10 would listen again.
Ding En: Was this the start of Don Richmond's NDP greatness? He really knows how to write a catchy tune or do a good remix (see what he did with Nathan Hartono's "Everything I Am"). Really fun!
2017: Because It's Singapore
Janelle: This song tries too hard to appeal to everyone. It wants to be both fast and slow, with the end result sounding neither here nor there. Just pick one and go with it! The lyrics are also kind of a mouthful to sing. Thumbs down to this song.
Ding En: Ya, the slow-fast-slow-fast is very annoying. And it's so hard to sing the phrase "it's our Singaporean life" 🥴 - a bit ambitious and laboured lah, dude.
2018: We Are Singapore (2018 Remake)
Janelle: This is a very classy modern take on the original song. It keeps the spirit of the classic version while revamping it with polished vocals and orchestration. I personally prefer the original for its rougher singing (not in a bad way, but obviously the level of technology back then tended to produce music closer to raw recordings than nowadays), but this is an excellent remake.
Ding En: Charlie Lim's preface to this remake is a class act. The voices that follow - those of Vanessa Fernandez, Aisyah Aziz, Shak'thiya Subramaniamm, thelioncityboy (Kevin Lester) and Joanna Dong - are just... *chef's kiss*. A very pleasing contemporary update. <Puts on repeat mode.>
2019: Our Singapore (2019 Remake)
Janelle: I'd have to say I'm not as impressed by this as I was with the original. Or originals, I should say, since the first and last verses are inexplicably taken from "We Will Get There".
The end result is a blended song that doesn't work as a remake to either of them, not helped by having too many singers for a 4-minute song.
Ding En: I think I'm a lot more impressed by how they managed to get everyone's schedules to work out for the music video 😅 great arrangement but I'm more occupied with trying to identify celebs haha.
2020: Everything I Am
Janelle: Slow songs are usually not my thing, but I'll make an exception for this one. This song sounds a lot more sombre than NDP songs usually do, but it fit the mood of 2020 very well, with lyrics that were both poignant and timely.
As an NDP song debuting amidst the turmoil of the ongoing pandemic, it was a reminder to us to be kind to each other and also to be grateful to frontline workers for the sacrifices they made everyday in their line of work. A very gentle and heartfelt song for our nation in a year of chaos.
Ding En: The downtempo lo-fi approach for an NDP theme song right smack at the height of COVID-19 was such a good call. The mood is reflective and the lyrics are fire! Love the fact that it urges us to be more compassionate ("Teacher, teach me to be kind"), loving ("quick to embrace") and inclusive ("slow to close my mind"). It's great that it breaks the mould of what an NDP theme song is expected to be.
2021: The Road Ahead
Janelle: This song is not bad. It starts off slow, but the tempo picks up after a while. It's got a mix of hopeful and sentimental vibes, and fairly decent lyrics too. Like with 2020's NDP song, it was a pretty good reflection of our country's situation at the time; in this case, we were in the midst of adjusting to the new normal of a post-Covid world.
That said, it didn't quite click with me, unlike "Everything I Am". It's kind of an in-between song; not upbeat enough to be cheerful, but also not melancholic enough for me to listen to it as a sentimental song, unlike the previous year's piece.
Ding En: I gushed when this song was released last year and likened it to a plate of really great rojak. And I think many Singaporeans felt the same - after all, it topped YouTube's list of Top Music Videos that Singaporeans were watching in 2021, beating out BTS, Bruno Mars and Lisa. And it has that winning marriage of a great hook and meaningful lyrics - bonus points for the kickass remix by Don Richmond!
2022: Stronger Together
Janelle: Last but not least, this year's NDP song. Now this is a very lively and upbeat song. I like the optimistic and triumphant vibes, and the lyrics hit really well too. Two thumbs up; I'll probably still be listening to this when next year's NDP song releases.
Ding En: Yes! Yes! Yes! This is how Taufik's voice should be used in an NDP theme song! And thank you, Don Richmond, for writing something so joyful and catchy, to reflect the pride and relief of getting through the COVID-19 madness.