Notorious MDA: The Singapore government raps

From time to time someone will ask me why I left Singapore for China. This is a fair question. I lived there for nearly a decade, Mrs. Imagethief is Singaporean, and I have great affection for the place. Usually I give some longish explanation about various professional and personal frustrations that were beginning to set in. From now on, however, I’ll simply be able to point people at this video on YouTube:

Via Singapore ultrablogger Mr. Brown, this is a four and  a half minute hip hop video produced by Singapore’s Media Development Authority. The MDA is the statutory board that regulates media content in Singapore and, as you would expect from its name, promotes the development of Singapore’s media industry. The video features the senior management rapping about their respective roles.

God help me, I don’t know where to start on this one. But I’ll try. Remember how embarassing it was when you were in high school and your parents tried to act “cool” in front of your friends? Now imagine they did that and commited the results to posterity on YouTube. In your name.

It is often remarked that the Chinese government considers the Singapore government a role model for successful technocratic authoritarianism. Whatever the Chinese government learns from Singapore, let us pray that it does not absorb the idea that rapping bureaucrats is a good idea. The State Council has enough on its mind what with the Olympics, mass rural-urban migration and the Yangtze silting up behind the Three Gorges Dam. They don’t need to be spending nights in the studio trying to figure out what rhymes with “Zhongnanhai” over a phat groove.

Also, there are several people featured in this video, but not one of them has any discernible rhythm. Statistically you’d think one could carry a beat in common time. We’re not talking bebop here, or some kind of freaky experimental meter. One, and two, and three, hit the BEAT. Count it off, it’s not that hard. Not that they had much to work with. There must be some kind of award for coming up with hip hop lyrics that include the phrases, “KPI”, “service oriented architecture” and “beautify our fusionopolis”. If you can’t bring yourself to watch the whole thing, the lyrics are here. It’s not much easier to read than to watch or listen to.

Having dispensed with the artistic criticism, let me approach this from a public relations point of view.

Imagethief is all for using new media. If I squint hard enough and jam my thumbs into my eyes I can kind of see the rationale for doing this (although it could just be the flash of my retinas detaching). You want to explain the role of your bureaucracy in a catchy way that reaches out to youth and the creative industry. And some credit must be extended to the MDA for having, well, the balls to try this.

Unfortunately, a pigeon with a nail through its skull would still have the brain power to predict the inevitable result of this project: a catastrophic piece of self-ridicule that drags out for four-and-a-half painful minutes every reason why government involvement in creative industries is a disaster. And why Singapore’s media industry is, like the site of a bad plane crash, so much lifeless wreckage. Seriously, these are the people promoting the development of Singapore’s creative industries? They hardly seem qualified.

Mind you, this is not an internal video that leaked out. Apparently the video was originally distributed with the softcopy version of the MDA’s most recent annual report. It is also available straight from the MDA website, although as of this writing the site was down, possibly due to unintentionally high server load as people gape in slack jawed amazement and slight embarrassment. That’s why I haven’t been able to work out if there is a press release that explains their rationale.

I’d like to take a moment and differentiate Singapore’s media industry and regulators from Singaporeans in general. There are many creative and talented people in Singapore. However it is my observation that they prosper despite the best efforts of the government,  not because of them. Indeed, it has long been Imagethief’s position that the responsibility of government with regard to art should begin and end at cutting cheques for the things that are so edgy, experimental or niche that the market won’t support them. For that reason I see the words “Singapore” + “media” + “development” + “authority” as oxymoronic.

Good communication flows from sincerity, and part of sincerity is being true to who you are. This is especially true in music, where authenticity is essential to the message. That’s why a Mississippi John Hurt record sounds deep-down good but a Joss Stone record, despite her manifest singing talent, sounds a little like a con. One of the great joys of music is of course how genres transcend their origins and find mass acceptance. That has certainly been true of hip hop, where the musical tent has widened a great deal since the days of Kurtis Blow. The Beastie Boys proved long ago that Jewish kids from Brooklyn could do it too.

But the tent still isn’t wide enough for Singapore government bureaucrats. Even bureaucrats need to be true to themselves in communication. It doesn’t mean that they always have to use soul-deadening PowerPoint or white papers. By all means they should roll up their sleeves, loosen their ties, mingle with artists and tell it straight. But just they should also recognize their limitations. Someone in their communications department should have worked this out and told truth to power. Unfortunately the communications director of MDA is one of the people in the video.

The result is a lot snarky blogging (including here) and yet another example of the Singapore government getting itself written up as “odd news”. That is not communication success.

The Singapore MDA is not the first bunch of suits to fall victim to siren call of hip hop as a tool for youth communication. They’re following a trail already blazed (if that is the right word) by Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party. The Hong Kong Institute of Chartered Public Accountants also gave it a try with similarly dismal results. But at least they had some babes and “the ‘Tute” sounds like something you can smoke through.

Anyway, having made it this far you probably have a bad taste in your mouth. Turn up your speakers and clear your palate with this.

See also:

The always funny Talking Cock’s wicked take on this, with photos.

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