Singapore new media and rock

Unlike last year, I won’t be at the National Day parade this time. Having just got back to Singapore after a long time, I don’t have tickets for the show. But I am reading all about it as I catch up with the news. And trawling through the net, what strikes me is how the new media here rocks — like rock.

Yes, rock as in Hail, Hail, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Rock and Roll Music, It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It). Loud, brash, lively, it was never music for all ears. The new media is just as noisy, rambunctious, often crossing the line, hard to control, raising as many hackles as getting Facebook likes.

The new media, of course, is much younger than the music which, in fact, is older than the Republic of Singapore. On this day, when Singapore became independent 49 years ago, the Rolling Stones’ first international hit, (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, had just dropped off the top spot, after four weeks at No 1, on the Billboard Hot 100 in America. In Britain, it was released as a single later, on August 20, 1965. The Beatles were also taking America by storm, making headlines with their famous Shea Stadium concert in New York on August 15, 1965.

Rock ‘n’ roll, in fact, is even older than the Beatles and the Stones. Bill Haley, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino and the Everly Brothers had been scoring hits since the mid-50s. Elvis had a string of No 1 hits in 1956.

Like rock music, the internet has its own history, though the Singapore version is probably best told by oldtimers like Cherian George, Alex Au and mrbrown. Alex Au launched Yawning Bread in 1996, only two years after Justin Hall created what’s considered to be the first blog, in January 1994. Mrbrown has been around a long time, too, since 1997.

Now the pioneers have plenty of company as the new media has grown by leaps and bounds.

And the voices are as diverse as rock stars. Mrbrown is irrepressible like the Beatles in their early days. Bertha Henson is sassy like Aretha Franklin and Ella Fitzgerald. There are other bloggers who remind one of protest songs and punk rock.

Rock ‘n’ roll outraged all manner of authorities from church groups to officialdom — and there are attempts, too, to regulate the internet.

But as governments try to exert their authority, they also want to be heard online. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is followed by legions on Facebook. George Yeo has been active on Facebook and blogging from the time he was a minister. National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan has been blogging for some years, too.

Politicians have adapted to the new media, joining social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

The same forces are at work that saw an earlier generation of politicians influenced by pop culture and rock music. Young Singaporeans may not recall the former Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who was involved with Barbra Streisand and Margot Kidder and whose ex-wife, Margaret, was linked with the Rolling Stones. Vaclav Havel was a fan of The Velvet Underground. Bill Clinton famously said about his time as a Rhodes Scholar: “When I was in England, I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and didn’t like it…I didn’t inhale, and I didn’t try it again.”

When Clinton became president, Fleetwood Mac performed at his inaugural ball in January 1993. Don’t Stop was his campaign song. Bruce Springsteen and Pete Seeger sang at Obama’s inauguration in 2009.

Fashions change and, like rock ‘n’ roll, social media too may become passe one day. But, till then, you can’t ignore it. I will be checking what Singapore has to say today on Facebook and Twitter — and, yes, the blogs. Happy National Day.