Music opinion Singapore

In Our Words: NDP 2021 theme song The Road Ahead

Every August, as National Day draws ever closer, the airwaves are constantly filled with theme songs of years past. While it’s easy to be a sourpuss and dismiss the celebratory mood, one always has to remember the symbolic importance of National Day as a representation of strength, resilience, and independence of our island nation.

Theme songs, more importantly, are meant to act as a timestamp of the year before, marking the overall feeling that fills the nation, and turning the negativity into hope for the future, and appreciation for the things around. Take for instance 1997’s ‘Home’ performed by Kit Chan, inspired by how composer Dick Lee missed Singapore while overseas, while also reflecting the sombre mood brought about by the Asian Financial Crisis.

Fast forward to 2020, where Nathan Hartono’s power ballad ‘Everything I Am’ (composed by Joshua Wan) similarly attempted to tackle the difficulty of 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic, choosing to set the negatives aside to focus on a deeper, inward-looking approach. In appreciating our country and how far we’ve come, the song seemed to dispel the fear and uncertainty the pandemic has brought to offer comfort in these hard times.

Helping One Another
Co-composer Evan Low

While we’re still in the midst of the pandemic, 2021 has felt significantly different from 2020’s atmosphere of fear, and talk of a new age has been on the tip of everyone’s tongues, all raring to travel again, ready to embrace a brighter future. And so it is that Evan Low and Linying’s ‘The Road Ahead’ marks an appropriate new direction for this year’s NDP theme song. Departing from last year’s slower pace, both Evan and Lin pick up the tempo for this year, and amalgamates both the idea of appreciating all that’s around us, and looking forward to the titular road ahead, complete with catchy chorus still replete with feels.

With how the song was completely composed, produced and written by Evan and Lin, there’s something intensely personal and genuine about it that comes out from the very beginning. It’s little wonder then that music director Dr Sydney Tan had very little to say in the way of changes when Evan and Lin presented it to him – it just works, because it’s written from the heart.

‘The Road Ahead’ is all about looking into the future, and pushing forward and onwards with hope in our hearts. We can practically envision it as the music video begins (directed by Huang Junxiang and Jerrold Chong), and we find ourselves in a bus, looking across at Linying, on this same journey as the other passengers on their daily commute.

To pass the time, Lin doodles, and we watch as it comes alive, cartoon cyclists waving a friendly hello to each other with a smile. Her voice is clear, confident as she sings the opening lines, painting the image of how easy it is to ‘set a wave in motion’ with a single word or action, like a smile. Lin has always been known and beloved for her lyrical images in her songwriting, and this song is no different, vividly painting the feelings of new beginnings and endless possibility with the combination of her words and the instrumentals.

Linying in the MV for “The Road Ahead”

As we reach Gardens by the Bay, there’s a sense of whimsy that fills the air, as otters, aunties practicing tai chi, or even children literally riding the MRT can be seen. Even in these hard times, life goes on, and there’s still space to relax, put a smile on our face, and even laugh. It’s a reminder that we’re going to be all right. Breaking into the chorus, Lin beckons us to ‘see this island/every grain of sand’. This is an anthem for us, celebrating how we’ve paved the way from past to present, and eventually, the road to our future too, come what may.

We’re going past Golden Mile complex, with a crowd of people doing the Kallang Wave, a bittersweet feeling knowing it might be torn down due to its low occupancy and take up rate, a sight that will be missed on the drive down Nicoll Highway. And we end our bus ride with Lin, as we spot family with a young child amidst HDB blocks, harkening back to the message of how children are our future, and families are the basic building block of our nation.

Sezairi Sezali

From our bus, we step into a Singapore River Cruise, and are joined by Singapore Idol Sezairi Sezali. As we sail down the river, we look across at another boat, where depictions of samsui women, nurses, soldiers and Gurkhas are riding, these pioneers of the past always there to protect us and a quintessential part of our history. Even amidst the uncertainties, from our colonial days to World War II, we got through it all, the darkest times before the dawn, and we’ll do it again.

Screenshot of MV for “The Road Ahead”

With the sun over the CBD, our skyline rising high above us, we see how far we’ve progressed as a nation, how great our island metropolis can be. The song soars into the chorus, and we dive headfirst into a full on animated sequence that takes us through our countless milestones, from sports to hydroponics, to construction workers installing solar panels to researchers performing experiments and making discoveries that could change the world.

Shye-Anne Brown

We’re now joined by artist Shye-Anne Brown (better known as just Shye). Of the four artists, Shye is the newest and youngest, and seems to signal the future with her Gen Z representation, much like how she finds hope again after we wander with her through a dark illustrated jungle. As she emerges from the exit, fireflies brighten the scene, and a boy awakens beside his mother to the morning light with a look of peace and comfort on his face, with the knowledge that things are going to be all right.

Shabir

Dawn breaks, and we find ourselves with our final featured artist, esteemed producer, composer and artist Shabir as he walks along East Coast Park by the beach. It’s just him and the piano, an acoustic moment that only serves to reaffirm the words in the chorus, its significance echoing in our minds as we take time to pause and reflect. We watch the scene from Shabir’s perspective: real footage of typical morning scenery, where uncles are hanging their birdcages up to let their pets sing, while stall owners, masked of course, open the shutters to their units at the crack of dawn, and prepare for their long day ahead. SIA crew walk down the aerobridge, reminding us that we will fly again, before a plane flies above a couple taking wedding photos on the beach. Love and happiness still reign even in these times of need.

As the new day begins, all four artists’ voices come together, soaring with renewed verve as they roam the Botanic Gardens, a sense of freedom and joy at East Coast Park, a moment of pride standing in the middle of the Padang, or just waiting at the bus stop. There’s that feeling we’ll see each other before long, these places where we’ll gather once again.

Screenshot of MV for “The Road Ahead”

Much like how Lin was sketching in the bus at the beginning, a schoolgirl opposite her does the same, and her art, colourful and magical, brings a triple decker bus to life filled with animated versions of the singers and the characters we’ve met along the way. It’s almost like passing on the baton, knowing that the next generation will continue to bring that same joy and whimsy to the world, getting through every challenge they’ll face in their lives as those that came before them.

Now we’re back in the bus, as the sun starts to set in the distance, we’re reminded how times may be tough, but as each day goes by, we still look forward to the next, and we will press on regardless. We will not give up as Singaporeans, we will carry on, and we will roar as one, as we ride on boldly into the future, wherever this road takes us.

Find out more about the theme song here. National Day 2021 falls on 9th August 2021, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, the annual National Day Parade will instead be held on 21st August 2021. More information available here

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