NDP 2020: Nathan Hartono tells us what being Singaporean means to him

Singapore's National Day Parade 2020 theme song, “Everything I Am”, is performed by Nathan Hartono, seen here at a media preview on 30 July 2020 at the Star Performing Arts Centre. (Photo: NDP 2020 Exco)
Singapore's National Day theme song, “Everything I Am”, is performed by Nathan Hartono, seen here at a media preview on 30 July. (Photo: NDP 2020 Exco)

SINGAPORE — This year’s National Day song, “Everything I Am”, is performed by singing wunderkind Nathan Hartono.

The 29-year-old crooner’s music career began when he was a teenager, but he gained fame in Singapore and internationally after taking second place in the Chinese reality TV singing competition Sing! China in 2016.

Yahoo Lifestyle SEA was at the media preview of the National Day Parade show last week, where the performers and artists behind the concert gave a peek into what’s in store on Sunday (9 August).

We spoke with Nathan about being given the honour of singing the NDP theme song.

Nathan, who also goes by his Chinese name Xiang Yang, had been involved in performing at the NDP in previous years. The first time he participated in an NDP show was in 2008, where he sang “Where I Belong” as the opening song.

“I just remember thinking that it would be cool if, instead of being all the way (at the beginning) of the show, one day, I could be at the end of the show, singing the theme song. I didn't really think that 12 years later that worked out. So it's surreal in that sense,” Nathan said.

Nathan is glad for the air-conditioned environment of the venue for this year’s show – the Star Performing Arts Centre in Buona Vista. This is the first time the NDP show is being held indoors, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic requiring a scaling back of the performances.

“It's definitely a lot less humid, a lot less hot,” said Nathan.

Of course, what we really wanted to ask Nathan about were his thoughts on the whole fiasco involving some netizens thinking he was a foreigner and, hence, not fit to sing the NDP song. There were so many such trolls online that he had to clarify that he is, indeed, a Singapore citizen, and has always called Singapore home.

Nathan Hartono performing Everything I Am at a rehearsal for the National Day Parade 2020 Evening Show at the Star Performing Arts Centre. (Photo: NDP2020 Exco)
Nathan Hartono at a rehearsal for the NDP evening show at the Star Performing Arts Centre. (Photo: NDP 2020 Exco)

“I don't blame them because I think, for a while, Wikipedia said I was an Indonesian-born Chinese singer or something like that,” said Nathan. “I've never bothered to correct it because, why the hell (would I)?” (For the record, Wikipedia now says that he is Singaporean.)

Nathan was born in Singapore as a permanent resident, after his then Indonesian Chinese parents migrated here. His mother, Jocelyn Tjioe, is a senior vice-president of the Tung Lok group of restaurants, while his father, Thomas Hartono, is the managing director of a resort consultancy.

Nathan’s mother is now a Singapore citizen, while his father is still a PR, although he has applied for citizenship.

Nathan believes, however, that one doesn’t need to be born and raised here, or be a citizen, in order to feel a sense of belonging to this place. That makes sense, given that Singapore is a global city with a large population of migrants.

“My main thing about the whole hubbub was that it made me think, like, is it that 100 per cent important that you need to be true blue born and raised here, with a passport, with a pink IC, went through NS?” he wondered. “What is the idea of home? Is it just a place where you hang your hat, or is it really a place where you know and love it and deep in your heart you just understand that this place is the only place where you want to lay your nest?”

For the record, we asked Nathan when he served his National Service, and when he obtained Singaporean citizenship. He told us that he enlisted with the military at the age of 18, like many other males in Singapore, and completed his two-year service in January 2012. He applied for, and obtained, citizenship soon after NS.

So there you have it: Nathan really isn’t all that different from other Singaporean boys (aside from being one heck of a singer).

We asked Nathan whether he thought that the attacks on his nationality might be partly linked to xenophobic sentiments expressed by netizens over social media in recent times.

He agreed, but pointed out that it was a Canadian who wrote some of the classic National Day songs. He’s right – Canadian Hugh Harrison composed the first three national songs in the ’80s: “Stand Up for Singapore”, “Count on Me, Singapore” and “We are Singapore”.

“At the end of the day, what matters is the story (a song) tells and the meaning it brings,” said Nathan.

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