Both Lee and Myrne are redefining what it means to be a Singaporean son — albeit in different ways. Besides choreographing several National Day Parades and penning the 1998 hit, Home, Lee has always been a champion of celebrating one’s identity through his music. Myrne, meanwhile, is making inroads by spinning at music festivals worldwide. His experience on the road has given him a unique world view on what living in the Lion City truly entails.
With this digital revolution, how have things changed for music?
Dick Lee: Before, you really had to push, there was no way else. I had to knock on doors over and over. To create buzz you played in libraries, schools… you had to perform to be seen. Now, it’s too easy with the Internet — you just post something [online]. But it’s also become so flooded. Will you get seen? Before, the whole school had to come and watch you.
Myrne: There’s this thing about kids who grew up in the ’90s. The reason why there’s a sense of nostalgia is because we grew up without much technology at all. We’ve seen the brick-like handphones our parents used evolve into something that fits into our pockets. We are more adept at things because technology moves so fast. Right now, social media plays a really big part in music because it gives a very visual and very personal element to the artist or band — people see a different side than what they normally would know just by listening to the music. I think that really changed the game, especially in the electronic music scene, because people are now hiring professional photographers to follow them to shows. Even if it’s a really bad show, you just need a good picture. It’s all in exchange for social media brownie points. The emphasis has also changed from the artist’s music to more of their image.
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On the topic of image, how would you describe your style?
Myrne: I’m preoccupied with monochromatic schemes. A lot of the stuff I wear is very practical. Because I travel and DJ, most of my shirts have to be able to wick sweat easily. Brightly-coloured clothes get dirtied very easily in a club environment.
Lee: Over the years, I have developed a penchant for many different styles, which is a reflection of the eclectic person I am. I can go from gleaming bespoke suits with a signature pocket square to bold silk Versace shirts that remind me of my days performing overseas in the ’90s — I am never one to shy away from kaleidoscopic prints. Tom Ford, Dries Van Noten, Gucci and lots of vintage finds spill from my wardrobe too.
What do you think is next for music?
Myrne: I don’t want to hold on to old values because if the game changes, it’s probably because people want it that way. Who are we to say what is right or wrong? I think the next big thing in music is learning how to balance image and craft so that you don’t sacrifice your identity. It’s a bubble, right? The more people get exposed to this, the more they realise it’s all fake and it will go back to music again. So I’m really not worried.
Lee: Numbers and followers… how real are they? What do they mean? I have seen some artistes with big numbers but no earnings. Music today is very different. There is a sense of wanting to sound the same. It is understandable. For every era, there’s a trend. I’ve always wanted to be part of it because I’m trend-conscious. When I started out, I wanted to be like Elton John. The singer-songwriter thing was on-trend in the early ’70s.
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What does your music say about you?
Lee: Two things: I always try to look for my identity. Who am I as a Singaporean? Or an Asian? I may be inspired by Elton John and write songs like him, but how does that set me apart? That’s why I wrote “Fried Rice Paradise”, actually. It was an experiment to be different. If you watch Wonder Boy, you’ll know that the song was banned when it was released because it had Singlish. It was a problem. Here I am, trying to make a Singaporean song, then it gets banned for being Singaporean. Does that mean I should be ashamed of being Singaporean? It’s something I had to battle all my life until I wrote “Home”. You see, another goal of mine is to create folk songs for Singapore. We have no folk songs because we’re too young. Songs like these take centuries to develop and evolve. I’m very excited that “Home” is 19-years-old and still being sung.
Myrne: My music comes from a very Asian place. I grew up here, so my music is an interpretation of what music around the world should sound like, coupled with my experiences growing up. People here have been supportive. In the past, a lot of my audience from Spotify and SoundCloud came from big countries like Australia, the States and Europe. But now, Singapore is almost equal in that market. I think it’s just very nice for them to look at someone who grew up here do something else with his life. I think that gives people hope.
Myrne, do you feel the need to fly the Singapore flag?
Definitely — even though I disagree a lot with how things are done here: Education, the military, following rules… I was privileged enough to be exposed to different things about the world at a young age. But every time I’m overseas and someone comes up to me and says they’re Singaporean, it’s really cool because I hope the stuff I am doing gives people the option to see that, “Hey, they can be that guy.” It is okay to be different.
Dick, what’s your advice for the next generation of musicians?
I often get asked about the secret of my career’s longevity and I always say it is reinvention. You need to be like Madonna. She is my role model in terms of reinventing. Every time she comes out, there is something different [about her] as a performer. To do that, you have to keep working, evolving. You cannot have a lull [period]. Talent also makes a good musician — and being relatable. That goes without saying. Identify your audience and connect with them. Because if you just do what you want, will you succeed in the long term? Don’t be too self-indulgent, because that can come later.
By Gerald Tan and Dana Koh
Photographed by Gan
Styled by Gracia Phang
Makeup: Cecilia Chng/Ceciliachng Beauty (Dick)
Hair: Edward Aw/Folliclehair (Dick)
Makeup and Hair: Grego using Keune and Bobbi Brown; Manisa Tan/PaletteInc using NARS and Keune
Fashion interns: Kelly Chung, Lynette Kee and Gerald WH Tan
Photography assistants: Keneth Tan and Loy Kok Wee