nathan hartono
Photo: Leslie Kee

“It was really just showing people that love can look like anything,” Singapore’s hottest singer-songwriter of the moment Nathan Hartono says halfway through our interview at Warner Music’s Singapore headquarters. “Love can be super unexpected; it can just take you by surprise.” Of course, we’re talking about his newly released Chinese single, Ai Chao Gei Dian, a rebranded version of his English single Electricity, and the music video that has dropped along with it. But the message of his music video is not the only that we touch on in our half hour interview. Read on to find out how exactly his shoot with celebrity photographer Leslie Kee came about (hint: It involves a chance encounter on a dark night), the comments that he’s been receiving (what do you think?) and future works in the pipeline (more singles coming out this year? Yay!).

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What was the inspiration behind your latest Chinese single?

It was a direct translation from an English single that I did. When we were looking into releasing a [single] in China,my team in China was looking at my previous catalogue and they really liked this song. I was a bit skeptical at first, because I didn’t think that it would translate very well. It was also a strange idea at the time, but the further we got into it, the more we expanded into the idea, and it became a lot of fun to reimagine this baby that you write into a completely different language.

Interesting. So what was the experience shooting the music video like? What was the most fun aspect about it?

Oh, it wasn’t fun at all, because I was terribly sick. Probably the worst I’ve been sick in a while. (laughs) But the shoot itself was very inspiring. For all the people that have been working there, the crew, director, dancers and everyone, they were super on the whole time, very detail-oriented, very serving to the project. Everyone was just on the top of their game, and it was very inspirational to see that.

It was directed by Leslie Kee, right?

Yeah, Leslie Kee directed it. That itself is a crazy story. One of his work partners saw me get into a cab at Shinjuku, recognised me from the China show, and let Leslie know, ‘hey, this guy from Singapore is in Japan, you should hit him up’. And he did, on Instagram, and he wanted to shoot the night after, and I happened to be free, so I was like, ‘alright, sure’. (laughs) So we shot for the night, had really good chemistry, had supper after, just talked and caught up and got to know each other; exchanged Singapore stories, all that stuff. And yeah, it just so happened to be a time that we were conceptualizing the visuals and all those kind of things for the upcoming music, so It was kind of perfect time. Very, very strange coincidence, but very perfect timing.

Speaking of the visuals, you had a very diverse cast in the music video. How did that come about?

The song itself is kind of like about a love that’s unexpected, a love that doesn’t always make sense, so we wanted to show love in all shapes and sizes, in predictable forms and unpredictable forms. So we didn’t want to do a regular idol kind of dance video thing. I wanted it to have a wilder aesthetic and walk along the lines of what is widely accepted as the generic aesthetic. So we went a little bit more left field — the cosplayers, the drag queens — just people who are super comfortable being whatever they want to be.

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nathan hartono
Photo: Leslie Kee

And how has the response been like to the video so far?

It’s been good! A lot of people are, like, ‘oh is it just the Chinese version of Electricity‘, and I’m like, yes! But it is very difficult to explain that to like, many people over the Internet. The China response has been very interesting, it’s really nice to see that. Their version of Spotify, QQ Music, actually has a comments section, so you really get into what the audience think. But I try not to dip my toes into that too often. (laughs)

OK, but the few comments that you’ve seen?

It’s been alright. Of course there’s a big part of me that wants to look into what people think about my work and all that, but I think it corrupts the thought behind the things to follow.

And what are you working on right now, do you have any new projects that are coming up? Any new singles that you are releasing?

Right now, just new music, really. I mean, the Chinese stuff is going to keep coming. Between now and April there’s going to be a bunch of other songs, a bunch of other projects on the Chinese side, and just some of my own I’ve been working on, in English music as well.

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