Critical Thoughts Of My Own…

I’ve resisted typing this entry ever since I saw the various unhappy tweets from those who had attended the recording of the above-mentioned programme at Caldecott Broadcast Centre on 6th February 2010, a day after the Suria Elektra event. That particular weekend the guest panelists on the show included Anang Hermansyah and Edry, one third of the KRU brothers from across the Causeway alongside Kak Hanim (Mohd Salleh), Berita Harian‘s Entertainment Correspondent, no stranger to the local Malay entertainment industry, who was the resident judge throughout the recording of the Popagenda series. Why I decided to finally type this entry was because I felt the need to voice out on several issues I have been observing but keeping mum and reading a comment that appeared in Berita Minggu today, which I have scanned for your reading pleasure:

For the uninitiated, Popagenda, which is the brainchild of DuaM Productions, whose head honcho is also the host of the show, Najip Ali, is a new variety programme, that has been airing on Suria for the past month or so. In each episode, two local singers, and an established guest artiste would showcase their talents to the guest panelists who are industry people experienced enough to know what they are talking about. The singers would sing songs of their own / their own choices if they have yet to record a single, sing a song belonging to the established guest artiste for that particular episode and answer questions put forward by Kak Hanim, as a test to their media-savvy skills. If you had caught the first few episodes, you would have noticed that the panel of assessors are no slouches when it comes to making good, quality and award-winning music. Ajai, who is no stranger here and Yuvie, one half of Indonesian duo Yuvie & Nuno had been the judges in the earlier episodes.

I did not attend the recordings but from what I heard, there were a lot of unhappy voices from the audience who were shocked and taken aback by what Edry had commented on some, if not most of the contestants. Not meaning to defend this old friend of mine, but he has always been someone who is not afraid to speak his mind and calling a spade, a spade. Even when I first got to know him some fifteen years ago, I was initially left stunned when I heard his less than flattering comments towards some people, that I myself got kinda turned off at the very first impression. But after knowing and hanging out with him, I believe it’s his hard-driven nature and unsatiable hunger for success that has made him into the millionaire that he is now along with his two siblings. Brutal in his honesty, genuine in his approach and achieving success in what he does for a living are traits, I believe, and ample reasons why the good people at DuaM chose him as one of the guest panelists.

Granted KRU might not have been great live performers during their heydays and I think they know that themselves, nor have they produced artistes of legendary calibre under KRU Music Group but artistes like Indigo, X-Factor, Phyne Ballerz, Elite, Ezlynn, Juliana Banos, Adam and indirectly Feminin, can be considered relative successes being newbies in the industry in the past, even though cynics would gleefully point out that they rely more on their looks than talents. Still not convinced??? Anita Sarawak, Rabbani, Ella, Mawi and many other established artistes have also entrusted him to help produce some of their hit singles / albums. Their company’s stock grew even more when they branched out into making movies and tapping on the usage of modern technology into their films where most Malaysian film directors and producers have yet to jump on the bandwagon, perhaps due to budget constraints.

Of late, one of their latest films, Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa, have gained international recognition when it was picked for distribution in 25 countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and the Middle East after it was exhibited at the recently-concluded European Film Market in Berlin. They have also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Universal Studios in Hollywood, for distribution rights in North America once filming is completed. And that could only mean more dough coming into their coffers. He might have been a failure in the past to get into the hearts of Indonesian fans, but I’m sure the group had been one of the phenomenons of the 90s in Malaysia and over here. But again as I’ve said earlier, this entry is not about defending Edry. Neither is it to hype about his achievements to make him look good. Nor is it to extol his comments as examples to follow.

Instead I would like us all to ponder upon every comment that was made in the previous few episodes shown and also those that have yet to be televised, by each one of the guest panelists. We definitely want our local Malay music industry to thrive once again like two to three decades ago. And the only way for it to go up is for experienced and knowledgeable hands to give us a dose of reality check so that we can better ourselves and be well prepared. Singing is not just about holding the microphone to your mouths and being able to carry a tune. Anyone could do that, even myself. Nor adding dancesteps and groovy moves to your repertoire will make you an outstanding performer. A performer’s standing should be of some style and substance so that those who watch, will appreciate even if they are not loyal fans or supporters. Off-stage, the ability to carry one’s self in public positively, the presence of mind to answer (or evade tactfully) questions and being media-savvy (minus the controversies), will definitely put one in good stead.

Too many acts have been one or two-hit wonders. Just look at Anugerah Planet Muzik since its inception and you will begin to wonder what has happened to so-and-so, not only in our local industry but also in Malaysia and Indonesia as well. Not many have survived so long till this day especially our local acts. It is sad to see the likes of Bhumiband, Kaleidoscopicuriosity, Karim Supnan and many more, not maintaining  their longevity in the scene as they are all worthy acts. To attain longevity in the scene, one needs to have a certain amount of passion, originality and humility. Popagenda is definitely a positive step in that direction to see whether our budding acts are ready to take the next step to spread their wings and share their talents with the region. The sensitive ones would say the guest panelists were being too critical and uncouth, while the cynical ones would say that Popagenda only brought out the worse in our pool of local artistes, but this is where they learn to improve and work on their flaws.

As was pointed out by the comment in Berita Minggu about Sarah Aqilah, we all know what a great singer she is and witnessed her grow from strength to strength in the weekly Anugerah 2009 series. However that was in the past. The episode of Popagenda which she was featured in and could be classified as being in the current context, did not paint a true picture of what we know she is definitely capable of. If you had studied her body language, her somehow troubled facial expressions and slightly apparent lack of confidence during her performances in that particular episode, they were not good advertisements of her true abilities to the panelists, who I believe are also on the lookout to help market our local acts in their countries or at least collaborate with them for future projects. She also seemed unsure of answering the question directed to her during the question-and-answer segment with the media, which prompted Kak Hanim to lament that both she and Faizal Isa had blindly answered them.

Even though Anang had performed with her the day before at Suria Elektra, Edry was seeing her for the first time and we all have heard of the old adage “First impressions count” once too often. Granted I have to admit he was perhaps a little overboard and kinda exaggerated when he questioned how did she become champion, but I cannot fault Edry for directing it to the fans who voted and judges for giving a false sense of hope to someone who is yet ready to cross the Causeway. You have to recall how a certain judge during the Anugerah 2009 series kept on putting her on the pedestal and saying how she was ready to be a superstar and all, but the truths were laid bare during the show, simply because she did not perform to expectations and did not give the impression she was ready. As such you cannot blame Edry as what he commented was based on what he witnessed. To be fair, he did pass on useful advice that she could still make it abroad, provided she reinvents herself and create an identity of her own. So I hope people would look at it in one big perspective and not take things out of context and do selective hearing as we are all so fond of doing. There was certainly no hidden agenda nor hatred towards Sarah. She can only get better after this and I know she can.

I hope whatever negative comments that were passed throughout the series by any of the guest panelists would not be taken to heart nor make our artistes lose faith in their own abilities. Neither should they take these comments for granted and hope that their loyal fans’ support would be enough to see them through their respective careers. There is so much a fan’s support can do, but if there is no substance, then the non-fans would also not be convinced that you deserve to be respected and that you’re living in your own deluded world. If you take it in the local context, as of right now, the fan support is simply not enough, likewise the number of shows they can be involved in unless they sing at clubs for a living. If it is enough, our artistes wouldn’t harbour any thoughts of seeking greener pastures nor wanting to gain experiences elsewhere. No matter how good and successful you are over here, you might not get the same amount of success elsewhere and vice-versa. It has been proven without having the need to drop any names. Before taking the leap and plunge, please equip yourselves with the basic know-hows on what it takes to be a performer that people in the region could sit up and take notice of.

Learn also to accept criticisms – positive, negative, brutal and harsh and use them to better yourselves. The most amusing part to all these hoo-ha is the fact that the artistes themselves haven’t made much noise about nor complained about it (at least not in the open…), but the fans have been quick to go all defensive and downright sensitive. I had wondered for quite some time if we are ready for a show like Melodi or Terjah but after reading the fans’ comments, I don’t think we are, not even close to a million miles yet. We are so used to hearing all the nice and sugary stuff that sometimes it has made us all become too complacent and happy with what we have in our hands. A little pinch on the bums can result in controversy of epic proportions and or make our worlds come crashing down. Wake-up calls like Popagenda is a good gauge to see how ready we are for edgy shows and the fans are sad to say, clearly not. Yes the fans here have the major say here, but what about fans over there when the time comes to cross over??? I’m sure the mentalities are much different and their acceptance will not be so accomodating unless you are original.

This episode brings me back to the time when Rafaat Hamzah was sensationally slated and slammed left, right and centre in the papers for being too critical and harsh towards the contestants when the inaugural Anugerah Skrin competition was going on four years ago, him being one of the two mainstay judges, the other being Najip Ali himself. Even when we have someone experienced, a local, who knew what he was talking about and dishing it out in his own way, the public jumped and bayed for his blood. Some even went as far as to ask the organisers to remove him from the judging panel. And I remembered on the subsequent episode henceforth, he protested by simply refusing to open his mouth or comment much. Four years on and I expected our mentality to have made some progress but apparently it has not.

We should all be thankful that the mainstream media here for all their misgivings and sometimes lack of support for local talents (I say this because I seldom see them unless it’s for big / grand occasions, which is why alternative media like us bloggers have come to the fore. But to be fair, Kak Hanim does go to most of them…), are not as brutal as those in Malaysia and Indonesia. If comments like Edry‘s or Anang‘s can be considered too harsh for us, then I’m afraid our artistes will be slaughtered and annihilated by the various media sources once they take the bold step to venture abroad and these people are not forgiving at all. Our Asian Idol himself has experienced that before, even though we understand how guarded he is with personal questions, but it was misconstrued by the media there as him being aloof. We all know the kind of questions that the media abroad are capable of asking, and just by watching Melodi and Terjah on TV3, sometimes we even feel as though we want to bash up the journalists ourselves for being incredibly insensitive with the angles they’ve chose to concentrate upon.

But the mainstream media here could also do their part in getting to know our local acts better, reporting more on them, doing respective homeworks before sharing it with the masses, attending more indie events and not wait to be invited just because they are already established. I was particularly miffed when a part-time journalist wondered what happened to Aliff Aziz and why is he so quiet of late, ever since news of his controversy last year came to light. This person also lamented that Aliff has his mood swings and one day would greet and another day would not. I ask myself, whether this person really made the effort to get to know the guy personally or not, to pass off negative comments like that. For one, this person does not even know that he is now serving his National Service. Secondly, to say it out on a national medium on his character is akin to slender. As mainstream media, I’m sure they know that the masses would read, hear and believe what was being said since they are either published, aired or televised.

For the record, I’m not close to Aliff nor his family, but this young man would stop whatever he is doing and come over to greet me personally if he sees me from afar as my past experiences can vouch for. And I’m not even a journalist nor part of mainstream media to be accorded such respect to begin with!!! What does that tell you??? Aliff being someone who meets a lot of people and fans cannot be expected to remember each and every single person he meets. Likewise this fact goes with all artistes and normal people like us. If I’m being equally anal, I could also say that there is a certain artiste who greets me only when I’m in the presence and company of people in the industry and hype about it. But have I done that before this??? No, in fact I would still give this artiste the benefit of doubt that I am just a nobody and of course could be forgiven for not knowing who I am, even if we had been formally introduced before. It is time we start getting to know our local acts better and minimise reporting on artistes abroad or spreading gossips through hearsay. It doesn’t lend credibility to one’s worth, efforts and professionalism as an entertainment journalist.

Most importantly the genuine intentions of artistes in general coupled with sincerity and passion for your craft should shine through without the need to try too hard to win over fans and people from the industry. You need to question yourself why do you want to become an artiste, a performer, an entertainer or a singer??? Do you want to be one in the hope of being popular??? Or because your goal is to achieve awards and appear on red carpets on an annual basis??? Or you take great joy in fans clamouring at your feet??? Or do you just want your music to be heard and appreciated and if good things come your way, then all the better??? There is an art to charming the listeners and audience who are your consumers, and this does not include giving away personal achievements nor gifts at almost every available opportunity. You can do it once or twice, but if it gets done once too often, people might question whether you are sincere or if it’s part of your gimmick / showmanship to woo the neutral fans over.

As I had mentioned before in my “Be True To Yourselves” entry last July, always be thankful that you have a core group of supporters willing you on at every single show or appearance you perform or make, who would defend you at every single opportunity when the chips are down and look beyond your flaws no matter how glaring they are. These are the same people who will never tire of supporting, scrimping their weekly pocket money just to travel to the places you’re performing at or buying gifts for you, and taking photographs with you. At almost every show or concert I go to, I will practically see the same faces over and over again. Not that it is a bad thing, far from it, but these are the very people who deserve pats on their backs for their endless and undying support, and I take my hats off to them for being so loyal, come rain or shine. We definitely do not get this kind of rousing support  before Singapore Idol was conceived.

Never ever complain about taking photographs or receiving gifts from the same person over and over again. Unless you are genuinely sincere nor understand the essence and meaning of being an artiste, you will never know nor understand the feeling of making someone happy just by obliging with a photograph and smiling with a lot of warmth as a form of appreciation, which in turn would make the fans go home happy and being able to sleep soundly, heartened by the fact that every dollar spent on travelling, buying tickets to watch you, buy you gifts etc were all worth it. I was once a groupie and part of the fan brigade. As such, I totally understand what it means to feel appreciated by the artiste I adore because I know how it feels to be a loyal fan. Again and again I say, why Dato’ Siti Nurhaliza is where she is now, is because she is sincere and appreciative towards all her fans. I repeat the sentence I made in that entry: “The day the genuine and loyal fans ditch their favourite artistes, would be the saddest day of their lives cos their worth has just become less…

This small industry of ours is very small, still in its infantile stages. You can’t expect people to start liking and supporting with every performance you make. Like trust and respect, it grows over time. Whoever that supports you there and then, treat them with the same amount of respect and love that they have accorded you. Never question sensitive things like whether they only come to support you if it’s a free show, and not otherwise. It is already so difficult for artistes here to gain the support of the masses. One of the challenges being faced is to go beyond the loyal and core group of supporters and attracting the new / neutral ones who are still sceptical of the scene or more inclined to listen to K-Pop, which seems to be the in-thing these days or Western music. Whoever you have now as your fans, please appreciate and treat them kindly. Always remember that without them: YOU ARE NOTHING!!!  

Author: Pujangga Malam™

Well-known on RIA 89.7FM as a controversial and sensational critic able to invoke thought-provoking and sometimes, fiery responses from fellow listeners. Have since evolved into a distinguished blogger of reputable claim with takes on the Malay entertainment industry and football-related matters. Brutally honest and believes in only reporting the truth as I see, hear or experience it. Self-styled critic who does not mince his words and is definitely a non-conformist.

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