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A flash of inspiration

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By: Than Xuefen

There was nothing special about lunchtime in the central business district of Singapore last Friday. Footsteps were furious as people hurried past each other, headed for their destinations, attempting to beat the human traffic streaming in from all directions.

Suddenly, the popular tune “That Thing You Do” by The Wonders blasted through the speakers. Two men started dancing in their office attire. Before the crowd could react, a flash mob descended upon them, bringing a welcome respite to the hustle and bustle of the central area.

In less than a minute, 200 dancers gathered and performed their mass dance at the Raffles Place centre square, as reported by the Straits Times on Oct. 23.  Dancing to the Korean hit single “Nobody”, by The Wonder Girls, and “You’re The One That I Want” from the Grease soundtrack, the mob grabbed the attention of many passers-by.

People stopped to observe the sight unfolding in front of them, whipping out their hand phones and cameras in an instant to record the unusual event.

The largest flash mob locally in the central business district, these flash-mobbers have once again succeeded in bringing the phenomenon into the spotlight. The concept was first created in New York, and has been occurring locally since 2003.

“I think this is a great form of entertainment. It’s lunchtime and these people are dancing for me. This definitely adds colours to our boring city life,” said Larry Tan, a 51-year-old accountant.

In a poll of 20 people, 13 respondents agreed flash mobs is an “interesting” way of spicing up life. Four people thought it was “no big deal ”, and three said originality “can be improved”.

Flash mobs involve groups of people, usually organized online or through word-of-mouth, gathering in a particular place to carry out a spontaneous act. The mob disperses as soon as the act is done.

On June 13 this year, roughly 200 participants turned up for Singapore’s First Bloggers’ Flash Mob hosted by Nuffnang, an online advertising blog community.

“People enjoy doing things together. But they also want their collective efforts being seen by others… the participants simply want to raise the public’s attention on certain things ,” professor Zhang Weiyu, who studies behaviours associated with new media, in the NUS Communications and New Media department, said.

“Flash mobs function as a voice of society. People participate because they believe in the cause; people are sending a message. They participate because they’re free and it’s fun, but they also think of their actions and how it makes sense, which defines the relevance of flash mobs in society,” NUS Sociology professor Ho Kong Chong, said.

However, not everyone is ready to accept flash mobs. “What’s the big deal about flash mobs? The Michael Jackson tribute in Ion Orchard is pathetic compared to what you see on Youtube from many other countries. Singaporeans just like to copy people,” Jane Lim, a 21-year-old undergraduate, said.

Vincent Chen, a 27-year-old teacher, agreed and said, “People elsewhere are using flash mobs as tools against political campaigns, and to raise awareness about global warming. They had a flash mob to pillow fight. How reflective of our society is that?”

Indeed, while flash mobs may not be entirely reflective of current societal issues, it does highlight an emerging trend.

“It’s the new age of social media, portable media, instant messaging, and response. The idea of media is important because it adds the element of instant convenience to older notions of participation. It’s akin to the past, where you pass out flyers to make a stand, except now you create a new version that gets your message across instantaneously,” Ho said.

Increasingly, companies have come to recognize the ability of flash mobs to generate publicity.

“Its spontaneity helps up the buzz factor, making it intriguing for onlookers. People take videos, post them on Youtube… then you reach out to more people through viral sharing. However, it isn’t always effective because when corporate objectives are included in the mix, the media might be less keen about covering it,” Florence Ang, managing director of a public relations firm, said.

While flash mobs may be useful for raising awareness among those present, local media coverage remains low. The spontaneity lost in the planning and execution process reduces the impressiveness of flash mobs.

“Once I know that it’s planned, it isn’t inspiring anymore. The ‘wow’ factor is gone. It’s best when it remains impromptu, then it’s exciting,” Silas Lee, a 21-year-old student said.

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Written by mtrayu

November 8, 2009 at 8:23 am

Riding on the Korean Wave

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By: Lim Peiwen

Mabel Chua, 20, devotes three hours every Saturday learning the Korean Language. She sacrifices time socializing with her friends for watching Korean dramas and just last month, she spent 200 dollars on the front seat tickets of the concert of her favourite Korean boy band.

She is not the only one who is spending their time and money on Korean entertainment. In the past few years, Korean films, pop music and television dramas have gained popularity in Singapore, a phenomenon known as the Korean Wave.

The Korean Music Festival held at Singapore Indoor Stadium last November has attracted a total of 6,800 fans. According to music retailer HMV customer service officer, Jerry Wong, the majority of customer enquiries recently were about the launch dates of albums by Korean artistes.

More Singaporeans are listening to Korean pop music, learning the dance moves from Korean music videos, and even travelling to other countries to attend concerts by Korean artistes.

Sharon Ang, 18, a student from Temasek Polytechnic, said that the reason why she likes Korean music is because these songs have fast and catchy tunes that are easy to follow and to dance along. She also finds the melody of Korean ballads heart-rending.

Similarly, Chua, a supporter of Korean groups, takes a liking for these Korean artistes before even listening to their songs. She feels that these multi-talented Korean bands possess certain traits that other singers do not have.

“They are not only good-looking; they are also the best singers and dancers around. I can see that they have put in a lot more effort than others, especially during the training before they debut. This makes me love them more as I can see that fame does not come so easily,” Chua added.

Ng Li Ting, a teaching assistant in the National University of Singapore, who is writing a thesis about the Korean wave, thinks that the strategies used by Korean music producers are the main reasons behind Korean artistes’ popularity.

“Koreans have done relatively well in “packaging” these pop stars and groups, making sure they are endowed with the looks and sounds that appeal to the young crowd,” she added.

Another driving force behind the popularity of Korean pop music may be the easy access of information about Korean artistes. Websites such as baidu and tieba facilitate the free downloading of Korean songs, and soompi.com and allkpop.com provide news about Korean celebrities.

Official fan club sites and forums set up by fans from all over the world provide up-to-date information about Korean artistes, so fans can track the news of their favourite Korean celebrities with just a click of the mouse. Online communities such as http://omonatheydidnt.livejournal.com allow fans from all over the world to post entries about anything related to Korean celebrities.

Ang agrees that these information contributes to the sustained interest she has for these Korean pop stars. “I get all the updates when I visit these sites. I can even listen to their songs and watch their videos online for free,” she added.

However, the hype about Korean music cannot be generalized to everyone. Undergraduate Christopher Wong, 23, thinks that it is meaningless to listen to songs which he does not understand.

“Even if there is translation for these Korean dramas and songs, most of its original meaning is lost in the translation process,” he said.

Chi Seo Won, who is currently teaching the Korean language in the National University of Singapore, is sceptical of the sudden increase in undergraduates’ interest in learning Korean.

“Through the songs or dramas, fans might have a wrong perception or narrowed view of Korean culture,” she said. She added that only by maintaining an interest for Korean culture as a whole and not merely being engaged in Korean stars will sustain this Korean wave.

Ang, who has only just started listening to Korean music said that it is possible for her to stop liking Korean stars and stop listening to Korean songs in a few months’ time.

“It all depends on what is popular then. It might even be Thai pop for all you know,” Ang added.

Written by mtrayu

November 8, 2009 at 8:21 am