Chinese Identity and the Quest for Cool Among Singaporean Chinese Musicians

  • Juliette Yu-Ming LizerayEmail author


In the current climate when Singapore is gaining awareness of its own version of “Chineseness” (not to forget Malayness, Indianness and Eurasianness of course), it is an opportunity to redefine these concepts from the ground up. Younger generations are leading the way in the formation of our nation’s new contemporary identities, and it is their voices that we must hear. Since music is a potent means by which people—both creators and listeners—express their identity and define their own culture, this chapter sets out to discover what several young, emerging music groups have to say about their own Chinese identity and how they express it in their music. We focus on a few case studies of Singaporean Chinese musicians in Singapore and abroad. On the home front, which is the focus of the first part of the chapter, we examine several contemporary Chinese instrumentalist ensembles, notably Nen 念, MUSA and SA(仨), who are engaging, in various ways, with top-down constructs of Chinese “highbrow” culture while being extremely plugged into local youth-driven pop culture and its notions of cool. They navigate Singapore’s system of “racial” and cultural classification in ways that allow them to create alternative spaces for the expression of hybrid identities. In a sense, they are playing an interesting role of bridging the gap between policymakers and young people’s interests and identities. In the second part of the chapter, we consider expatriated Singaporean Chinese musicians who are also actively exploring and deploying their own Chinese cultural capital in their discourse and music. The music groups I focus on, namely, Yllis and TZECHAR, bring the discussion to a new level with their perspectives on identity politics in relation to wider geopolitical questions. They also contribute their views on representing Chineseness and honouring their “roots” while embracing a kind of postmodern nondeterminism.


Chineseness Cool Identity formation Agency Heritage Globalisation Traditional Chinese instruments Fusion Postmodernism 

Supplementary material

TZECHAR Presents_ A Thuggin’ Journey (mp4 310kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Institute of EducationNanyang Technological UniversitySingaporeSingapore

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