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TOC Report: Bureacratic muddle leads to canning of International Fringe Festival event

Posted by theonlinecitizen on January 27, 2008

By Choo Zheng Xi

Members of the Singapore Complaints Choir have an additional grievance to add to their future lyric sheets: they have been effectively muzzled by the city state’s police.

The arrival of the Finnish ‘Complaints Choir’ in Singapore was an eagerly anticipated component of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2008. The Singapore leg of the Complaints Choir was billed as the first Asian Complaints Choir to be organized.

Now, the Choir’s experience will be remembered as a first for a very different reason: it was effectively banned from performing in public by the police because of foreign members’ participation in the choir. (See the choir’s press release below).

About the choir

The Complaints Choir began in Finland in 2005. It recruits volunteers from the communities it travels to and cobbles together common complaints into lyrical public performances. Volunteers hold workshops to compile thousands of complaints and select and then turn the most resonant ones into a performance piece.

The Complaints Choir has performed in Helsinki, Birmingham, Hamburg, and St Petersburg. (See video below)

In Singapore, the choir had planned public performances at the Speaker’s Corner, Vivo City, The Esplanade, a HDB estate in Eunos, and City Plaza Complex.

Initial approval, then confusion

The choir had sent in their lyrics for approval and been cleared by the MDA. MDA then granted performance licenses to the choir.

Almost a month of rehearsals went by without incident. It was only two or three days before the first performance date that a different government department started making life difficult for the choir.

The police demanded that a handful of foreigners and Permanent Residents (PRs) remove themselves from the performance on the basis that they should not be commenting on local affairs.

Considering the choir’s conductor was Malaysian, and a handful of Finnish professional singers were in the choir, the choir was faced with the tough choice of having to decide whether or not to cancel the performance totally, or continue singing with reduced capacity.

Fortunately, the The Arts House management helped the choir to circumvent the police regulation: they opened up the Old Parliament House debating chamber for a private showcase of the choir. Essentially, the only difference between this and a public performance was the indoor venue, and the requirement that members of the public had to register. (See here)

However, the authorities’ vacillation and hamfisted tactics have already been resentfully noted by members of the arts community, and have been most deeply felt by the members of the choir.

A statement on the website of the Complaints Choir read:

“The Singaporean police did not want to issue a permission to perform in public if foreign choir members don´t step out from the choir. The choir has few members who are permanently living in Singapore but who are not citizens.”

In their private performance at The Arts House, many of the choir members expressed frustration and bewilderment at the police’s decision. One local choir member TOC spoke to said that the initial reaction to the police’s ultimatum was ‘shock and depression’. She further described the whole experience as leaving her feeling ‘embittered’.

In physics, every force has an opposite and equal reaction. In politics, the reaction is likely to be magnified dramatically.

Ironically, while the police might have managed to clamp down on the choir’s public performance, interest in the choir is likely to skyrocket as a result of this fiasco. Expect to be able to watch the choir’s full performance on YouTube soon.

The Complaints Choir will be having its final private performance at The Chamber, Old Parliament House this Sunday. The best way to honor the choir’s hard work is a supportive full house.

TOC is reproducing the lyrics of the Complaints Choir Singapore performance below. Foreigners reading them aloud are advised not to do so in public, as it might constitute interference in our domestic politics.

Read Reuters’ report – “Singapores stops foreigners from singing complaints.”

Also Channel NewAsia’s report on the project.

The Complaints Choir Singapore Lyrics

We get fined for almost anything
Drivers won’t giver chance when you want to change land
The indoors are cold, the outdoors are hot;
And the humid air, it wrecks my hair
Those answering machines always make you hold
Only to hang up on you

When a pregnant lady gets on the train
Everyone pretends to be asleep
I’m stuck with my parents till I’m 35
Cause I can’t apply for HDB
We don’t recycle any plastic bags
But we purify our pee


What’s wrong with Singapore?
Losing always makes me feel so sore
Cuase ifyou’re not the best
Then you’re just one of the rest
My oh my
What exactly are we voting for?
What’s not expressly permitted
Is prohibited

When I’m hungry at the food court, I see
People chope seats with their tissue paper
To the lady staying upstairs:
Your laundry’s dripping on my bed sheets
Please don’t squat on the toilet seats
And don’t clip your nails on MRT

Stray cats get into noisy affairs
At night my neighbor makes weird animal sounds
People put on fake accents to sound posh
And queue up three hours for donuts
Will I ever I live till eighty five
To collect my CPF?”


Singaporeans too kiasu!
Singaporeans too kiasi!
Singaporeans too kiabor!
Maybe we’re just too stressed out!

Old National Library was replaced by an ugly tunnel
Singaporean men can’t take independent women
People blow their nose into the swimming pool
And fall asleep on my shoulder in the train

Singapore’s national bird is the crane (the one with yellow steel girders)
Real estate agents’ leaflets clogging up my mailbox (en bloc, en bloc, en bloc, en bloc)
Why can’t we be buried when we die?
No one wants to climb Bukit Timah with me


There are not enough public holidays
My neighbour sings KTV all night
Wedding dinners never start on time
My hair is always cut shorter than I want
Channel 5 commercials are way too long
Why do men turn bald?

At first it was to speak more mandarin
Then it was to speak proper English
What’s wrong with my powderful Singlish?

People sit down during rock concerts
We have to pay for tap water at restaurants

ERP gantries are everywhere
But I can still see traffic jams on the road
All the bus stops have tilted benches
Cannot access


The choir’s press release (link)(link):

“We’ve just gotten news about our license application for THE COMPLAINTS CHOIR PROJECT (performances at various public spaces today). While we were given a license, this is a conditional one – no foreigners (i.e. a handful of the participants, the artists themselves and our conductor) are allowed to perform with the Choir. This is across the board and not only applicable for Speaker’s Corner (which has a regulation that states that non-Singaporeans aren’t allowed to perform there).

Naturally, this comes as a total shock to us, but we have discussed this amongst ourselves, with the artists and Choir. It is clear that we all do not want the Choir to be split up in any way.

As such, a few decisions have been made:

1) All public performances will be cancelled. We will put signages at the venues to inform people of this.

2) Instead, we will have private invite-only performances of the full Singapore Complaints Choir on both Sat 26th Jan and Sun 27th Jan, 3pm and 6.30pm at The Chamber at The Arts House.

3) Please help us spread the word to your friends, families and anyone else who is keen to watch the free performances.

4) To obtain invites, interested audience members can email or call The Complaints Choir Hotline at 9690 7453. Alternatively, if you turn up at the venue prior to the show, please let one of us know (we will be at The Chamber). We will issue private-event invitations for the special performances.”




17 Responses to “TOC Report: Bureacratic muddle leads to canning of International Fringe Festival event”

  1. Idiots.

    What the hell, free advertising as always.

  2. Saint Splattergut said

    I like the lyrics…

  3. blackshirt said

    It amazes me how far the first world has reached. It seems that it just left the third world, it is still at the second world, whatever that is.

  4. […] by The Truth in Im Allgemeinen. Tags: Complain Choir trackback Mr. Tan read recently that the Complain Choir has cancelled all their performances due to governmental pressure and would be giving only private invite-only performances with the entire full choir. The […]

  5. Singaporean said

    I don’t like the lyrics…
    Why make fun of Singaporean ?

  6. Gerald said

    Well honestly I’d too prefer not to have a bunch of ang mohs making sarcastic remarks about Singapore. But I’d rather they be allowed sing their jingle first, and then let me criticize them back.

    Sigh…another overreaction by the police. I wonder who is making all these silly calls up there.

  7. farnee said

    This is SO FARNEE. PM Lee can sing on the foreign Davos stage, but a bunch of foreigners cannot sing on the Singapore stage. And with this kind of standard, got cheek to want to be chosen for Youth Olympic. Puuuiiiii ah ! Until we remove section 377A then come and talk lah. Like that tennis star Billie Jean, Olympic multiple Gold Diver Greg Louganis all must go to jail first in Singapore before they can compete is it?

  8. Sick of All This Shit said

    I think the point being made here has been lost on some people.It is not about foreigners criticising Singapore. The lyrics are made up of complaints made by Singaporeans about Singapore.It is about Singaporeans speaking up about Singapore. It is about a need for cartharsis in this screwed up place we have to call home. Even Russia allows this group to perform.God, we are even worse than Putin’s Russia.

  9. Farnee, there’s too much double standards applied in this nation.

  10. […] The Complaints Choir Singapore Lyrics (Source: TOC) […]

  11. Youtuber said

    The unedited live footage of one of the private performances can be found here:

  12. Alan Wong said

    I suppose the Police would have allowed the foreigners to proceed if their choir had sung praises instead of complaints.

    “Anything I can, whatever you cannot” such is the double standards of our Gahmen.

  13. Daniel said

    Singaporean to me (a foreigner): “So how do you find Singapore?”

    We have to be really careful about the answer! It is a trick question! My American friend explained how to answer correctly:

    1. Never say that you like Singapore, because that irritates Singaporeans who are unhappy about their lives, or who imagine that Westerners get better treatment than them
    2. Never say that you don’t like Singapore, because sensitive Singaporeans will feel insulted and proceed to complain about the West. How dare you! America got so many guns one.
    3. So, pick an inconsequential thing to complain about like this: “Singapore is all right, except it is too hot sometimes.” Then, the Singaporean will smile and nod!

  14. guojun said

    No lah, MPs would have turned up…what police?

  15. […] Old Parliament House sans the Finnish professional singers and the Malaysian conductor. This TOC article has the lyrics to the Singapore leg of the Choir as […]

  16. […] Complaints Choir Banned – Baloney and Balls: What? – The Online Citizen: Bureacratic muddle leads to canning of International Fringe Festival event – Die neue Welle: Tales of Mr. Tan VI – The Complain Choir – Ong Jiin Joo: Add one more lyric: […]

  17. […]     Complaints Choir The Choir, having had its lyrics approved by the MDA, sought a PEA licence to perform publicly. The police said they would grant a licence only if the foreigners stepped out. The Choir then decided to perform only privately. See theonlinecitizen, “TOC Report: Bureacratic muddle leads to canning of International Fringe Festival event”. […]

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