The Ultimate S-Pop Playlist

Move aside, Taylor Swift. Local music is taking over.

If you think the local music scene is experiencing a renaissance of sorts, you’re not alone. The level of support and attention that local musicians are receiving today hasn’t been matched in years. Names like Gentle Bones and The Sam Willows are listed as favourites by Singaporeans next to the likes of Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande. Even cynics are now adding these songs to their Spotify playlists (secretly, duh). Speaking of which, check out the Spotify playlist we embedded at the bottom of this article. 

Here are some songs we think every Singaporean should give a shot. Don’t be surprised if you – like us – go, “This actually sounds really good.” You can check out the respective music videos by clicking on their images, or enjoy the playlist on YouTube.

1. Geniuses & Thieves – Gentle Bones

With the release of this song and the EP of the same name, Joel Tan, more commonly known by his stage name Gentle Bones, sealed his status as the Prince of S-Pop. While the title track was initially embroiled in controversy – Tan was accused of copying indie American band Made in Heights, though it was later revealed (to our relief) that the band gave GB permission to sample their song “Wildflower” – it went on to achieve palpable success. The singer-songwriter also performed the hit at his sold-out concerts, to the delight of his (mostly teenage) fans, including us.

2. Electricity – Nathan Hartono

There’s no escaping this heartthrob. With his boyish charm and sleek vocals, ‘It’ boy Nathan Hartono won over the judges on Sing! China (including Mandopop juggernaut and mentor Jay Chou, no less) and proud Singaporeans alike. His single “Electricity” boasts that same energy and appeal. The singer, who debuted in 2005, made the finals of the competition under mentor Chou, and we’re still not over the shady shenanigans that went down with regard to the voting process in the finale. No worries though, Hartono looks poised for even greater success in 2017.

3. Knots – Charlie Lim

Singer-songwriter Charlie Lim is hailed as one of Singapore’s most talented musicians, even by his peers. With his soulful vocals shining in this song, it is not difficult to see why he is considered the crème de la crème of the current crop of artists. “Knots”, a fan favourite off Lim’s EP Time/Space, and its catchy chorus is guaranteed to have you hitting the repeat button more than once. Just remember to grab a couple of tissues while you’re at it.

4. For Love – The Sam Willows

“For Love” is the second single off The Sam Willows’ debut album Take Heart. Departing from the dance number that was the lead single, this song presents a quieter side of the Dynamic Quartet that long-time fans would be familiar with. The song’s heartfelt lyrics, paired with the heartwarming music video about a mother’s battle with cancer (mirroring the real-life experience of the Kheng siblings), touched the hearts of listeners everywhere. We might have also shed a tear or two while watching the video. It’s no surprise that vocalist Narelle Kheng named it her favourite song off the album.

5. Some They Lie – Narelle Kheng

Speaking of Narelle, the younger sibling of Benjamin Kheng released her debut single, “Some They Lie”, earlier this year. Narelle bares her soul (and some skin in the music video) in this melancholic ballad, where she sings about the pains of a heartbreak and the darker side of relationships. Is this the beginning of a much-anticipated solo career? We’ve already heard chatter about Kheng being groomed to be Singapore’s Selena Gomez.

6. Bit of Your Love – Gareth Fernandez

gareth fernandez

“Bit of Your Love” is the latest offering from Gareth Fernandez, who has been touted as Singapore’s answer to Bruno Mars. We can definitely see the similarities – Fernandez oozes charm, confidence and, dare we say, sexiness. This feel-good tune with its catchy lyrics will surely chase away those Monday blues and make that morning commute a little more bearable. The single has also gotten considerable traction on Spotify, garnering almost a half a million streams since its launch. Seems like audiences are giving him a lot more than a bit of their love.

7. Echoes – Gayle Nerva

When she’s not starring in Ch 5’s series Tanglin or sending beautifully-made fan art to Oprah and Ellen (even earning a shout-out on Ellen’s Instagram!), you can find singer-songwriter Gayle Nerva posting new music online, such as on her YouTube channel where she has garnered both local and international fans. Nerva’s latest single is this groovy electro-pop song, continuing her streak of releasing original music. While we miss the acoustic covers she used to post, we (and many others) are majorly digging her singles so far.

8. In My Hand – ShiGGa Shay

While we love ShiGGa Shay’s trademark Singlish-laced anthems like “Tapau” and “Lion City Kia”, Singapore’s leading rapper delivers just as well channeling hip-hop powerhouses Lil Wayne and Drake in his latest single. Alcohol references? Check. Party references? Check. Dope drop? Check. Talk about a lit AF track, bruv. This is exactly what we want to see in the local hip-hop scene.

9. YAYA – THELIONCITYBOY feat. Benjamin Kheng

Another rapper with an affiliation to the Lion City is THELIONCITYBOY (aka Kevin Lester), who released this bop featuring the vocals of resident hottie Benjamin Kheng. Inspired by his wife, Aarika Lee, the lead single of his album Paradise is about him falling in love with how, well, yaya she is. In an interview with Today, the singer revealed that “she’s a bit loud; she has this big character. Sometimes, when you meet people like that, the first meeting doesn’t go so well. […] But there’s just something that still attracts you to that person.” Now that we think about it, we all know someone yaya like that, don’t we?

10. I’ll Be Waiting – Disco Hue

Nostalgia returns in full force in this ’80s delight, courtesy of the aptly-named band Disco Hue. Sounding fresh off the airwaves of yesteryears, “I’ll Be Waiting” transports us back in time to when clubs were called… discos. Bring out your hoop earrings and bell bottoms and show off your best ‘point’ dance moves. Rock out with your disco balls out, kids! (Random side note: We’re going to miss Mambo Jambo at Jiak Kim so much.)

11. Fire to the Floor – Sezairi

If you’re a fan of Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop The Feeling”, you’ll love this single by Singapore Idol alum Sezairi Sezali too. Seriously, both songs sound like they were baked in the same oven. Filled with funk and energy, you’ll find yourself snapping along to the snazzy beats mere seconds into the song. By the time the chorus kicks in, you’ll be breaking out into a full-on dance. This song is – pun unintended – fire! (Also, has it already been 8 years since he was crowned the winner of Singapore Idol?!)

12. Hour – Jude Young

The latest single by budding singer Jude Young explores the all-too-painful experience of missed connections and heartbreak. The song also features lyrics that are almost cinematic, which has come to be his signature style. Young, who recently signed a distribution deal with Warner Music Group, continues to gain traction with his music, with all three of his latest singles breaking the Top 10 on Singapore’s iTunes chart.

13. MouseDeer – iNCH

While we usually relate Pulau Ubin to mosquito bites and cheap bicycle rentals, the sights and sounds of the little island inspired indie singer-songwriter Inch Chua’s fourth album, Letters to Ubin. Let the airy tune and Inch’s equally melodious voice in “MouseDeer” transport you to the idyllic shores of Singapore’s beautiful offshore island. Describing herself as a “musical nomad,” Chua spent four months on the island in order to draw inspiration for this album. On her website, she compares herself to the animal, described to be “private and mysterious, yet when revealed is honest and vulnerable – a contradiction of meekness and artfulness.”

14. In Your Arms – Take Two

From jamming in their university’s studio to playing for large audiences all over Southeast Asia and China (and even releasing an EP, Pairs), this indie-pop group known as Take Two have got good things going for them. “In Your Arms” is the second single off the EP, and the upbeat melody makes us want to kick off our shoes and break into a little jig. Check out the music video featuring magical effects courtesy of the Pixelstick, a light-painting tool used in the film. While band member John recently did a Zayn Malik, the remaining foursome still proved a force to be reckoned with, killing their set at the F1 Singapore GP Concert. Speaking of which, this song is perfect for night drives.

15. Better – Sam Rui

Another star on the rise is indie-R&B singer-songwriter Samantha Rui (or as we’ve come to know her, Sam Rui). Come January next year, Rui will perform alongside international artists at the widely received, hipster-approved St Jerome’s Laneway Festival. “Better”, which topped Spotify’s Singapore Viral 50 playlist, features Rui’s captivating vocals coupled with the sensual R&B melody, and we just can’t get enough of it. We can definitely expect to see more of Rui and her songs in the local and international music scene.

16. Sticky Leaves – Lin Ying

Singapore’s genre-bending indie-pop-folk-EDM star has been featured by the likes of Europe’s KRONO and Felix Jaehn. “Sticky Leaves”, which features her recognizable velvety voice, chalked up over an impressive million streams on Spotify, even breaking into the Spotify Global Viral chart. In an interview with Billboard, the singer-songwriter revealed that the song was her way of coming to terms with the “disillusion and disappointment… growing out of my teenage years and learning to live life out.”

17. Kings (feat. Gentle Bones) – MMXJ

Heads up, folks, there is a new DJ in the local EDM scene. DJ-producer MJ Kuok, better known as MMXJ (which are the initials of him and his brothers), released his debut album Into the Wild alongside lead single “Kings”, which was co-written with Gentle Bones. The song was also Kuok’s source of hope and encouragement during difficult times. As with the songs in the rest of the album, the former Singapore Idol finalist aims to inspire his listeners through his music. With “Kings”, Kuok hopes to “encourage anyone going through self-doubt to learn to trust and love himself.”

18. Weak – Daphne Khoo

Last but definitely not the least, the lovable Daphne Khoo (who is yet another Singapore Idol alum on this list) made her mark with her EP Wonderland. The ironically-titled single “Weak” shows off Khoo’s vulnerability and fighting spirit. Inspired by the personal struggles she faced, Khoo’s raw emotion and positivity is perfectly summed up by this ballad that gives Demi Lovato’s “Skyscraper” a run for its money. This one’s a real tearjerker; don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Listen to the playlist here: