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“So much has changed, so much has stayed the same” wrote Nathan Hartono, in an Instagram post where he shared an old picture of his 15-year-old self, during his salad days, performing on stage. Indeed, despite the global fame and increased attention fixated on his every move, ever since he got into the top 48 and subsequently the final 6 and second place in Chinese reality programme, Sing! China, Nathan is still, thankfully, very much the same ol’ Nathan, or at least, he tries to be.
For someone who has 11 years of performing experience under his belt, the opportunity to join Sing! China couldn’t have come at a better timing. He was in the right place at the right time – and thankfully, the right age too, said Nathan. “If I did it at 16 or 17, I’d be a mess. Man, the amount of things we go through for the show – it’s a very intensive schedule, the amount of attention that’s placed on it is overwhelming, almost. It’s a lot to take in and the online response can get a bit… interesting,” he shared.
Nathan arrived home on Sunday night to a mini reception of over 30 fans on Sunday night and spent the last 24 hours basically being himself. Recounted Nathan, during an interview with Toggle this morning, “I hid from the world and did my own thing – played video games with friends, laid in bed all day, cut my dog’s hair for a bit (laughs) ‘cos it gets in her face, watched a movie, hung out with friends. You know, just taking a break from everything.”
A well-deserved break too, if we may add.
For the most part, Nathan is still the “derpy” chap who very much enjoys making fun of himself or his dog, from time to time, as seen on his last Instagram post yesterday (see below left picture). And he wants to stay the same, for as long as he possibly can on social media, which he believes should be an expression of himself. “I don’t want to be a brand, a figure or a celebrity – I want to be a human on social media.”
Gotta love Nathan's sense of humour. Photos: Nathan Hartono/Instagram
The outpouring of attention and support, while appreciated, doesn’t change anything, said Nathan, except the privacy settings on his and his family members’ social media accounts.
“Nowadays, everyone’s on social media – my parents included. I’m starting to see photos that I didn’t post but they did on social media. So I advised them a couple of weeks ago to just privatise everything,” he quipped, “I don’t quite know what to think about that, but I just hope the audience is going to be respectful of the boundaries.”
So, what are the perks of being known as the Nathan Hartono who made it into the Sing! China finals today?
“It’s literally been like days since the finals, it’s still very early to say what’s happening, but definitely there’s a lot more social media attention, a lot more offers in general… I take what’s relevant and what’s interesting and other than that, I try not to be too much of an… influencer? Is that the word for it? I try not to do those things too much.”
While it’s still too early to say what exactly are the “perks” of being Nathan, the Indonesian-Chinese singer lets in on the “perils” (read: an up-close and very awkward fan experience) of being Nathan and the ‘scion’ of Tung Lok group, his upcoming music EP plans, and what a China career means to him now.
Read on for more!
WATCH: Nathan performs one of his favourite Jay Chou songs
Toggle: How did you destress when things got too overwhelming and pressurising?
Nathan: I’d go out for runs every once in a while, which is hard in China ‘cos the air quality can be a bit questionable and the PSI can be quite high, so sometimes I can’t go out for runs. If I’m in Singapore, I’d go into a YouTube rabbit hole but it’s hard to do it there ‘cos of VPN (virtual private networks) and firewall – I’d be lucky if I can get a video in 144P sometimes. So I brought a hard drive with all my favourite music and stuff in there. It wasn’t too tough.
Do you think your 11 years of performing experience gave you an edge over your competitors?
Oh yeah, stage experience will always help. The one comment I get is you’re so comfortable blah blah blah. But being on stage at this point is.. um, if any of you out there ever performed, you’d know that nerves are a huge factor. You rehearse and get everything right, but you go out there and nerves will cut back on it. It kind of builds that tolerance for nerves and for all the undesirable factors of performance.
Apart from fluency in language, what is one thing you’re envious about that the other competitors have that you don’t?
It was mostly the language, because language has so much to do with art and music and how you interpret and perceive music and art. It wasn’t just communicating with people which I can do for the most part. But language goes much deeper than that, if you speak a language well and incorporate it with music, it becomes a much more effective form of communication, I guess? People can just sing in Mandarin naturally, [but] for the most part, I had to manufacture them, I had to take the songs back home, translate them properly ‘cos there’s a lot of idioms, and make sure I know what the emotional beats are on - instead of just knowing that naturally.
(Continued on next page: Is Nathan more self-conscious now, given his newfound fame?)
Given your newfound fame after going on Sing! China, are you more self-conscious about how you behave?
Argh, I try not to think of those type of things because I’ve been around for a while and you know, I guess the added attention these days kind of just… I don’t quite know how to feel about it. In China it was kind of challenging sometimes, especially at the airport because people are starting to recognise me a bit more and better. And I prefer airports to be a much more solitary experience because you have to go through a lot of nonsense at the airport, and I’m grumpy and it’s usually a really early or late flight, so the less human interaction the better?
But the last time I was at the airport in Shanghai, there were people taking pictures – which is fine, I’m always down for a photo, but they were taking photos of me without [asking] me… And it gets pretty blatant - they would take a photo right in front of me. It’s terribly awkward. And at some point I had to repack my luggage cos it’s a bit overweight and it’s a very cumbersome process: I have to get down on the floor, pack my luggage, take out some stuff and put it in my backpack. Sure enough, 10 minutes later I see it on social media and it’s me on the floor, packing stuff. Ok cool – that’s something I have to get used to now. In Singapore, I’m fairly used to getting stalked every once in a while, but it’s usually a pretty niche audience, but now I guess it’s tougher to be as nondescript.
With the media limelight focused on you these days, is it troubling that everyone identifies you as the scion of Tung Lok group?
My family owns a restaurant business in Singapore, but for the most part I’ve been functioning independently for a very long time now. I’ve been able to—luckily enough—for the last few years, earn a decent name through music. I’m very lucky to be able to do that. The one single time that I worked at the restaurant was when my brother, who manages this branch called ‘Dancing Crab’, and he was short-staffed a couple of weeks back, so I just helped out in the kitchen, did some food running. Other than that I’ve never been involved in the business in any other way.
WATCH: Will Nathan be collaborating with Jay soon?
Because of a joke you made, Milo sent a van to Plaza Singapura last Friday. Is that a possible endorsement opportunity on the horizon?
I have no idea. I only spoke to the people at Nestle yesterday and they’ve been functioning independently without me, which I’m more than happy about – get the people together and if we can provide free Milo, why not? But we haven’t discussed anything in particular.
We also hear that you’re working on a new EP with Warner Music, which will contain both English and Chinese tracks. Is this still in the pipelines?
Oh yeah. So far we’ve finished recording all the English stuff already, I still need to mix in and finalise everything, but I haven’t been able to actively work on it for the past two to three months, I think. I need to go back in and start figuring those songs out. Definitely have some intentions to add some Chinese material in it too.
What about the chance of collaborating with your mentor Jay Chou on this upcoming EP?
Oh, very small (laughs). Collaborations with Jay in the future are inevitable I guess, because I respect him as a musician and I believe he respects me as a performer, musician. We genuinely have like good exchanges about music and this is off camera. We spoke about possible projects in the future – I don’t quite know what’s going to happen and I don’t want to say… ‘cos I don’t want to get people excited over nothing.
Nathan strums a tune for Toggle during his interview session.
Any intentions to shift your career focus to China?
I think it’d be a waste to not approach the China market. I don’t know if that’d be the sole focus; I still think there are a lot of interesting things happening in the local scene, but the ceiling here is particularly low – in South East Asia, in general. I still want to make music here – I think this is a good place to set a base – we have a lot of talented musicians, all the great recording studios and all the great producers. We live in an internet age, I don’t have to be in one particular spot. But China is definitely gonna be in the pipelines – I’m never not going back there. There are advantages now to be known in the Chinese market but still primarily be an English singer.
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