Joko and Metallica: Why are Singapore leaders so boring?

Sense And Nonsense - by Tan Bah Bah



Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, Metallica fan. Serious. That news picture showing a smiling Indonesian president as he received from the Danish PM on Wednesday a re-mastered box set of US heavy metal band Metallica’s 1986 album Master of Puppets made my week – and set me thinking.

A spokesman said the Indonesia’s leader was “pleasantly surprised” by the unusual diplomatic gift from Danish counterpart Lars Lokke Rasmussen, who was in Jakarta on an official visit. The box set was signed by Metallica drummer and Danish native Lars Ulrich, a founding member. The 56-year-old Jokowi is a well-known Metallica fan – several years ago he received a signed guitar from the band’s bassist Robert Trujillo. He plays a bit of rock guitar himself and often wears Metallica T-shirts, like any smitten fan.

I hope my Malay friends will not hantam me but talk about a Mat Rocker, bro! Rock on!

Lyrics from Metallica’s The Unforgiven:
“What I’ve felt, what I’ve known
Never shined through in what I’ve shown
Never be. Never see
Won’t see what might have been
What I’ve felt, what I’ve known
Never shined through in what I’ve shown
Never free, never me
So I dub thee unforgiven.”

Jokowi is not the only Asian leader who is a devoted and unabashed fan of pop/rock musicians. The former Japanese PM Junichiro Koizumi was an admirer of Elvis Presley. This was what he wrote to the Elvis Presley Fan Club (Tokyo):

“Yes, I really love Elvis…. He is the best and a class by himself when he sings rock or ballad or any type of songs. I never get tired of listening no matter how many times I hear him over more than 40 years in my life. Above all, I like his songs, say, ‘I Want You, I Need You, I Love You’, ‘Hawaiian Wedding Song’ and ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’.  Whoops! I almost forgot to say this: my birthday is January 8, the same day of Elvis.”

As far as I have read and known, not one of the three prime ministers we have had so far has ever shown any such passion for anything that any ordinary Singaporean can relate to. Playing a round of golf or two is to me nothing one wants to boast about in politics.

Former President Ong Teng Cheong was a good pianist. And we all know his wife’s favourite song was Teresa Teng’s The Moon Represents My Heart. Former Speaker Tan Soo Khoon can sing and play the guitar. I saw him doing a decent stage rendition of The Drifters’ Save The Last Dance For Me. He managed to get the crowd on their feet with this song at a National Museum function sometime in the 1990s.  And I once went down to a pub in Katong to check on a tip off that the late Law Minister Edward Barker liked to pop in every Thursday to jam with some musicians there.  And so he did, complete with his special Fender guitar, and an impromptu backup band.

Other than these people, I strongly suspect most of our leaders do not seem to have any sort of real life or interesting passion that they can happily or proudly share with the public. They are unbelievably one-dimensional and even cardboardish.

This is why they cannot genuinely connect with people and tend to talk down or be dismissive of rather than be part of them.

Or if they even attempt to relate, say, through Facebook, they come out sounding fake and contrived, as if they are paying someone to do the job for them (which they most likely are). Or worse, they depend on ghostwriters who themselves are group-thinkers totally out of touch with the ground.

Blind following the blind.

You know, it is quite scary. We don’t know anything very much about the so-called 4G leaders from whom would emerge the next PM. They have shared next to nothing about their growing up passions which can resonate with others, the way Jokowi and Koizumi have.

No colour, no personality, sadly uninspiring.

Liu Thye Ker 2.0

Great that Liu Thye Ker is setting up his own firm, with the aim of trying to imbue younger architects with his work philosophy and design ethos. In other words, the former Mr HDB and “architect of modern Singapore” wants to show how cities and spaces should be ultimately liveable and be part of an evolving story, whatever the design concept.

Liu has had important stints as head honcho of the HDB and URA. He has considerable influence over the development of the country’s architectural landscape.

I am a bit mystified that he, as a person who believes in preserving and promoting local colour, could not prevent the tearing down of at least two iconic buildings – the National Theatre and the grand Adelphi Hotel.

Other than that, I wish him every success in his new endeavour. At least he has passion.

Sense And Nonsense is a weekly series. Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.


  1. The difference is that Singapore’s politicians are like their Thai counterparts, 99% are from wealthy families. Do you think these people are well connected with the ordinary people? Do you think such people will just drop by the local market and say hello to the people on an ordinary day?

    • Yeah ! They do but of course they do it by delineating the common man on the street !!! The wayang is repulsive and insulting especially coming from Gov. officers , these elitist supremacy gov. officers is just too out of touch with the common men on the street !!! Even when they try , their facial and body expression exults such an awkwardness that come across to the people that they are fake !!!
      But of course there are some who are genuinely sincere and at ease when mingling with their residences , one that come across my mind is the DPM Mr. Tharman . He is just so himself when having coffee and chatting with his assistants at the coffee shop . No shooing away common people , no barring of people from buying food from stalls located near where he is sitting…..a hello and handshake , engaging in short chit-chats with well wishers regardless who they are …..if only his colleague can learn from him , his unassuming manners when he is present with his common men .

  2. Because what you see is not what it is!!! All a put up facade to be socially and politically correct!!! Just no self confidence!!! Have to protect their million dollar income!!!!

  3. If our leaders listened to Metallica – these 2 albums will rank tops “Ride the Lightning” and “Master of Puppets”. For Singaporeans our fave song will be “Welcome Home Sanitarium “.

  4. Our founding fathers devoted their life to develop The Lion City..thus becomes BRIGHT RED DOT on international map. Music and entertainment is secondary …i think.

  5. Don’t be fooled by politicians. Their public/private persona may be contradictory. A wise old Texan once said never trust Lawyers, Politicians & Priests

  6. U just watch them on NDP… all like robots siol… wave the mini flag to the songs also out of tempo(timing/rythmn) …. when they do guard of honor inspection… they walk like zombies siol… even the zombies from THE WALKING DEAD walks with more life n style xmas merry‼️

  7. Our PM and ministers are not boring, because they think themselves as elites and shld not mix with the worldly things..they think themselves as demi-gods..earning big money and staying in expensive houses..

  8. Our LEEder are born with platinum spoon and never wat h TV ot listen to radio. What they are brought up to is how to fix opponents so that they can continue to control SG as a SG Pte Leemited

  9. Not a fan of LHL, but I suppose if he starts taking photos that showcase his interests, most likely we are going to condemn him for being pretentious and spending far too much time on trivial stuff and too little time on important national matters.

    On another note, is Jokowi an effective and efficient leader because he’s a “happening” politician who enjoys rock music? Does being “happening” make a effective politician? I wonder…

  10. Our Leaders only know how to Suck $$$ from the Citizens n Bullshits. Especially this white termite leader who walk with cross leg don’t hold an electronic microphone, he only know how tp hold a human microphone.

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