‘The Voice’ draws flak for Mandarin fluency requirement in Singapore

The Voice Singapore/Malaysia. — Picture by mm2 Entertainment
The Voice Singapore/Malaysia. — Picture by mm2 Entertainment

SINGAPORE, May 9 — Reality singing contest The Voice Singapore/Malaysia has drawn brickbats from netizens because of a competition rule stating that contestants must be fluent in Mandarin.

While participants may be of any nationality or race, they must also be able sing in Mandarin in order to qualify for the show, the producers said on Friday.

Fans of the show took to Facebook and Twitter to say that such rules for Singapore and Malaysia’s version of The Voice — best known for its US version, with judges such as Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine at the helm — are discriminatory.

The Voice here is co-produced by mm2 Entertainment, StarHub and Malaysian TV provider, Astro. mm2 said in a press statement on Monday that “each market needs to determine the specific language that will be used”.

The Voice, which has versions around the world, is produced in a variety of languages that ranges from Dutch to Korean, as well as English.

“mm2 Entertainment acquired the licence to produce the The Voice in Mandarin in Singapore and Malaysia,” said an mm2 press statement.

A spokesman added that producers decided on the Mandarin format “based on the assessment that it is most commercially viable”.

“Accordingly, the ability of the contestants to communicate effectively in Mandarin (is) a necessity,” according to the press statement.

Although the line-up of judges has not been confirmed, they will be predominately Mandarin-speaking, added the spokesman. “Contestants are required to engage (with) the judges extensively, including during (the) coaching sessions which are integral to the show’s format,” he said.

The spokesman said that singers would be allowed to perform “songs in other languages”, although songs in dialect, such as Cantonese, are not allowed. The spokesman explained that according to broadcasting regulations in Singapore, there are restrictions on the use of dialect on television. The Infocomm Media Development Authority states in its Subscription Television Programme Code that “all content on Chinese services must be in Mandarin”. The code states that “Chinese dialect is allowed in content of other languages if used sparingly and the context justifies usage”.

Award-winning Singapore musician Bani Haykal weighed in on the issue of commercial viability in a series of Twitter posts, noting that for The Voice here, “the end game is... about the potential to export talent”.

Record producer Ken Lim, executive director of Hype Records and a Singapore Idol judge, said that “the track record” for singers here “has been proven”: Talent here must appeal to audiences regionally, if they are to be commercially successful.

Singers such as Tanya Chua — who released her first album, in English, in 1997 — have done well when making a switch to Mandarin.

Chua released her first Mandarin album in 1998. Since then, she has released 10 Mandarin albums and won three Golden Melody awards, and is now based in Taiwan.

Lim and Haykal noted that singers working in English would have to compete in the Australian, United States or British markets — and face very stiff competition.

Thus, shows such as The Voice here look for those who “can feed the general Chinese market”, wrote Haykal. — TODAY

Related Articles