By Sammy Tan Han Jie
If you have been active on social media over the past year or so, chances are, you would have stumbled onto one of his works.
From his food guide "The Great Woodlands Industrial Food Run”, which has been shared over 12,000 times on Facebook, to his Spotify chart-topping piano mashup of two Taiwanese hit songs, just to name a few, 18-year-old Lhu Wen Kai has a track record of making things go viral over the past year and a half.
Recently, he has also produced two thought-provoking videos that were massive hits on Facebook - “To The Rich Kid Who Complained About Me Complaining” was meant as a response to elitist remarks Lhu encountered over the GE2015 weekend, while “If You Won’t Vote For Me” is a satirical election campaign speech almost entirely made up of controversial remarks by politicians from Singapore’s ruling party. The former has since received over half a million views*, while the latter, which was uploaded two days before the Bukit Batok by-election polling day, garnered over 90,000 hits in less than 24 hours.
Now, while his name might still not be as synonymous with the mainstream public as say, Roy Ngerng or Amos Yee, the reason I am so intrigued by Lhu’s videos is that they flirt so beautifully between intentional provocation and simply laying out the facts. Let’s get you up to speed in case you haven’t seen them yet.
“To The Rich Kid Who Complained About Me Complaining"
Even till today, this remains one of the best, if not the most powerful, spoken word poem I had seen. It not only presents a case for all of us to check our privilege in an entertaining fashion, it also gives us a sweeping overview of the government’s shortcomings and problematic mindsets over the years. By simply highlighting the major pressing issues the average Singaporean is dealing with right now, he instantaneously made the four-minute clip more relatable and impactful and got people thinking deeply about the society they live in.
I would strongly suggest viewing the video, but if you do not have the time, the following are some of my favorite phrases from the poem:
(5 snapshots of the video with the relevant quotes)
(1) Ask and you shall receive.
Your achievements never flatter to deceive.
I’m sure nothing was handed to you on a plate,
btw, please help me say hi to your maid.
(2) Foreign talent are arriving out of the blue,
400 million worth of scholarships, infiltrating our schools.
Thank your lucky stars that a job is reserved for you,
for you could be jobless like Lui Tuck Yew.
(3) You seem to think with your will, hard work and dedication,
you achieved happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation.
If your heart weren’t as cold as the air-condition,
perhaps you’ll empathise more with the population.
(4) Working like dogs for 50 years,
can’t even retire without any fear.
What can they do besides working for a lower price?
Even the government thinks it’s a “form of exercise”.
(5) The incumbent’s speeches left me in awe,
for they sounded exactly like my mother-in-law.
Gossip, attacks, and gutter politics,
why would you want someone that acts like a d***?
“If You Won’t Vote For Me”
Talk about using people's words against them; this is a satirical campaign speech strung together with elitist and controversial remarks made by the government over the years!
The six-minute clip featured at least 40 of them and boy was it hilarious. I had a great time watching this, alternating between clutching my stomach in laughter and smacking my palm against my forehead. Yes, the idea might seem so simple, but if so, why hasn't anyone done it yet?
It's not as if all 40 quotes appeared overnight. This local satire of the highest order, a skill that's also demonstrated in one of Lhu’s previous articles “Movie Review: Wei Ling v Hsien Loong”, detailing the sibling’s well-documented public feud in the form of a Batman v Superman inspired movie review. At the end of the video, Lhu proceeds to ask, “If you won’t vote for me, why would you vote for the PAP?” With that quote, he pretty much cemented the sheer brilliance of the video.
As per his own words, “if this can't highlight the problems with our current government, I really, really, don't know what will.”
Pushing The Envelope
His ‘campaign speech’ is extremely powerful because he somehow managed to find a way to tie in over 30 of the stupidest remarks from the PAP and deliver it to the masses. Yes, from time to time, someone will say something they’ll regret and it’ll appear in the news.
While they will (rightfully) blow up on social media eventually, the resulting coverage is often times isolated. They get reported individually, and as such, people tend to forget about them in a few weeks or, dare I say, a few days' time. As such, to squeeze all the quotes from the past 10 years into one six-minute video, and to do so with some kind of context, with some kind of purpose or reason, is borderline genius.
Something he does excellently, I feel, is pushing the moral burden from the person he’s addressing in the videos to the audience watching them. He provides you with a set of problems, lets you decide what to do with them and then invites you to draw your own conclusion. Most of the time, you would end up straying towards what he’s angling at, because his content makes any potential disagreement sound absolutely moronic and illogical. He takes readily available, albeit raw, content, and repackages it into an immersive literary experience.
It is neither a rant, nor is it a complaint, and that’s the best part about both videos. It just flows so naturally in their respective contexts.
He also happens to be sensible, something so desperately missing in Singapore as content creators chase after the likes and shares with crass and tasteless content. Unlike the likes of Amos Yee and other hardcore critics, he doesn’t outrightly insult the government and fill his videos with unnecessary expletives (he did use one in his poem, though he aurally and visually censored it). Instead, he opts to create his own context and scenarios that everyone can relate to - an elitist snob in the first instance, and an all-too-familiar puppet politician making a speech in the next - to evoke emotions and reactions from netizens.
If he were to solely point out the government’s flaws, I doubt anyone would really listen. After all, he’s not really a public figure (yet) and he doesn’t have a reputation built on notoriety (hopefully it remains like that). Most people will probably skip past it or dismiss him as just another Amos Yee wannabe.
Videos discussing about the problems in Singapore, much less political ones, hardly ever attract positive attention (see Steph Micayle) and often split opinion (also see Steph Micayle), but by offering a refreshing take on sensitive matters like these, he is able to connect with the audience and shift the focus onto him. This is extremely evident from the comments section of both of his videos - the negative ones weren't directed at what he's saying, but rather at him as a person instead. There were rarely any disputing of facts presented or challenging of his assumptions and insinuations, but there are no shortage of comments mocking his age, his looks, his accent, and even his personal life. As Magaret Thatcher once said, "if they attack you personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.”
Lhu has come up with a formula that works - one that doesn’t make people feel like they’re watching someone else complain about their own problems. It is one where he manages to unite and empathize with the general population instead of making it all self-important. On the surface at least, it is ultimately one where he regurgitates the facts, arrange it, and elicit the exact response he expects from his audience.
Political apathy among the youths in Singapore is prevalent, and I must admit, after the dismal GE2015 results, I have almost lost faith that things will ever change in our small little island. But with a young teen like Lhu silently creating works of this level on the sidelines, maybe there is this tiny, tiny glimmer of hope after all.
*Kaki News Network, which reuploaded the video on their Facebook page, was responsible for over 400,000 views, but it got shut down earlier in 2016.