Masters of Dank: A roundtable session with the people behind Singapore’s top meme pages

 

In Charlie Lim’s latest music video, the Singaporean singer-songwriter typically known for his somber, melancholic tunes went full meta, very much against type, taking on a boisterous fuccboi persona who insists that “memes are cool.”

This was the same person who revamped a bittersweet ode to Singapore’s National Day and sang it to the millions of people watching the parade as well as the president and the prime minister at the Istana.

Video screengrabs
Video screengrabs

The point here is that memes (and by extension, meme-crafting) have finally penetrated the Singaporean mainstream consciousness in a major way. It’s nothing new of course — internet humor via image macros has been around since at least ’07, while localized memes starting emerging via SGAG in 2012, an imitation of the once-popular meme aggregating site 9GAG.

But SGAG, for some reason, has failed to keep up with the times (though they’ve marginally gotten better of late). The website held a dogged determination to stick to meme elements of yore, including rage comics and overlaid captions in the Impact font. Coupled with SGAG’s healthy revenue-making business of pushing sponsored content and sticking to safe, wholesome matters, it’s no surprise that folks deemed their memes, well … not funny.

People who do love SGAG are typically labeled “normies” — boringly conventional folks who wouldn’t be able to appreciate the darker, more absurd memes that populate the internet landscape of today.

In an extensive feature, The Washington Post did a deep dive into the reasons why millennial humor is so weird, and for the most part, they got it right (even if painstakingly explaining punchlines always takes the air out of a joke). The memes of today are very much a reflection of the absurdist, nihilist entertainment epitomized on Adult Swim, including The Eric Andre Show, Rick and Morty, and Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! — each of which have spawned volumes of memes themselves. Things like ᒪööᑭ ᑕᗩTTO, T-Posing, and the entire concept of “shitposts” – intentional and sometimes aggressive low-quality content, i.e. posting shittily — might escape the comprehension of normies, because it just doesn’t make any sense.

Over in Singapore, the absurdity vacuum has been thankfully filled by a bumper crop of independent social media pages, all of which specialize in localized content that are both highly relatable and actually funny (soz, SGAG). The meme makers behind these pages aren’t held back by the need to appease advertisers, and as such, make content purely for the purpose of amusing themselves. If it resonates with people, all the better. These are pages unafraid to make fun of everyone and everything, at times toeing the line of controversy and political incorrectness.

As a 101 on Singapore Meme Makers That Are Actually Good, we gathered the administrators of three of the country’s most popular meme pages: Kiasu Memes For Singaporean Teens; A Better World By Memes; and Memedef. Under the condition of anonymity, they agreed to join Coconuts Singapore in a freewheeling roundtable over copious amounts of food and drinks where we talked about the evolving landscape of local humor and the art of meme-making.

But first, a brief introduction to the players.


Kiasu Memes For Singaporean Teens

Established in November 2016 by a freelance copywriter who’s currently a social media manager at a tech publication. Content ranges from current affairs to politics. In February 2018, launched Facebook group Singapore Shitposting Constituency, where more than 1,300 members are given semi-free reign to shitpost even more risqué content.

A Better World By Memes

A group of 19 shitposting enthusiasts studying in Singapore University of Technology and Design teamed up to establish the page in February 2017. Content used to revolve around local university culture, but has since moved on to general topics, including current affairs, as the page admins have graduated from college. Currently has four active admins.

Memedef

Established in February 2018 by two National Servicemen (full-time) clerks in the Singapore Armed Forces. Content revolves around National Service life, in particular, the culture in the local military service.


Coconuts Singapore: Let’s first talk about how we got to know about the local meme and shitposting pages. I first saw Clean & Green Singapore Memes sometime ago and through the related pages section, it linked me to Kiasu Memes For Singaporean Teens. Later on, there was A Better World By Memes, and then Memedef, which was first known as MDES Scheme for Pes F Green Boi Memes…

A Better World By Memes: (Laughs) Why did you change your name though?

Memedef: It’s too fucking long lah. (Laughs). There was one point where we harbored intentions of going general, because NS memes are damn hard to think about all the time… you run out of content.

COCO: ABWBM, didn’t you guys start the whole joke Facebook event thing? That “Half an hour of bleating like a sheep at the National University of Singapore”?

Memedef: Oh, that was fucking hilarious man.

ABWBM: That was supposed to be a joke, but people actually pulled it off. Someone sent us videos of the event — NUS students were actually fucking bleating on campus.

We were like “What the fuck, this was supposed to be a joke.” They actually made the joke real — we were trying to say that NUS students are sheep. And they actually did it.

Photo: Coconuts Media
Photo: Coconuts Media

COCO: Do you guys remember when exactly you decided to launch your pages?

KMFST: I remember I was working as a copywriter at some social media agency. I was handling the social media pages of different brands and I suggested using things that have gone viral on social media since it’s more timely than any other PR bullshit. The creative director would always say “let’s wait until the media picks it up” or “I don’t think it’s that popular.” A lot of red tape to go through as well.

I had all these ideas that didn’t get approved, so I just put everything on my own page. It took a while for people to start noticing.

ABWBM: I remember seeing one of your first few memes — the one that was a deep-fried image of Minister Koh Poh Koon doing a photo-op carrying an auntie’s trolley. That was great.

For our page, we just started it for fun. A friend of mine wanted to start a meme page for the lols, and we just joined in.

Memedef: My page partner and I used to make Telegram sticker packs of our own NS [National Service] stuff. One day I just texted him that about starting a meme page. Get it to a certain level and sell it to SGAG. Fuck it, make money. (Laughs)

I mean, we’re in NS and there’s nothing to do, so just try lor. I used to handle social media stuff for [online marketplace] Carousell, so for me personally, I’m using the page to sort of test the things that I did previously. Experimenting with what styles would work on Singaporeans, especially the NS crowd.

All of us here consume a lot of dank memes, right? At the same time, a lot of this shitposting stuff we like just will not do well if we look at the mainstream audience. So we’re trying to bridge that gap.

COCO: It’s interesting that Mindef [the Ministry of Defence] is actually cool with what Memedef is doing. Do you think you could get into trouble somehow?

Memedef: Quite frequently, we have to look at submissions by NSFs who really want to say something, but we also know that there are some lines that cannot be crossed — if it threatens operational security, that’s definitely a no-no. We don’t want to get to a point where Mindef will stop us from posting anymore. We strike a balance between making fun of NS and being too offensive like other meme pages can be.

ABWBM: Yeah, we also know that there are some lines we can’t cross. Whenever I get new admins, I tell them that they can post whatever they want, but if they think that their memes are too spicy, they can always check with the older admins first. I think we only check when it comes to political shit.

KMFST: Me, I try to stay away from religion. I fucking hate religion but in Singapore, it’s just best to not get into trouble for the insensitivity. We have laws that say you cannot discriminate against religions. For political stuff, it’s just doing memes to the point of how much we can get away with it. But if one day I suddenly disappear, you know what happened.

Oh, and no memes about death and kids of course.

COCO: Ever get hate mail and take-down notices on the regular?

KMSFT: Very rarely. I remember one time I made fun of that Ajisen Ramen “never fail to disappoint me” influencer. This white knight got so triggered and messaged my page every day. The irony is that this fucker with a fake profile with five friends actually said “You hide behind your online persona.” On the post itself, some of her friends even asked me to delete it, saying that she already apologized or some shit.

ABWBM: Yeah, it’s rare. Sometimes people just get triggered by something and message us. We just ignore them.

Memedef: I mean, if they’re nice to us, we’ll be nice to them. There was a post we put up, a picture of recruits doing physical training. Very far in the picture’s background was a female PT trainer. For some reason, all the comments were about that PT trainer. The girl’s friend messaged us about the unwelcome attention that she was receiving, but he did it in a very nice way. So we just hid the post in our timeline.

ABWBM: Honestly, you guys should follow all the secondary school and junior college meme pages — really fucking good shit, man. And these kids fucking hate SGAG.

COCO: Are they the new generation of meme makers?

ABWBM: Their memes are just pure millennial humor. I only started noticing them after I did that deep-fried Charlie Lim meme, which he reposted. Suddenly, all these school meme accounts started following my Instagram page. They’ve got some real good shit.

COCO: What do you think of the business of making memes? What if someone like SGAG wants to acquire your pages?

KMFST: I’d just sell the page to them and make a new one. You can get a page and all the followers, but you can’t replicate the content. What I’m so curious about is how SGAG goes to their clients and get that much money for just a small level of engagement relative to their actual fan base.

Memedef: I think the proportion of likes doesn’t really matter to clients — they look at how many people the ad reached. We also don’t know how much boosting takes place, but that doesn’t really matter to clients also.

KMFST: I fucking hate SGAG but I admire that they make money, even though they make shit content. Like those fucking Samsung Galaxy Note 9 ads. Definitely not going to buy the next Samsung phone.

ABWBM: I honestly think that SGAG is trying to change things now with different meme formats. My page has been shitting on them for quite some time lah, and the secondary school and junior college pages I’ve seen have been hating on their stuff as well.

KMFST: I think it’s a good move that they’re finally changing, as much as I hate SGAG for using the new meme formats. They have to keep up with the evolution of meme culture.

ABWBM: It’s either change or die.

Memedef: That’s a learning point for us.

KMFST: You should write an article about the evolution of memes and meme culture, man.

Memedef: What do you all think about mainstream outlets like Mothership getting into memes?

COCO: I think it’s good, actually.

Memedef: (To KMFST) I think we talked about this before — the education of the Singapore population about what true meme quality is. On one hand, I think it’s normie-fication. Now when I see Loss, I’m like “Fuck man, just stop”. It’s a normie thing already, overused.

COCO: The loss of Loss, lah.

KMFST: I think it’s pretty standard. As far as humans existed, there’s always this idea that as long as it’s exclusive, it’s valuable. We like it because we get it, and other people don’t. But that’s just evolution — some things will become mainstream, and there’ll be other memes that will feel exclusive.

ABWBM: We’ve said this before — we hate on SGAG because they make their memes for the lowest common denominator. They make stuff that is as appealing as possible to everyone. It’s basic humor.

Memedef: That’s why they’re successful. Because their memes appeal to everyone.

COCO: Do you all remember your best-performing memes?

ABWBM: We have about four admins making memes on our page, and we all have a distinct style — mine is shitposting. But if you see all those Malay memes, it’s usually made by this Malay guy. He made our top post some time ago, something about the only love you get is when the nasi padang auntie calls you “sayang.” That post reached about half a million people.

KMFST: Me, it was a video about the North Korean and South Korean leaders having dinner and they were watching the Wal-Mart yodeling kid performance. I’m not a video editor, so that short clip took about four hours trying to sync everything.

ABWMB: Oh shit, I also remember our video with the Halimah Yacob summoning circle did really well, too.

Memedef: (laughs) That was some good shit.

KMFST: Someone sent the original clip to me, and I thought “Something’s really wrong with this, I don’t want to touch it at all” — it was just so awkward. But it really did fly for everyone else who posted something about it.

Memedef: I know I have one meme that I will never beat. It’s a panel comic about a soldier going outfield and opening up the letter that said “ORD-oh.” It went super viral, hitting 3k shares at least.

COCO: Out of all the meme pages here, only KMFST expanded with a shitposting group.

KMSFT: A lot of people were submitting memes to me, so I just opened up a place for them to put their work up and talk shit. It just took off, and sometimes there’d even be serious discussions, like transgender issues and women’s rights. It’s an open platform — I moderately lightly, removing posts involving violence, harassment or personal information. Other than that, I just let them post whatever and debate about things if they want.

COCO: What keeps you guys going then, meme-making wise?

KMFST: I’m just doing it all for shits and giggles. But it’s nice when people appreciate it, when they really like and share what I put out.

ABWBM: It’s fun for us, we’re just doing it as a hobby.

Memedef: Over time, a lot of people started messaging us, like how our memes helped them get through their days. We were like “Wah, we have a responsibility now”. Suddenly, we felt that our work is actually meaningful — that’s when it started to become more personal for us. We wished there was this kind of page when we were in basic military training.

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