It’s easy to jump to conclusions about the guilt of the City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders, but I’m not going to do that here. Instead, I’ve decided to engage in the admittedly snarkastic exercise of listening to every English release by Sun Ho which I could find on Youtube, to see if the quality, content and success of her music could ever have justified the expenditure of S$23 million, authorized or not.
(For those unfamiliar with the backstory, City Harvest is a hugely rich megachurch in Singapore, founded by pastor Kong Hee and his wife Sun Ho (once described as a “music pastor”). Several of its leaders, including Kong Hee, have just been charged with committing criminal breaches of trust and falsifying accounts regarding the use of church funds. In particular, S$23 million worth of church funds was purportedly misused to fund the “Crossover Project”, an initiative started by Kong Hee and Sun Ho to use Sun’s secular music to reach out to non-Christians. Sun has been trying to launch a US-based secular music career since 2003.)
#1 Dance Hits Which You’d Never Remember Dancing To
Given that you can usually find almost anything ever committed to recordable media on Youtube on the basis that someone somewhere somehow thought it was significant enough to upload and share with the world, I was surprised to discover no trace there whatsoever of Sun’s debut American single, “Where Did Love Go”. For a song produced by David Foster which reached #1 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play “Breakout” Chart in 2003, its “breakout” impact appears to have been short-lived. Sun’s management should address this problem by making it available on Youtube ASAP – it could, after all, rake in a few hundred accidental views from non-Christian lazy typists who were looking for the Supremes’ classic.
After this disappointing start, I was relieved to find some clues as to what Sun’s other “#1 dance hits” may have sounded like: one remix of “One With You”, two of “Without Love”, one use of “Gone” as backing track to an optimistically-titled montage of “international star Sun Ho” at US Fashion Week 2006, and three – wow, three! – remixes of Ends of the Earth.
There is little to be said about any of these songs. The tunes are forgettable, Sun’s vocals insipid, none of the songs have any discernable lyrical connections with Christian beliefs or morality beyond pedestrian references to love, and whether you like them or not will largely depend on your tastes in dance music and the abilities of the producer/remixer. One also wonders why anyone would see generic Eurodance as a good way of spreading the gospel in the US music industry in the first place. Perhaps the Crossover Project thought this is what gay clubbers like listening to.
Sadly, we’ve already reached the high point of Sun’s US chart success. But let us not waste any more time here. The low points yet to come are far more entertaining.
In God We Thrust: “China Wine” (2007)
“China Wine” was released in 2007, the same year that the misuse of funds allegedly began. I couldn’t possibly guess at how people with actual Caribbean music credibility like Wyclef Jean, Tony Matterhorn and Elephant Man were recruited to collaborate on the song, or why a famous MV director like Wayne Isham would have any interest in doing the video. I guess they must all have been big fans of Sun’s Eurodance work.
(It’s easier to appreciate the WTFness of this song if you’re already familiar with certain dancehall music references, so let me quickly explain that “wine” in the dancehall context doesn’t refer to the Blood of Christ but to gyration of the hips, and that the “dutty wine” is a well-known dance move where you whip your hair around while gyrating your hips.)
“In China,” Sun claims, “we luv da dutty wine so much dat we mix it with de China wine”. So basically, the song is about cross-cultural hip-gyrating. I’m not seeing a clear Christian connection there, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out if I think hard enough – oh hey, maybe this is how Jesus partied it up at the wedding in Cana! CANA WINE! CANA WINE!
Elsewhere in the song, Sun exhorts girls to “sing from the hoo-has”, Tony Matterhorn namedrops fashion designer Ed Hardy (Sun’s company is the exclusive distributor of Ed Hardy clothing in Singapore), and Elephant Man suggests that Sun’s gyratory skills (“so she do it fast, now she do it slow”) can make something dead grow. He is probably not referring to the Resurrection.
Out of the clusterfuck of nonsequiturs that make up this song, the biggest one may be why the hell a Singaporean is calling herself “Geisha” to sing a song about how much “we” in “China” love to dutty wine. Perhaps Sun hit her head after being slain in the Spirit one day and it affected her geographical knowledge.
They Call It Murrrrdaaaa1: “Mr Bill” (2009)
It is baffling to think that anyone looking back at “China Wine” two years later could have regarded reggae as an ideal musical direction for Sun to continue in, but maybe Wyclef’s weed2 was just that good. “Mr Bill” is certainly more mellow than “China Wine” – except, of course, for some minor lyrical hostility involving Sun’s decidedly unmellow impulses to murder her cheating man.
Still rather confused about exactly where she is from in Asia, Sun aka “Geisha” begins the video by berating her man in Mandarin for lying to her. At times during the song, her attempts to deliver her lines with a ragga-tinged lilt are so inept that she might as well be speaking in tongues. And the less said about her dancing the better, except for letting you know that in or around the same time that this song came out, she was training with superfamous choreographer Marty Kudelka in her lavish Hollywood Hills home. Let’s add “groove” to the list of things that S$23 million still can’t buy, although it’s nice to know that Sun enjoyed 29,000 square feet (at US$20,000/month) worth of space to practice her flailing in.
Fakey Gaga: “Fancy Free” (2009)
Following the disappointing failure of “China Wine” and “Mr Bill” to get the world pelvic thrusting for Christ, Project Crossover must have come up with a new strategy for “Fancy Free” to make its mark in a 2009 pop music landscape dominated by Lady Gaga. But simply writing a knockoff Gaga song is for poor schmucks who don’t have S$23 million to spend. If you’re funded by Project Crossover, on the other hand, you can also get what looks like a pretty expensive video directed by a hot shot MV director who’s already done Gaga videos, and employ Gaga’s then-choreographer Laurieann Gibson, just to leave nothing to chance.
Pity about the inconvenient fact that Sun ain’t Gaga. After several years of trying to make it in the American music industry, there’s still nothing that distinguishes “Fancy Free” from a Paris Hilton vanity project, except that the Hiltons never promised their hotel guests that no Hilton revenues were used to fund Paris’s singing career.3
And if you were hoping that Christian messages in Sun’s music might finally have emerged by now, with “fancy free” possibly referring to some sort of detachment from material goods, you obviously need to bone up on your core megachurch doctrines. Sun wakes up “feeling like a millionaire”! Which is pretty easy if you’re either waking up in a LA mansion or a S$9.3m Sentosa Cove penthouse!
Cringeworthy hubris reaches its peak when Sun trills “Feels just like I’m on a shooting star / Made my wish to be a superstar”. It’s like saying you wish you could buy a Birkin when you can already afford to buy 2,300 of them, if you could only find a shop that respected you enough to sell them to you. Also, it appears that even long-ridiculed boy band tropes like rhyming “fire” with “desire” are too sophisticated for a song which rhymes “star” with……”star”.
A Conclusion And Some Parting Insults
Pages more could be written to deconstruct the multiple levels of epic fail in Sun Ho’s US music career, but there’s only so much torture I can take and I’m pretty much already at the point of uttering “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” So I will leave you with two last atrocities, and thank God for small mercies that they are only available in short preview clips. (Things seem to have gone suddenly quiet on the Sun music front just before the initial complaints against CHC surfaced in 2010.)
“Hollaback Girl” oh sorry I meant “Cause A Ruckus” is Sun’s clubbing manifesto. Clad in shades and her “tight wifebeater”, she urges you to “leave your do’s and don’ts at home”. I was under the impression that the 10 Commandments are applicable everywhere, but what do I know, I’m not a pastor’s wife. Sun later contradicts herself with a command to “Do what I do,” which is rather alarming when followed by the tally of “one Tom, two Tom, three Tom, now four”. Which is a worse sin, fornication or bad pronunciation? But don’t worry, Sun, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, unless your US$100,000 media team4 uploads your gluttony to Youtube.
Like I said at the start of this post, I am not in a position to judge whether the channelling of S$23 million from CHC funds in support of Sun’s US music career was properly or improperly done. However, after suffering through what that S$23 million might have paid for, I’m inclined to state that even if every single CHC member wrote in their own blood that their tithes should be spent on Sun’s US music career, the question remains how anyone keeping track of this musical turd parade could possibly believe it to be pursuing or achieving the goals of Project Crossover. I have no answer for this question, but perhaps Sun does. Enjoy the last clip.
- Apologies to Damian Marley and Ini Kamoze for associating them with this bilge. ↩
- c.f. Tony Matterhorn’s “China Wine” verse where he asks Wyclef to “passa blem”. ↩
- ”In 2003, an individual alleged in the media that the charity was funding Sun Ho’s music career. However, this individual eventually issued a public apology and retracted his allegations. Facing media scrutiny, City Harvest issued press statements, as well as representations to its church members, that they had not funded Sun Ho’s career.” – Asiaone ↩
- “In or around April 2009, a plan was conceptualised by Tan Ye Peng, Chew Eng Han, Serina Wee Gek Yin and Tan Shao Yuen Sharon to transfer monies amounting to $600,000 donated by Wahju Hanafi to the Charity’s Building Fund via a “refund” of Building Fund donations into the MPA to meet some funding needs of the Project, which included US$100,000 (S$128,000) to finance a media team from Singapore to publicise and write about Sun Ho’s music career in the United States.” – Asiaone. ↩