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The Straits Times
March 29, 2023
The entrance of a guest of honour in the middle of a music performance has drawn criticism from several netizens and those in the music community.
During the WWF Earth Hour Festival at Esplanade event on March 25, Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and National Development Sim Ann was led to the front row to take her seat in the midst of an acoustic set at the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre.
Videos and photos of the incident posted on social media show her being introduced to and greeting other attendees in the reserved seats at the front row, while a singer was performing metres away on the stage.
The incident sparked criticism online, with some saying Ms Sim’s actions were disrespectful of the artistes.
Ms Sim has since reached out to the artistes to clarify the matter.
The event, co-organised by WWF-Singapore and Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, involved a Switch Off, when the Singapore skyline went dark for an hour in support of Earth Hour at 8.30pm.
This happened just after the Soul Jam event, a free performance showcasing artistes from local music collective Panik Records.
Ms Sim was led to her seat at about 8.10pm while Benny’s – the stage name of singer-songwriter Bernice Lee, 22 – was performing an acoustic song.
Mr Ian Lee, 24, the founder of Panik Records, said Benny’s had been very affected by the incident but is coming to terms with what happened.
“When it happened, Bernice had been performing a song that she wrote and was being very vulnerable,” he said. “It was quite a blow for her because it was very undermining.”
Mr Lee said Ms Sim was standing at the front row to shake hands with other attendees, and had blocked the view of some other guests as the stage was quite low.
He added that several audience members appeared to be upset, with someone at the back shouting at Ms Sim to sit down.
Mr Yun Taehyeong, 24, a student from South Korea, told The Straits Times that Benny’s appeared visibly affected by the disruption.
Noting that he was watching the performance next to where Ms Sim was to be seated, he said: “As (Ms Sim) arrived at her seat, there was quite a lot of activity and noise with all the handshaking, greetings, and camera shutters and flashes from the photographers following her around.
“It was a relatively quiet acoustic performance and given how close the front row of the outdoor theatre is to the stage, I’m pretty sure the disruption would have been very obvious to everyone present.”
Describing the incident as disappointing, Mr Yun added: “I feel that both audience and performer were disrespected.
“The performance was already ending, and it is difficult to think of why they could not simply wait for a few minutes for the performance to be over, or even just do the entire sequence at a less disruptive location.”
The incident was also shared on social media by blogger mrbrown.
It was also alleged that Ms Sim had turned up late to the event.
In response to queries from ST, WWF-Singapore and Esplanade issued a joint statement saying Ms Sim had been invited for the Switch Off ceremony at 8.15pm, and she had arrived early.
“Ms Sim arrived early, and because the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre is a free-and-easy venue where audiences can enter or exit the auditorium at any time, the WWF-Singapore and Esplanade teams ushered her to join the rest of the audience to catch part of the performance, which was still ongoing,” it said.
“Upon her arrival at the seat, some members of the audience rose to greet her. We would like to emphasise that there was no intention of disrespecting the artistes, performers or audience, and we regret any disruption that we may have inadvertently caused.”
Ms Sim said she was glad that WWF-Singapore and Esplanade had provided an explanation for the incident.
She said she had followed the cue of the organisers on when to enter the event space, and was greeting guests who were being introduced to her.
“It was certainly not my intent for the timing and manner of my entry to convey any disregard for the performers on stage and the audience,” added Ms Sim.
“Having seen the social media posts on the subject, I reached out to the artists involved to clarify the matter directly, and told them I was sorry that things turned out this way.
“I have also learnt something valuable from the incident. I wish them continued success in their musical endeavours.”
Mr Lee said Benny’s has said she is looking to move on from the incident.
“She just wishes to express that in a time such as now to be creating art in Singapore, the most important thing we should be looking forward to is cherishing and respecting of all forms of art and expression,” he added.
“She’s also extremely thankful for the incredible support the community has for this part of our lives we hold so sacred.”