The perks and perils of being Nathan Hartono… now

Fresh from the Sing! China finals last Friday, we check in with local musician on his future plans, awkward airport experiences, and more


Videos: Tan Shi Qi

“So much has changed, so much has stayed the same” wrote Nathan Hartono, in an Instagram post where he shared an old picture of his 15-year-old self, during his salad days, performing on stage. Indeed, despite the global fame and increased attention fixated on his every move, ever since he got into the top 48 and subsequently the final 6 and second place in Chinese reality programme, Sing! China, Nathan is still, thankfully, very much the same ol’ Nathan, or at least, he tries to be.

For someone who has 11 years of performing experience under his belt, the opportunity to join Sing! China couldn’t have come at a better timing. He was in the right place at the right time – and thankfully, the right age too, said Nathan. “If I did it at 16 or 17, I’d be a mess. Man, the amount of things we go through for the show – it’s a very intensive schedule, the amount of attention that’s placed on it is overwhelming, almost. It’s a lot to take in and the online response can get a bit… interesting,” he shared.

Nathan arrived home on Sunday night to a mini reception of over 30 fans on Sunday night and spent the last 24 hours basically being himself. Recounted Nathan, during an interview with Toggle this morning, “I hid from the world and did my own thing – played video games with friends, laid in bed all day, cut my dog’s hair for a bit (laughs) ‘cos it gets in her face, watched a movie, hung out with friends. You know, just taking a break from everything.”

A well-deserved break too, if we may add.

For the most part, Nathan is still the “derpy” chap who very much enjoys making fun of himself or his dog, from time to time, as seen on his last Instagram post yesterday (see below left picture). And he wants to stay the same, for as long as he possibly can on social media, which he believes should be an expression of himself. “I don’t want to be a brand, a figure or a celebrity – I want to be a human on social media.”

Gotta love Nathan's sense of humour. Photos: Nathan Hartono/Instagram
Gotta love Nathan's sense of humour. Photos: Nathan Hartono/Instagram

The outpouring of attention and support, while appreciated, doesn’t change anything, said Nathan, except the privacy settings on his and his family members’ social media accounts.

“Nowadays, everyone’s on social media – my parents included. I’m starting to see photos that I didn’t post but they did on social media. So I advised them a couple of weeks ago to just privatise everything,” he quipped, “I don’t quite know what to think about that, but I just hope the audience is going to be respectful of the boundaries.”

So, what are the perks of being known as the Nathan Hartono who made it into the Sing! China finals today?

“It’s literally been like days since the finals, it’s still very early to say what’s happening, but definitely there’s a lot more social media attention, a lot more offers in general… I take what’s relevant and what’s interesting and other than that, I try not to be too much of an… influencer? Is that the word for it? I try not to do those things too much.” 

While it’s still too early to say what exactly are the “perks” of being Nathan, the Indonesian-Chinese singer lets in on the “perils” (read: an up-close and very awkward fan experience) of being Nathan and the ‘scion’ of Tung Lok group, his upcoming music EP plans, and what a China career means to him now.

Read on for more!

WATCH: Nathan performs one of his favourite Jay Chou songs

Toggle: How did you destress when things got too overwhelming and pressurising?
Nathan: I’d go out for runs every once in a while, which is hard in China ‘cos the air quality can be a bit questionable and the PSI can be quite high, so sometimes I can’t go out for runs. If I’m in Singapore, I’d go into a YouTube rabbit hole but it’s hard to do it there ‘cos of VPN (virtual private networks) and firewall – I’d be lucky if I can get a video in 144P sometimes. So I brought a hard drive with all my favourite music and stuff in there. It wasn’t too tough.

Do you think your 11 years of performing experience gave you an edge over your competitors?
Oh yeah, stage experience will always help. The one comment I get is you’re so comfortable blah blah blah. But being on stage at this point is.. um, if any of you out there ever performed, you’d know that nerves are a huge factor. You rehearse and get everything right, but you go out there and nerves will cut back on it. It kind of builds that tolerance for nerves and for all the undesirable factors of performance.

Apart from fluency in language, what is one thing you’re envious about that the other competitors have that you don’t?
It was mostly the language, because language has so much to do with art and music and how you interpret and perceive music and art. It wasn’t just communicating with people which I can do for the most part. But language goes much deeper than that, if you speak a language well and incorporate it with music, it becomes a much more effective form of communication, I guess? People can just sing in Mandarin naturally, [but] for the most part, I had to manufacture them, I had to take the songs back home, translate them properly ‘cos there’s a lot of idioms, and make sure I know what the emotional beats are on - instead of just knowing that naturally.

(Continued on next page: Is Nathan more self-conscious now, given his newfound fame?)

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