This Sweatpants Had A Korean DJ “Kicked Off” A Flight

Even when no skin of her abdominal or limps were revealed. But the bottom she wore was considered by the airline to be “offensive”

Warning: This post contains image and words that some viewers may find offensive

South Korean disc jockey and music-maker Deejay Soda shared on Instagram, two days ago, with 4.3 million of her followers (in two separate posts) that she was booted out of a flight from New York to Los Angeles. She wrote—not quite effervescently—in English (as well as Korean) that American Airlines “kicked (her) off the flight and harassed (her) to take off (her) sponsored @RIPNDIP ‘F**K YOU’ sweatpants in front of people to board again.” The DJ, whose passport registered Hwang So-hee, is currently in the US on part of her coast-to-coast Starlight Tour. According to her, the airline staff told her that the free sweatpants she wore were “inappropriate“ and “offensive”. At some point, she stood “half-naked” in the presence of others.

As she said, the bottom in question was sponsored by Ripndip, an Orlando-born skate brand, available here at Well Bred. In black cotton, the S$125 sweatpants has a white, all-over print of basically two words: “fuck you” in full caps, with a foxy feline-looking creature peeking out of some of the ‘O’s. While the bottom was sponsored, it isn’t known if she was given that particular pair to wear or if she chose it. Nor do we know if she was required to wear it onboard as part of the deal or if it was entirely her choice. Ms Hwang was in fact rather covered up, sporting the brand’s black ‘Nebulan’ hooded coach jacket under a similarly coloured T-shirt. On her feet were black-and-white Nike Jordan 1 High. This look contrasted dramatically with Ms Hwang’s usual style, as seen on IG and her new music video Cold. Sexy is truly the best, even if inadequate, word to describe her style. Only Siew Pui Yi (aka Ms Puiyi) wears moderately less.

Korean disc jockey Deejay Soda. Photo: deejaysoda/Instagram

If what the the 36-year-old DJ claimed really happened, American Airlines has considerable explaining to do. Even if Ms Hwang’s choice of trousers is “offensive”, is making her “take off (her) pants in front of the whole crew and standing half-naked” while refusing to board her, if true, not “offensive” too (some of her supporters called it “abusive”)? It is, of course, odd that in the US, where free speech is so important and anyone can say anything, including the profanity-as-repeated-pattern on Ms Hwang’s pants, having them printed on one’s garment is more abhorrent than coming out of one’s mouth. Conversely, was the passenger, even with a business class seat that she was sure to note, not aware that what she wore could be objectionable? It was not just two words; they were repeated many times. Or, was she on the same page as Whoopi Goldberg, who wrote in her book Is It Just Me? Or Is It Nuts Out There?: “I would love to teach every kid to say ‘fuck’. That is a word that doesn’t have any effect. But ‘stupid’ and ‘dummy’?”

American Airline may disagree with her on that. According to their Condition of Carriage, the simple term of “bare feet or offensive clothing aren’t allowed” is stipulated. It does not, however, say what makes clothing offensive. But its staff, in making the DJ strip, spoke volumes. Would Ms Hwang’s usual boob-accentuating tops be considered incompatible with the American Airlines’ rules? We do not know. Nor, why Deejay Soda chose, assuming she did, that particular sweatpants. It might work in the dimness of her show venues, but in an airport and an aircraft, would it not draw unwarranted attention and annoy those for whom such blatant display of insouciant insolence is totally repugnant? One thing Whoopie Goldberg wrote is not wrong: It’s nuts out there.

Update (29 April 2022, 09:10): In a statement issued to the media, American Airlines wrote: “During the boarding process for American Airlines Flight 306 at John F. Kennedy International Airport, our team members informed Ms. So-hee of our policies and provided her the opportunity to change out of clothing displaying explicit language. The customer complied with requests and was allowed to continue travel, as planned, to Los Angeles International Airport”. They did not address Ms Hwang’s allegation of harassment

Product photo: Ripndip. Illustration: Just So

A Face Artists Love

And, purportedly, to use “without permission”. Duan Mei Yue finds herself in an unpleasant spot, again

An easy-to-paint face? Do you see the same girl? Duan Mei Yue (left); photo: Duan Mei Yue/Instagram. And her ‘likeness’ by Russian painter Angelina Poveteva; Photo*: Angelina Poveteva

Model Duan Mei Yue (段美玥) has a unique—some might say, enviable—problem. Her face is a visage so comely artists love to paint it… but without her permission, so Ms Duan has asserted, with utter disgust, on social media. Just last year, she blasted on Instagram the “unethical” use of her likeness without being asked by the Singaporean artist Alison M Low, based on a photograph of her by photographer Li Wanjie. The image later appeared on a book cover and on the floor of a Love, Bonito store as a piece of chipped cut-out. Now, another artist in, of all places, Russia(!), has seemingly given this by-now-recognisable face the treatment of the artist’s hands (she used them in place of paint brush). One Angelina Poveteva (Ангелина Поветьева) has been accused by Ms Duan of a familiar offence: painting her face, based on the said photograph, without her formal consent. Ms Duan is adamant that the subject in the painting is her.

Angelina Poveteva is a portraitist from the town of Michurinsk (named after the famed biologist/horticulturist Ivan Michurin) in the Tambov region of the Bryansk oblast (a federal subject) of Western Russia, near the border with Belarus. She is a graduate of Kochetov Children’s Art School in the rural ‘village’, as some call it, of Kochetov. Although also in Bryansk, the institution that Ms Poveteva attended is some nine hours to the west by car from her home village. It is not known how long she has been an artist or if she is pursuing art professionally. But it does appear that Ms Poveteva is partial to large-scale works. Her piece that Ms Duan took offence to is what she calls “the second in a row in the series ‘Birth’”. On Instagram, she writes: “I create understandable art”. Not quite comprehensible is the subject: why her?

Angelina Poveteva with one of her art pieces. Photo: Angelina Poveteva/Facebook

Her painting of a supposed Ms Duan is last year’s winning entry of the competition segment of the IV International Festival of Contemporary Art, dubbed ‘Artlife Fest’. Her monochromatic two-face piece, titled ‘Time to Open Your Eyes’, was among 400 works shown at the annual exhibition held in Russian capital last October, at the Moscow Manege, a 19th century neoclassical building that is also the site of Moscow Design Museum. Without revealing who the subject of her prize-winning entry is, Ms Poveteva, in a release to the local media, said: “Art for me is a path of endless development, an opportunity to learn all my life, to become better. For me, living without creativity is like living with your eyes closed.” Unfortunately for her, Duan Mei Yue had hers very much open.

Ms Duan, who, coincidentally, is now also an artist, likened Ms Poveteva’s use of her face in a for-sale nude to being traded as a trollop. She told Asiaone: “To see myself depicted naked, exhibited and sold off, I felt like I was being prostituted.” She also commented via a keenly-edited TikTok video that the “hundreds of people” who “posed and (have) taken pictures” in front of Ms Poveteva’s supposed painting of her at the Moscow art exhibition did so “like (she’s) some kind of Oriental freakshow”. This was not exactly Paris Fashion Week (or, Shanghai), and she was not draped in Dior. That TikTok video is viewed over 6,000 times in two days, as well as the 25K+ times after she shared it on IG. Some observers wondered if Ms Duan was aware she herself drew attention to a painting few would otherwise know, by a painter even fewer would be aware of, outside now-heavily-sanctioned Russia.

…“hundreds of people” who “posed and (have) taken pictures” in front of Ms Poveteva’s supposed painting of her at the Moscow art exhibition did so “like (she’s) some kind of Oriental freakshow”

It is, of course, understandable that she would be overcome by shock and anger. No woman, model or not, wishes to see a likeness of herself floating online, and, least of all, sans clothes (in that particular painting, the subject was delineated to the waist naked, with nipples shown). A depiction, even if accurate, is not necessarily flattery. In Ms Duan’s case, she deemed it a flagrant violation. And claimed she cried “for 3 hours” when she saw the images of the painting. “Before (this), I was more upset in terms of how my ambitions of being a model were being exploited,” she told OneAsia. “This time, I feel so personally violated.” It is not clear if Ms Duan’s career has been adversely impacted by the existence of this painting. Nor has she said how so. Or, if, conversely, she had augmented her fame with the strong online condemnation.

To rub salt into the wound, the portrait—Ms Duan learnt—fetched USD10,000 (we are not sure how she came to know of this selling price or if indeed it was transacted at that amount), without a cent going to her. And if that was not insulting enough, the artist denied being inspired by her photograph—first shared on IG in 2018—or even used it as a reference. To prove that she was indeed not guilty as accused, Ms Poveteva allegedly produced a photo of a woman of unknown nationality and indeterminate race, and claimed she painted the Duan Mei Yue lookalike based on this other person. Ms Duan seemed certain that the photograph sent to her as “proof” had been “photoshopped” to look like the girl in the painting. The Russian artist has set her social media accounts to ‘private’ after this confrontation.

Publicity handout of Angelina Poveteva and her painting, Time to Open Your Eyes. Photo: Administration of the City of Michurinsk

Warning: objectionable language ahead

Ms Duan also said via the TikTok post that she was 18 when the vaguely seductive, semi-sultry photo of her was taken. “To see my eighteen-year-old self being painted naked and then being paraded around like that without my consent,” she said, “shattered me.” She told her viewers that she wishes to sue the artist but had learnt that copyright laws in Russia are complicated. She told AsiaOne that she wants to be compensated and to be offered an apology by both Ms Poveteva and the art school “in charged of” the artist in question. The school is believed to be Artlife Moscow (also known as Artlife Academy), an institution that “teach(es) painting online under the guidance of famous artists” and is, interestingly, the organiser of the eponymous exhibition Artlife Fest that awarded Ms Poveteva her win last year. Ms Duan alleges that the school is “super dismissive of this whole situation”. Additionally, she hopes that “a law can be put in place to protect everyone from artists like them”.

Four days ago, Duan Mei Yuan posted on IG a painting she did of that photographic portrait artists love. It was accompanied by a two-page essay on her reason for painting herself (and berating the two artists, so far, who have “PLAIN DISREGARD TO (HER) PRIVACY AND PERSONAILTY (sic) RIGHTS”), and the original, four-year-old photo. In the comments, below the images, she fulminated (and we quote verbatim), “if you wanna use me as the cover for your art, PAY ME. I AM NOT A PICTURE, I AM A HUMAN BEING. I AM NOT SOMETHING TO PUT ON ROCKS OR NAKED TORSOS. I AM NOT TO BE VIOLATED OR TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF.

I AM FUCKING HUMAN.”

*We took the liberty to pixelise part of the image of the painting in view of public decency

Updated: 08 April 2022, 1.30pm

Hungry For Luxury

Chanel has refused to sell to Russians overseas, who intend to use their merchandise back on home soil. Despite the ban, there are Russians who are determined to buy their fave bags, failing which, they take to social media to denounce the perceived Russophobia

Is it true that Chanel is presently Russophobic, as charged by some Russians online, after they failed to secure their desired items, even when abroad? According to media reports, Chanel stores across the world have stopped selling to Russians who reside in their native land (the French brand has, like their counterparts, stopped operating in cities such as Moscow). Chanel has stated that they are merely acting in accordance with EU sanctions that forbid the export of luxury goods to Russia costing more than €300 (or about S$445), as well as the sale of these goods to shoppers who intend to use them there. Bloomberg quoted a Chanel spokesperson: “We have rolled out a process to ask clients for whom we do not know the main residency to confirm that the items they are purchasing will not be used in Russia.”

Unhappiness over the drastic Chanel move was expressed swiftly on social media. Russian influencers were the first to condemn the purchase ban, as if it they were prohibited from buying sugar. One of them, Liza Litvin, who was shopping in Dubai, was quoted in many news reports to have posted, “I went to a Chanel boutique in the Mall of the Emirates. They didn’t sell me the bag because (attention!) I am from Russia!!!” The outrage was expressed by wealthy Russian fans of Chanel not only in words. Some went even further. Marina Ermoshkina, actress/TV presenter/influencer, was reported to have cut up her Chanels in disgust, and posted a video of the destruction, saying “If owning Chanel means selling my Motherland, then I don’t need Chanel.” It is not known if Chanel has calculated the cost of incurring the wrath of Russian influencers.

Customer browsing at the Chanel store in Takashimaya Shopping Centre

The Russians who were able to score Chanel merchandise were reportedly told to put their signature to an agreement that they will not use—or wear—their new purchases in Russia. Ms Litvin confirmed this by sharing on social media that Chanel “has a new order that they only sell after I sign a piece of paper saying that I won’t wear this bag in Russia.” The company has admitted to the press that “a process” is in place to ensure that what they sell do not cross into Russia. Many Russians call this need for signed assurance before a transaction can be completed “humiliating” and a slap to the staggering amounts they had been spending in Chanel stores.

It is remarkable that Chanel remains so desirable that some Russian women are willing to face painful loss of pride to buy something from the house. Despite repeated price increases globally in the past two years and, now, this ban, these Chanel measures have not put a damper on Russian enthusiasm for Chanel, or the die-die-must-have stance that many women here would relate to. This surprised many observers: “Chanel is not that exclusive to be this desirable”. Wherever you go, from neighborhood shopping centres to Orchard Road malls, you’d see someone carrying (rather than wearing) something with the familiar double Cs, they noted.

Curious to know if the ban is extended to these parts (or SEA), we asked a member of the three-person staff manning the queue outside the newly refurbished Chanel store in Takashimaya Shopping Centre. She said she wasn’t aware and would have to ask her manager. Before she disappeared inside, we wanted to know as well if a Singaporean buying for another Singaporean residing in Russia is allowed. In less than a minute, she was back. Cheerily she said, “All are welcome.” We expressed surprise. And she repeated, “All are welcome. Everyone can buy.” Two women, who had just scanned the QR code on a tablet held by another staffer to receive a queue number, heard our query. One of them asked the other, “Got ban, meh?”

Illustrations: Just So

The Shein Top

…at the heart of the latest influencer controversy

By Pearl Goh

It is an itsy-bitsy top, but it has an oversized effect on social media. And the response to the proud wearer/influencer’s subsequent riposte was massive enough for her to enjoy a couple of long digital headlines. Making, I presume, the online retailer she touts very pleased. Chrysan Lee is a YouTuber, an Instagrammer, a TikToker, and an “actress” on the YouTube channel Wah!Banana. She appeared in this top by Shein on IG (sharing that what she wore was “top to toe outfit from SHEIN!” and offering a code which offers the user a “15% off! [yes, also with exclamation])” and TikTok and, as a (predictable) consequence, invited viewer comments, flattering and not. Unfortunately for her, few said anything about the garb itself, but how she looked in the skimpy top. Enraged by the many negative criticisms, she hit back by naming and shaming those who made harsh and uncomplimentary remarks about her appearance. And, as it usually is nowadays, effectively dividing the followers of her social media.

You’d think that the admittedly exiguous top, requiring fabric tantamount to how much it takes to make a bandana (or two handkerchiefs), would be a discreet entity, but on some bodies, it might cry, ‘look at—and comment about—me’. Ms Lee, to be sure, does not look dreadful or deserving of the sometimes hostile impulses that ensued. The piece, which seems to me to be designed to sufficiently cup ample boobs, has a rather one-dimensional effect on her. It looks flat, not what most of the viewers she attracts (102K on IG), guys especially, hope to see: cup(s) runneth over. On TikTok, she adjusted the top (I have no idea why) by pulling it upwards, and it slid smoothly without the tug that a more-endowed wearer would experience. As we know, it takes very little these days to induce the online community to disparage. Or, draw attention to comparatively restricted physical dimensions. Even girls-friendly websites, to my surprise, unambiguously point out her “small tatas”.

…she adjusted the top by pulling it upwards, and it slid smoothly without the tug that a more-endowed wearer would experience

This swimwear-like chest-wrap—S$11, on the Shein SG website—is described by the number one Chinese fast-fashion brand as a “halter neck ring chain rhinestone backless crop top (sic)”. A mouthful, no doubt, even if you could figure out the order. As much as I tried, I could not discern the halter part of what is essentially a bandeau (known in Chinese as a 抹胸上衣 moxiong shangyi or go-around-the-chest top. On the brand’s Taiwan site, a search yielded 3,254 items!), drawn together in the middle by way of a ring to create a circular key-hole right between the breasts. The halter effect is in the chain-and-rhinestone necklace that is looped through the front opening. When placed around the neck, I assume it helps hold up the top when worn on those for whom such additional securing is required. The necklace doubles as a decorative component too, and augmented by more of the same—with additional charms(!)—that hang from that middle ring to a tape-loop stitched to the centre-back of the straight rear (Shein describes the piece as “backless”, but it is not). If it recalls a belly-dancer’s costume, then I am not alone.

The sparkly, poly-metallic shangyi Ms Lee featured is one among more than 560—frankly I lost count!—variations of scantiness, categorised under “top/sleeveless/sexy/glamorous” in the Shein website, nearly all no more than S$20. Among these, more than a dozen—lost, again—sport the ring in the middle that affords a circular peek at the cleavage, as if creating a focal point. At the time of this posting, only sizes L and XL are left. I can’t be certain if its seeming popularity is the result of Ms Lee’s still and video posts, but the sell-out of popular sizes and the fact that Ms Lee singled this upper garment out to feature could attest to the acceptance and adoration of racy looks now pervading social media and the runway. Chrysan Lee herself is partial to swaddling her upper body in what would normally be considered the upper half a bikini set—very ready for online followers, even when she claims to not know where her sartorial inspo comes from. She said on one of her hitherto just five YouTube posts, Answering your Stupid Questions—Part 1, “I’ll be very happy to find clothes outside that fits me”. As with ‘to clothe’, ‘fit’ is being actively redefined for fashion of the pandemic era. Less, I suppose, is definitely more—whether on a voluptuous body or not.

Illustration by Just So

OTT Guo Da Li

One betrothal ceremony that is big, bold, and boastful

What does Kim Lim (林慧俐) have that many of us do not, apart from beauty and money? This question was recently posed to us by a friend who admits to an irrational fascination with her social media appeal (on Instagram, she has 324K followers, among them Paris-based Singaporean designer Andrew Gn) and immense popularity among journalists. The answer was not obvious to us until now: she gets to enjoy a wildly lavish guodali (过大礼) betrothal ceremony! Ms Lim and her (still) unnamed fiancé (he’s only known by the handle ‘waleoweh’) are not quite married yet, but the soon-to-be groom did not hold back on the gifts—and their symbolisms—that he presented to her and family yesterday, according to a report on the digital edition of Icon. It was a boon to luxury brands (Rolex and Hermes!) and traders of shanzhen haiwei (山珍海味) luxury foodstuff. Her family needed to know she would be well dressed and fed, and he showed it! The expensive everything, reportedly to the tune of S$2 million, formed a sea of red against an acrylic floral wall, and the couple were happy to pose in the centre of the imposing and orderly array, underscored by more than a dozen boxes of chunky gold jewellery—way more than the sidianjin 四点金, four touches of gold (excluding the reported “15 gold bars”), that are customarily offered to the bride-to-be.

As invitee Xiaxue enthusiastically described the ceremony on IG Stories, “It’s the most bamz (something that’s very good) guo da li I’ve ever seen”. The groom arrived (at presumably the Lim family residence) in one black Rolls Royce, followed by another. He was decked in what Icon described as 上海滩唐装 (shang hai tan tang zhuang or Shanghainese Tang suit), in the colour of the fissures on the pale and expensive huagu (花菇 or flower mushroom) seen in the posted photos. Big-headed dolls and lion dancers came out to greet him, indicating an affair to follow that’s so massive, it would get social media immediately texting and sharing. The many images that appeared showed the impressive tiered set-up that could pass off as a brimming nianhuo (年货 or new year goods) stall on Waterloo Street during CNY. Or even an auspiciously-merchandised kiosk at a bridal show. This, according to Icon, was conceived and put together by The Wedding Atelier, the Singapore-born “luxury wedding planner”, with also an office in Hong Kong, and a client list few can proudly say they belong to.

Guodali (or gor dai lai in Cantonese) this huge and this elaborate is rarely seen these days, although in the distant past, the betrothal ceremony could be immense, lasting a few days and, for those with wealth, just as opulent, and an opportunity to show to those, who consider being informed of such matters essential, the families of the betrotheds’ riches or worth. The Hokkiens and the Peranakans know this as lapchai (纳财 or bringing in wealth), and theirs, especially for the latter, even came with a noisy procession of gift bearers, a band playing traditional instruments, and relatives deemed lucky enough to witness the ceremony. At its most basic, the guodali is a formal meeting between two families to exchange gifts that represent prosperity and—to ensure progeny—fertility too. But, as seen in what Kim Lim and her friends shared on IG, hers was far from basic. It was lavish, adorned, and splashy. Every single item—even the many cans of abalone—was affixed with the shuangxi (双喜) double-happiness character, and, if possible, encased or sheathed in red. For once and a change, the fiancée was upstaged.

One elderly lady brought to our attention that the guodali is normally dispensed with if it’s the second marriage for the woman. Ms Lim had tied the knot before. According to Icon, whose editor Sylvester Ng gets first dibs when it comes to stories of the fushang qianjin 富商千金 (daughter of a wealthy businessman), she registered her marriage in 2016 to Kho Bin Kai, a little-known fellow to the public she had met in Thailand, but the wedding banquet was held in March 2018 (no guodali was mentioned, although it is likely it took place, possibly more modestly), after the couple’s son was born. A year later, man and wife separated, and in 2020, both chose divorce. Soon—last September—she announced on IG that she was engaged. And now this OTT guodali, born of prodigal resources. It was a staggering display of immense attention to detail, rich with symbolism rarely appreciated today, presented by a guy not leaving the minutiae of ritual to his fiancée. It is no wonder that Kim Lim posted on IG when he proposed last year, “YES TO YOU A THOUSAND TIMES OVER AND OVER AGAIN!” We wish her (and fiancé) as much happiness as there were shuangxi cut-outs on every gift presented so dramatically to her, ahead of what is likely to be an even more staggering and extravagant wedding.

Photos: (top) thefloralatelier.co/Instagram and (bottom) kimlimhl/Instagram

Taste: It’s Good When It Isn’t

Refined and impeccable taste: Have they become so boring that going the opposite way is now far more appealing? Recent trends—and events—have made us wonder: is bad really better?

In a recent article about the rise in the popularity of wellies, the Guardian described the boots mostly associated with rain wear as “bad taste”. And it’s in the headline! Wellington boots, to call them by their proper, more tasteful English name, have a long history—whether illustrious or not, we can’t say. They go back to the early 1800s, and are associated with the British aristocracy. The footwear is, in fact, named after the 1st Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley. The good Duke was a military man and a Tory statesman. In fact, the chap served as prime minister not once, but twice. We do not know if he was an aesthete, but since he ruled over a dukedom, he probably had refined sensitivity towards his sartorial choices. Yet, the trusty wellies that he popularised, as well as their descendants (Bottega Veneta calls theirs by the positively low-brow ‘puddle boots’) are now associated with taste that’s not anywhere near good.

It does not require deep knowledge of current affairs to know that ‘ugly’ is, for more than half of the decade, not the ugly that we know. Ugly, the cousin of bad taste, is attractive; ugly is good; ugly is cool. We were even told that ugly wasn’t a passing fad. And it is true; it is still a trend! Ugly has redefined what is flattering just as much as it has changed what is considered attractive. In fact, chances are attractive is really not. Yet, it now encompasses so many aspect of contemporary tastes that even awful is in the jumble. And there is a word for it: inclusive. Or, the fake synonym, diverse. Both let ugly into the club. Ugly is dancing and winning. Now, if you refer to ugly in the negative, you’d have ugly-shamed! Ugly is so influential (in digital life, is influential synonymous with ugly?), it brought bad taste in too.

The thing about bad taste is that it needs it’s competitor good taste. Without good taste, bad taste won’t be that bad. One isn’t the mirror image of the other, but one can see what the other is not. It isn’t the bad that’s so bad it’s good. It’s bad that makes good look its part. What would Cinderella be without the bad—er, ugly—stepsisters? Would Cinderella stand out? Was it not the Fairy Godmother who gave her everything she needed that had some semblance of good taste? But what the Fairy Godmother created for her so that she could go to the good-taste ball came from the opposite of good: the footmen from mice, the driver of the coach from a frog, and the ball gown from rags! Oh, there is, of course, the coach; it was a pumpkin transformed, not a Yubari King melon!!!

Graphics om the Balenciaga ‘The Simpsons’ T-shirt. Product photo: Balenciaga

Fashion these days is hemorrhaging so much bad taste that it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore it as aberration that will vanish the next season. More and more, we can’t wish it away. It keeps coming at you, like mosquitoes on warm and humid days. Sometimes in ways you won’t expect. We are not hyperventilating. The Simpsons of every-town America, Springfield, for example, are not fashion darlings. As Matt Groening told the Smithsonian magazine in 2012, “I thought Simpson was a funny name in that it had the word ‘simp’ in it, which is short for “simpleton’”. But thanks to Balenciaga—the fearless bender of taste, the family of five are fashion icons. Is any of the Simpsons, now in Balenciaga and on Balenciaga, the epitome of good taste? Even poor Lisa Simpsons looks like a misguided 2nd grader who spends too much money on Shein, pearl choker intact. The Simpsons in Balenciaga seem to suggest that taste, like mood and marriages, can change overnight.

Balenciaga of the present, of course, straddles good and bad tastes, but oftentimes with one foot firmly planted in the latter. Their pairing with the Simpsons maybe irony at its highest order, but is it good taste? Or is this a sure reminder that so many people, like Homer Simpson, simply have no taste until someone comes along and gives them some. Not that Homer Simpson would be able to tell what is good or bad taste. In the case of the Balenciaga makeover of the residents of Springfield, it really depends on luck. But Balenciaga is increasingly able to make make bad taste better, so much so that it becomes good bad taste, or, as some might call it, “impeccable”. Example: Crocs. And recently it shows that on the runway or red carpet, bad taste can walk both. But with their haute couture revived, who’d dare say that Balenciaga is the arbiter of bad taste? Just badder?

Sometimes bad taste comes in the clever guise of ‘eclectic’. This eclectic is a parody of bad taste, often with kitsch as a partner in crime, and the devil around the two. That it might be steep in historicism does not take away bad-taste-as-eclectic’s parodic heft. The pied piper of this constantly jokey, retro-tinged pastiche is Gucci. Like stablemate Balenciaga, Gucci has made bad taste impossibly good, even gauche, galvanising the glaring and the glamourous into action. But few drawn to Gucci see the parody, nor, to be sure, the bad taste. When overexposed to such bad taste, we become immune to it. Bad-taste eclectic has a special—even sexual—power over those seeking fashion that looks like fashion. The nouveaux, like part of China’s social class tuhao (土豪), as well as the new-to-fashion are especially drawn to eclectic, like the proverbial magpie to shiny things. Or, a scene we get to see, flying termites to street lamps!

Chanel’s attempt at bad taste as seen on Lily Rose Depp in a recent campaign

When Balenciaga leads others follow. Bad taste is so potent that many can’t resist its pull, like boba tea. Chanel, once the epitome of good taste, is now moving away from it, baring so much underwear (above), just to name one transgression, that it would be considered bad taste just three pandemic-unheard years ago. Even Lily Rose Depp in the fall campaign couldn’t reverse the course. In fact, none of them nubile young things could. Blackpink’s Jisoo in the promo video Exploring Dior with Jisoo, expressed no taste, good or bad, when she saw the clothes; she was only able to utter, “I love this… I love this… Oh my god, I love this”. Is good taste daft? Chanel and its ilk joined the circus, but others have always been the ringmasters from the start. All-out bad taste at Dolce & Gabbana (including their marketing communication) keeps it in the spotlight. Others may fare less triumphantly but are no less trending, such as Roberto Cavalli and Virgil Abloh’s also-designer/DJ pal Heston Preston. Even to be named the “King of Bad Taste”, as Philipp Plein has, is an accolade. Zoolander, it seemed, saw the future.

To be sure, the Guardian isn’t the first to have ‘bad taste’ in its headline. Vogue, ever the seer of the future, already declared in 2018 that “Bad Taste Is the Best Thing to Happen to Fashion”. It did not conceal its enthusiasm for looks that were “about the hodgepodge style of looking like you don’t care at all coming into fashion”. But of course they cared (and still do), and the media continually shines a spotlight on bad taste, sending it on its inexorable rise. They do this by featuring the many artistes and celebrities, for whom bad taste is also the passport to ‘cred’, such as the Beibers, as well as so many American artistes-turned-whatever. Hip-hop stars have a big part in the rapid rise of bad taste. Whether by designing stuff or wearing them to effect insider advantage and cool, the sum of which frequently courts bad taste. But it isn’t just American stars who succumbed to taste aligned with bad. The Berlin rapper UFO361, a proponent, who attended the Balenciaga couture show, enthused in Stay High, “Nobody rocked Balenciaga. Crazy man. Long live Demna”. Ditto bad taste?

Perhaps bad taste is still taste, and in the world of fashion, it is increasingly better to have some taste than no taste. As the English novelist Arnold Bennett wrote in the Evening Standard in 1930, (even back then) “good taste is better than bad taste, but bad taste is better than no taste”. Although Mr Bennett was commentating on literary taste, what he said is just as applicable to much of today’s culture, not just fashion. In fact, bad taste is so much better that we have become used to it, and to the point it isn’t bad anymore. For many here, bad taste is who are: this is how we dress and behave. Accept it! And who even calls out bad taste when they can wallow in the repository of bad taste—TikTok, even YouTube? Has social media accelerated the consumption of bad taste? Its widespread use has certainly put bad taste persistently visible online. Bad taste manifests in not just what we wear, but in how we behave, in how we speak, in how we write, in the expletives we prefer, in the division we sow, in the crassness we consume, in the asinine jokes we rollick through, and in the private lives we expose—all delightfully. Even the most ardent among the promulgators of bad taste have become the arbiters of good taste. And our appetites only grow. And grow.

Illustrations by Just So

The Parched Ah Lians

A.k.a. The Thirsty Sisters, but they are no more

Bound by thirst and sisterhood: Sylvia Chan (left) and Nina Tan

Five days ago, at the height of the Sylvia Chan/Night Owl Cinematics (NOC) open-to-all drama and one movie-length interview facilitated by Xiaxue, the NOC-affiliated podcast The Thirsty Sisters (TTS) is no more. Or, all posts are now removed (as of 21 October) from their dedicated channel. Even their Instagram page is deleted. Helmed by Ms Chan and her cousin-in-law Nina Tan, the podcast touts itself as the explorer of “hot and pressing issues”. Is the withdrawal of the podcasts from public enjoyment indication that what the women had discussed are no longer hot, or pressing? Or, is the thirst of the sisters finally quenched? The title of their show, then, no longer relevant? Online speculations suggested that in order not to drag Ms Tan along on the mud that Ms Chan has found herself in as she pulled others along with her, the latter decided to remove their rowdy online presence. The channel is, however, still on YouTube, which, for hopeful fans, is indication that the dehydrated jiemei may soon return.

Despite their supposed popularity, there are many who are still unaware that there are two sisters thirsty enough to start a podcast. What are the sister thirsty for? It isn’t clear if they needed merely liquids or libation, or if they are, like most influencers, eagerly desirous of an audience—31.7K on YouTube alone—or just craving attention. Or something more profound, such as “wisdom, trends, success and men”, according to the podcast analytics service Chartable. As they described it on YouTube, the podcast is about their “raw and real journey of living (their) best lives, crying over love/dating struggles”. In their last post, Biting your Lips on the First Date, shared on 7 October, Ms Chan asked her co-host/relative, between promoting Koi Guava Green Tea, “do you think it’s too much if they keep looking at the area of your tits or your groin?” The women are extremely comfortable, possibly more than their listeners, to talk about sex and, more sex. And “dicks”. And they love to post posers, such as “When is it okay to bang?” and “What’s the best size?” On top of that, they give relationship advice. Sort of.

The Thirsty Sisters channel is still up, but there is no content

Who are the thirsty sisters? Sylvia Chan, the main news this past weeks, requires no introduction. Nina Tan (陈淑芬) was born in 1991. Unlike her fellow Thirsty Sister, she did not have to cross the causeway to go to school, as she is Singaporean and completed her education here. But we do not know which institution she went to or if she was, like Ms Chan, bullied as a student. Not much is known about her other than what she has revealed in NOC videos and the podcast, which is not a lot, or detailed. For example, we only know she has a diploma in sports education and had wanted to be a PE teacher (she did enjoy playing hockey very much). Her mother, in fact, wanted her to be an air stewardess. But she chose to not to be, taking on other jobs: “I was a barista; I was a Canon girl at an IT show, and then I was a beauty therapist for a period of time,” she said on TTS.

As with many of the NOC regulars, she had her start with the founders of the popular YouTube channel. She told the Chinese radio show, 后台无限 Play (Unlimited Behind-The-Scene Play), that her cousin Ryan Tan, Ms Chan’s former husband, said to her, “we’re filming something and we’re looking for people. Would you like to come down to help me?” She agreed to help just once, but ended up as an NOC talent for “eight to nine years (nine, in fact)”. But, prior to that she was already working with the husband and wife on their wedding videography business. She is, therefore, considered by her employers to be “one of the og NOC girls”, as described on the company’s website. A lauded comedian, she has also appeared on Mediacorp programmes such as 这个是不是Prank? (or Prank It!). She is now considered to be in the big league among YouTubers and Instagrammers, and has plugged anything from McCafé Kopi Frappé to Durex condoms.

According to their own telling on TTS, the two women met in 2010 when Ms Chan was at her husband’s family home to announce the couple’s decision to get married. The women did not talk, and all that was on Nina Tan’s mind then: “When can I leave?” As Ms Chan said, they had no impression of each other. But close they did become as a result of time spent in the office and with Ah Ma (grandmother) during one particular Chinese New Year. They became gym buddies at Amore Fitness, doing zumba and kick-boxing. “After that, since we go the gym together, we decided to eat together also. And after that, drink together also.” But more than activity companions, they hit it off because, as Ms Chan said, “We clicked and ‘vibed’ so much”. More significantly, she found in Ms Tan the younger sister she never had. And in each other, honesty that is rare. Ms Chan even said to her cousin-in-law: “one of the best things that came out of me and Ryan’s marriage is actually having you as a sister”.

It is hard to tell the difference between these siblings defined by thirst and those characters they play on NOC videos. They are, as fans concur, “raw and real”, in equal measure. They are brash and loud too, in proud Singlish. and basically do not give a hoot to what anyone perceives of them, to or say. They are all the caricatures ever played on local media rolled into two equal parts, packaged as sort-of-feminist ideal, but, perhaps, more in a sociosexual context. Many of their listeners are charmed and inspired, if not empowered, by their daring, nothing-is-taboo stance, as comfortable talking about men’s failings as the pleasures of sex toys. Nina Tan told Elle SG in February this year, “When Sylvia and I talk about such topics on our podcast, it works to break down that idea that self-pleasuring is too taboo to speak about. Our listeners have been pretty receptive, although we still get some comments saying that we are too out there and ‘trashy’ that, honestly, I’m tickled by. At least there is a voice and platform out there for people who are interested in different perspectives”.

And while talking trashily on the platform, they seemed genuinely interested in men—Ms Chan prefers the “alpha male” and Ms Tan those with “dad bod”—they are just as eager to show that “there is no dick worth your self-esteem; there is no guy that’s worth your self-worth”. The popularity of The Thirsty Sisters seems to commensurate with the rise of vocal women who truly believe they can do and say anything, even to expose the guys they have had bad dating experiences with publicly as a “warning” to other women, with no careful consideration for consequences. Ms Chan herself is now seen as vintage example, after she dramatically disclosed her husband’s mental health struggles, among other intimate details, with Xiaxue just days ago. The Thirsty Sisters sent out its first podcast in April 2020. There are 55 episodes so far, each averaging 40-minutes long. It is not conclusively clear why they yanked every single episode out of YouTube other than for the protection of the younger co-host. But if, as Sylvia Chan said in one of the podcasts, “we can probably get into deeper shit and we are going to laugh about it”, what’s the real fear?

Illustration: Just So

Sylvia Chan Opened Up To Xiaxue

One ex-pink-haired spilled to another, and it became only louder

Warning: this post contains language and description that some readers may find offensive

At around fifteen past eight yesterday evening, influencer extraordinaire Xiaxue announced/teased on Instagram that Sylvia Chan “is going to appear on video to give an exclusive interview to me to clip her side of the story as well as to answer some hard questions.” Clumsy intro aside, the host preview snips of Ms Chan angry, effing, and crying, as well as the explosive admission: “we never have a happy marriage”. Social-media broadcasts like these possibly explain why free-to-air television struggles to find enough viewers. They also show that influencers-as-talk-show-hosts are more compelling to watch than TV old hats, such as Quan Yifeng. The saga involving Ms Chan is not only trending, it has engrossed much of our social media-consuming world. Our look into who she is and what happened was this year’s most viewed within thirty-six hours of of its appearance on SOTD. Xiaxue’s promised interview was finally shared two hours later, at ten thirty, possibly because of the R-rated content. The hard questions were fairly hard, but the show was pacy melodrama that even Channel U’s Sunday night Thai soap operas can’t match.

Recorded on 22 October, the interview was shared on Xiaxue’s own eponymous YouTube channel. It opened with her ensuring viewers of the integrity of the show: “this interview is entirely produced by my own team. Okay, I’m not being paid by NOC or Sylvia in any way. She does not know the questions I’m going to be asking her before hand. And she does not get any vetting or editing rights in what is the final piece that is going to be published.” The chat between the women was an hour and forty-seven minutes long, or nearly the average length of a movie (the running time of the recent Shang Chi is 132 minutes). By midnight, there were more than 110,000 views. CNA’s broadcast of the Multi-Ministry Task Force’s full news conference earlier yesterday, also on YouTube, had only 70K views. Three hours after the “bombshell after bombshell” interview, as Xiaxue delightfully called it, 7.4K viewers liked it.

And it certainly did have a sudden and sensational effect. Set in what could be a living room, the two—one looked as if dressed for a regular IG shoot and the other, for a meeting with a defamation lawyer, but both without their recognisable pink dos—spoke as girlfriend to girlfriend would: with candour and mutual outrage. Sylvia Chan used YouTube to announce her divorce; she used the same platform to proclaim that not only did she and her former husband Ryan Tan “never”—not once, rather than the inaccurate synonym Singaporeans prefer: did not—enjoyed conjugal bliss, she was the target of a “smear campaign” by him to get her out of Night Owl Cinematics, the media company they started together, and that Mr Tan was suicidal, unfaithful, and unwilling to have sex with her! And, on top of that, she believes he is the one to initiate the smear of the past three weeks against her because “Ryan has something to gain from this”.

As it turned out, it was cushion-holding airing of dirty laundry. No holds barred. Three days ago, a “spokeperson” told CNA that “with regards to the latest slew of allegations, (Sylvia) intends to address and thoroughly rebut every one of these in due course.” No one could have guessed the rebutal (and rebuke) would be conducted in this manner. It is not certain if Ms Chan’s intention was to rehabiltate her battered image (she said of the interview, “it’s more cathartic than anything I want to achieve today”). If so, why did she not speak to accredited media? Or was she confident that Xiaxue would accord her “the right to say her peace“. After all, “even murderers have their day in court“, never mind if Ms Chan would be tried in the court of public opinion. One sensed that this fiery tell-all emerged from rancour, and was based on the motivation, if you pull me down, I’ll drag you down too.

This post will not be a summary of the many points and allegations raised in the video. Mothership would already have it published before the sun rises. Rather, this is a reaction post, faintly in the vein of reaction videos. And it is hard to be dispassionate about it, just as it seemed difficult for Ms Chan to comport herself. Xiaxue conducted the interview with the flair of Jerry Springer, the refinement of his delirious guests, and the empathy of Oprah Winfrey. She said, “I am trying to be neutral”, but played the responsive sympathiser. And Sylvia Chan easily opened up to her. The rapport was obvious and the responses spontaneous. This could hardly be scripted, although, in planning the questions, Xiaxue and her team clearly aimed to spill corporate scandal, spousal indiscretion, bosom-buddy betrayal, influencer gossip, insider misdeeds, familial shock, and, the icing on the cake, self-loathing. Without doubt, they knew how to augment the trash factor.

Ms Chan was no less skilled than her interviewer, cleverly deflecting questions, agilely not admitting to wrong doing and nearly denying a particular sex-act exposé (a friend said, “your boobs, wrong size”). She was sure to set out that if she was bad or reprehensible, they made her so. It was easy to feel sorry for her. She only wanted “to be that person to protect her business, to protect Ryan”—“this person really bully you, ah. I’m going to fuck him; I’m going to fuck him up for you… Because I love him, I fuck that person up, lah”. Now, she called herself “the shit of Singapore”, yet she never wanted to be “Sylvia, Version Shit”. Still, she pushed on with a tough and unyielding demeanour of herself: “I always say I am very strong, one. You know, I always say like, never mind, lah. Shit happens is okay, one. And I tell myself, today I won’t cry, one. Can’t stand the show cry for what? Go and show people that I don’t give a fuck. You want to call me a bitch, now I am, lor.”

As so many have read and seen these past weeks, shit did happen. And Xiaxue, who equates being “vulgar” with being “straightforward”, was able to make it happen again. This is one video that easily beats, in content strength, the entire series of NOC’s ‘Shit’ videos, beginning with 2013’s Shit Singaporean Girlfriends Say. In those narratives, bad behaviours are hard to justify. But in this, every alleged wrong-doing is offset with a legit excuse. On the purported “barter trade”, for example, of the sexual services of her talents for logistics arrangements for NOC, which Ms Chan laughed as they are “not a retail company”, she asked, “What is wrong if you introduce girlfriends to really rich guys?” Even acrimonious reactions: “He knows me well enough to say things that will make me very pissed off.” Her tendency to eff has nothing to do with her. Whether or not the video was shared to augment Xiaxue’s status as the queen of controversy or so that followers and more could revel in her subject’s misfortunes, or cackle at her foibles, it was the entertainment Night Owl Cinematics could not have produced. Or, dreamed to.

Xiaxue’s video post (the content of which “stupified” her, as she said in the end) had the input of her lawyers; it came with a disclaimer: “The guest states that all statements of facts she makes within the programme are based on materials in her personal possession evidencing these facts. Where she makes any opinions, these constitute her personal fair comments derived from information and materials she has access to and are not meant to offend, insinuate anything, or disparage any person. Neither are these comments or opinions meant to cause alarm, harassment, or distress to any person.” A good part of the interview talked about Ryan Tan’s supposed suicidal tendencies. Apparently, when he tried to end his life in Osaka in 2017, it was not his first attempt—it has happened “so, so, so many times”. Sylvia Chan repeatedly said she was and has been afraid that he would kill himself. She even wondered if he would do so after watching this video. Would there then be no incredulous gasp when reading the last sentence of the disclaimer? That a dysfunctional marriage should end is understandable. No life, however, should follow suit.

Update (25 October 2021, 5.30pm): Barely a day after her interview with her friend Xiaxue, Sylvia Chan issued a second apology. This time, unlike the first, she actually said she is sorry. “I am truly sorry for all the wrongs I have done,” she wrote on her Instagram page, “and the mistakes I have made.” In five short paragraphs, she said that she is cooperating with the authorities investigating her work place and hopes that she “be given a chance to work on (herself) to become a better person, and a better leader”. The curious thing is, why did she not apologise on Xiaxue’s show? Why did she, instead, continue to besmear others she thought had wronged her? Puzzling, no?

Screen grabs: xiaxue/Facebook

What Happened, Sylvia Chan?

More allegations have surfaced about the Night Owl Cinematics boss. Will there be a second ‘apology’? Or would this be the fall of one angry Ah Lian?

This past week has perhaps been a bonus for those who are voracious readers of news about influencers who have not fared as brilliantly as they have made themselves so on social media. Earlier in the week, TikTok sensation Koh Boon Ki (许文琪) was called out for facilitating the dissemination of damming information of men that a group of women wanted excluded from the dating market. Doxxing and cyberbullying were bandied about in relation to what Ms Koh initially allowed before it grew too big to be contained within a group chat. Before her, Sylvia Chan (陈思华) was exposed to have allegedly used offensive language against the staff of Night Owl Cinematics (NOC), the company she runs. This, to many, was seen as bullying too. Although she took a while, Ms Chan issued what was assumed to be an apology on Instagram and removed herself from NOC’s list of artistes, but she remained, as far as it is publicly known, the boss. Less than a week after her peace offering, former and present employees of NOC “gathered… to break their silence on the allegations” with Must Share News. In addition, present and ex-staffers (it is not known if they are the same people who shared their experiences with MSN) started a blog, End the Silence, on Google’s blogging platform Blogspot to “to shed light on (their) workplace encounters over the years with Sylvia Chan”. At the same time, the blog creators also started a YouTube channel of the same name, on which they shared a video of clips of Ms Chan’s reactions during what appears to be meetings conducted via video calls or Zoom. The post has attracted 255, 543 views and 414 comments in less than a day, or while we write this.

That more verifications have appeared to bolster the initial accusations suggest the extent of her offensive behaviour and how deep the displeasure among those affected ran. There was no corporate disciplinary committee to act. The transgressions are now determined publicly, with many Netizens asking for her to be met with what her pal Xiaxue passionately disapprove: cancellation. Charges against Ms Chan on End the Silence were preceded by a disclaimer: “we have exhausted all means of trying to get our voices heard in NOC by talking to key members of the management team as appointed by Sylvia – such as Sylvia herself, the accountant, her lawyers… and more but to no avail”. The optics have not been good for Ms Chan. On the video shared on YouTube, there was no mistaking her disdain, disapproval, and displeasure with the participants of the Zoom call. There was even talking down to reportedly her husband Ryan Tan (it is not certain if they were divorced at the time of the heated interlocution) when the exchange did not go her way. Details of her management habit too were revealed, such as messaging her staff “at (sic) Sunday 3am”. While Mr Tan spoke, she was seen smoking and smirking. Her behaviour seemed to commensurate with the bubbling public perception of her now: “boss from hell”.

Sylvia Chan striking a pose in the style of the covers of I-D magazine

Sylvia Chan was born in Johor Bahru in 1988, the year Singapore and Malaysia signed a memorandum of understanding on water and gas supplies, which set out the terms of their future sales by our northern neighbour to us. According to her YouTube post Draw my Life (then under her debut channel Ryan Sylvia), she grew up in Kampung Saleng (now Kampung Baru Saleng). This small town in the Kulai district, with a population of about 92,223, sits just 50 kilometres to the north of our city. Its residents are mostly Chinese and many speak the Hakka dialect. She lived in a house not situated in the heart of town, and the family “had a durian tree, a rambutan tree, and a vegetable gardens (sic), and lots of chickens walking around all the time”. She considered those days the best part of her life. Village days were blissful: “I would feed turtles in the temple, steal fruits from my neighbours’ tree, collect chicken eggs, and get scolded by my grandmother all day, but it was awesome, and I love my grandmother a lot.”

She started schooling late (K2, when she was six) because “when you live in a kampung, you don’t need to study, lah”. Little is known about her parents (except that her mother, who calls her “geer” (girl), is Peranakan and “worked in an office job (sic)”), but when she was in Primary 3 back in JB, they sent her to Singapore to continue her studies after she told her parents she “didn’t want to study anymore” because “the teachers were really scary and they had canes and they scold (sic) me all the time”. She admitted that it “sounds really bad but I was actually at the top of my class, but I was really stressed”. She did not say which school in Kampung Saleng that she went to, but, according to public records, such as Kemudahan Carian Sekolah-Sekolah di Malaysia, there is only one primary school in the town: Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan (C) Saleng (沙令国民型华文小学) or SJK (C) Saleng, a national (government) school, with medium of instruction in Mandarin. In Singapore, her parents managed to secure a place for her in Fuchun Primary, a school in Woodlands (three hours by bus from Kampung Saleng) that was founded in 1985, three years before she was born.

In Singapore, she discovered that Singaporeans were all very wealthy because the people could shop for clothes frequently while, for her, purchasing new garments was only for the first day of the Lunar New Year

Ms Chan told Quan Yifeng (权怡凤) in the 2020 talk show Hear U Out (权听你说) that the entire Chan family budget was spent on sending her to school here. Back then, she woke up at four in the morning so that she could make the three-hour commute by bus—sometimes alongside pig delivery trucks (a fact she seems to be proud of as she is wont to repeat it)—to cross the causeway to get to school. She claimed that she was afraid in those early years as she felt the weight of her entire household’s financial sacrifice on her. When asked if her family “算是小康 (is considered moderately affluent), she replied, “其实算是辛苦 (actually, considered hard)”. The early years here were tough also because she had to use “full English from full Chinese back in Malaysia”. She added that in Singapore, she discovered that Singaporeans were all very wealthy because the people could shop for clothes frequently while, for her, purchasing new garments was only for the first day of the Lunar New Year. Despite their thrifty way of life, it appears that she was very much doted on at home in JB. As she once said on the social network Ask.fm, “I grew up with two brothers and five male cousins in my childhood (sic), plus I was the only girl in the neighbourhood”. She wanted so badly to have sisters, she recounted in an episode of the podcast The Thirsty Sisters, that when her mother was at work, she dressed her two brothers in half-drag (high heels and handbags were involved too) and created “different scenes” so that she could say, “today, ladies, we’re going to the market and another day, ladies, we’re going to work”.

After her PSLE, she went to Nanyang Girl’s High School. Although she had spent more than three years in the school system here, she did not enjoy her time at NYGH. She considers it “a very sad period”. Again, on Ask.fm, she said that it was “one of the most difficult part (sic) of my life. Everyone was super competitive and I was bullied a lot by my school mates and teachers alike”. Secondary school was similar to her first three years in primary—it was “super stressful and competitive and some of my teachers are (sic) more demon than human so I thought I was gonna die from the pressure. I even pon (first syllable of ponteng, Malay for playing truant) school sometimes (on rainy days) cos I couldn’t muster any more strength to continue”. But she did, as she performed well at the ‘O’ levels, scoring seven points. While her peers would have not hesitated to go to junior college with that, she was contemplating something else. “A diploma in visual effects from Temasek Poly. Did I go ahead with that choice? No. Because I was young and impressionable and I followed what people told me to do.” So she enrolled in Anglo Chinese Junior College. While she said she enjoyed her JC days, she did not complete her education there. She told Quan Yifeng that her grandmother’s death (when she was in JC2) impacted her severely, so much so that she suffered “depression, OCD, and rage disorder”. She then decided to stop her studies at ACJC. Despite her mental health, she considers herself to be “a super sensible teen, and I gave my mom an update every 3 hours if I’m out”. After a hiatus from school, she decided to enroll in University of London (Singapore campus) to read economics. According to some media reports, she did not complete her studies.

Ryan Tan and Sylvia Chan as Xi Guay Ong and Xiao Bitch respectively

Modelling, too, was in the picture, and it was during this time that she met her future husband Ryan Tan (陈伟文), a Kent Ridge Secondary School alum. Both were 16 then, but neither revealed what modelling jobs they did. However, Mr Tan was “also doing model management jobs and other odd jobs”, as Sylvia Chan recounted on Draw my Life. “It just so happens that I was also working as a part-time model to earn some money, and that’s when I met Ryan”. But it was not until five years later, when Mr Tan became a franchisee of an American-themed restaurant (in the drawing, “New York New York” was scribbled on the whiteboard. There was such a place in Citilink back in 2008, but it later folded) that he started dating her, as she put it. She told Quan Yifeng that during this time, she assisted him—“有菜捧菜,有碗洗碗”, serve and wash dishes, whatever needed to be done. But in one episode of On the Red Dot in 2015, both regaled host Cheryl Fox with a far more dramatic story that was worthy of a Niu Chengze (鈕承澤) movie. Ms Chan said that an ex-boyfriend had stolen her money, so she asked “Ryan, who was just a normal friend, for help, because he looked more ‘gangster’ (suggesting that she was drawn to the more paikia type)”. Despite the confrontation that involved the other party’s family, the money was not returned. Mr Tan’s version, as he told Today in the same year: “I saw her on the streets and she was scolding some vulgarities to her ex-boyfriend, who seemed to have cheated her of some money. After that I tried to help her get her money, but it didn’t succeed”. They made a police report and went for lunch. Mr Tan described that meal together as their “first date”, to which she’d say, “That’s what he likes to tell people”.

But it did not end there. As he recalled on On the Red Dot, “I had to drop her off at the checkpoint for her to go home. Before the long tedious journey to the customs, we stopped by at my home, where she came by (but nothing happened)”. After sending her to the checkpoint, he return home and found a bottle of perfume in his room. Thinking that Ms Chan had left it behind by mistake, he contacted a common friend to have it returned to the owner, but was told that he had to do it himself. When he met her to pass the perfume bottle back to her, “that’s when we got together and started dating,” he said. The story, again, does not end there: more was revealed on their wedding day. “The common friend got so drunk… she told me that Sylvia left the perfume bottle there intentionally, and she asked me not to take it back from you so that you will see her again”. Those with a flair for strategising may find possible kinship with her in her methods.

Even when Ryan Tan’s restaurant business was in full swing, his girlfriend-by-then, Sylvia Chan, was unable to say what her interests truly were. “In fact, I did know what I would like to do,” she said on Hear U Out. “The restaurant was not doing well and incurred losses. It became Ryan’s turn to be depressed.” She asked him, “Eh, how about you (sic) learn from my experience: firstly, ask yourself what would make you happy.” He told her that, as a matter of fact, he likes filming and editing videos. Mr Tan then took on a few freelance jobs, and the more filming and editing he did, the happier he became. “It came to a point when he said, ‘eh, I want to do this (making videos) as a career’.” She supported his decision. “Anyway, it was not that I had a big career waiting for me.” They started making wedding videos. At the start, they charged S$300 per production, a low price justified by the lack of wedding videography services back then, according to Ms Chan. But apart from weddings, the couple accepted jobs to record funerals too. As Ms Chan told Quan Yifeng, “You cannot laugh. We had to make money, okay. We had only two small cameras; we had to earn more to buy a bigger, better camera, which cost S$3,000.”

Sylvia Chan modelling when she was 17

At this juncture, it should be stated that there seems to be some contradiction in terms of chronological order of events, or who said what and did what. It is possible that the couple led such a hectic life that they told different people or different members of the press different dates relating to the important milestones of their lives together. Even Sylvia Chan herself has not been consistent with the sequence of the happenings in her life. In any case, after they “stead” for eight months, the Chens (陈) got married and became the Tans (陈) in 2010 (many conservative Singaporeans believe two people of the same surname should not come together in matrimony). On why she was attracted to Ryan Tan, she said on Ask.fm, “he complements me in every way and he has a fat baby smell that I love.” She said on Draw my Life, “one day, while we were driving, he asked me if I want to marry him (sic). So I said, are you sure, and he said yah.” She then called her “cool mom” to break the good news. The first question she asked her excited daughter: “you diao kia (unplanned, pre-marital pregnancy, in Hokkien) or not?” Ms Chan responded swiftly. “I said no and she replied (in the illustration, she wrote ‘I am a legit woman’), ‘Okay, lor. You want marry then marry, lor. K, bye’!” When this was revealed, the question on many lips was, who’s mother would ask such a question unless her daughter is known to her to be promiscuous?

But marry, the love birds did. By most early accounts, they were happy. Not only were they partners in life, they were partners in business. Before Night Owl Cinematic took definite shape, the couple dabbled in the F&B business again with Shi Wei Tian (食为天), a retro-themed Chinese restaurant in Joo Chiat Place—based on Mr Tan’s Malaysian grandmother’s recipes—that also served Malay street food, such as the fried rice, nasi Pattaya. As Ms Chan recounted in Draw my Life, her husband’s “food business was doing pretty well”, which seemed to contradict her claim to Quan Yifeng that “the restaurant was not doing well and incurred losses”. In any case, things appeared encouraging enough for Ryan Tan to open Shi Wei Tian. “It did well at first,” according to Ms Chan in Draw my Life, “but then the rising rental and the manpower loss (she did not elaborate) caused him a little bit of trouble and he was soon bleeding money from the business.” Things became so bad financially that, as the video telling continued, Mr Tan took money from the till, went to a casino “just to win a little bit more money to pay our staff. It worked but it was really a risky and scary part of our lives.” Despite the enterprising method, in the end, they “had to sell off all (their) businesses (listed as three)”, which led both to be in such bad financial shape that they had to “share their hawker centre meals together (sic)”.

Although editing on the side was enjoyable, Ryan Tan was “soon frustrated with the shots and he felt it wasn’t (sic) good enough to be edited, and that’s where he started doing videography on his own. NOC was thus born. According to her narration in Hear U Out, NOC came about in 2013 when a wedding planner approached them “to film his own set-up”. But he had some requirements; he did not want anything “basic”; he wanted to have “cinematography”. This stumped Ms Chan. “What? Cinematography?” They were asked if they knew what that was, and both said “YES!”. They had to, as they had already accepted the job, valued at an irresistible S$800. The client asked if they had a slider, and both said “YES!” too. They rented a slider and, as the filming was not due till a month later, they had a chance to practise. So, they gathered a few friends, which included Ms Chan’s brother Sikeen, and filmed the seminal comedy video, Shit Mahjong Players Say, which received 2,000 views on the first day of its release. Ms Chan told Quan Yifeng that she had never seen such a figure. A week later, the viewership grew to 20,000. By their third video, Shit Singaporean Girlfriends Say, “we were viral material” (to date, more than one million views and the ‘Shit’ series was born). The response encouraged the duo to build on their brand of humour: heartland-strong, grassroots-relevant, and not necessarily funny. Although the pair did discover cinematography, their output has never been a Christopher Doyle. But, to their target audience, slick production values mattered not. Ryan Tan and Sylvia Chan were the King of Bengdom and the Queen of Lian Land, and YouTube stars and the platform’s “power couple”.

Sylvia Chan as Xiao Bitch

Power coupledom took its toll (by 2018, the two were constantly on the top 10 lists of “Internet Celebrities You Must Know”). So did playing Xi Guay Ong (Ryan Tan as Watermelon King) and Xiao Bitch (Sylvia Chan as Crazy Bitch), the two NOC characters that Netizens are now saying could be at least partly autobiographical. In a 2015 episode of Sylvia Ryan, titled The Weird Couple, the now disgraced YouTuber Dee Kosh said, “Ryan and Sylvia are so different.” Added fellow YouTuber Fish, “they are so different I don’t even know how they work together or how even they got married (sic).” Mr Kosh described the male half of NOC as “a plain prata”, while Fish said “Sylvia, the prata, got egg, got chicken, got rice, got everything also add inside (sic).” Amid the past weeks’ allegations of bad behaviour, some of their followers are now wondering if Sylvia Chan has all along been playing and being her true self: ill-tempered and foul-mouthed. Two years after NOC was established, Ms Chan’s disposition was known to be like the colour of her hair: fiery. In the clearly not comedic The Weird Couple, Fish also declared that “Ryan is always a civil guy, but sometimes when Sylvia is angry, her tiger just comes out… WAAAA…” To substantiate his point, he described “one of (his) personal experiences shooting with Night Owl Cinematics…. when Sylvia gets really mad on set; she starts getting angry at somebody, (and) I want to ask her a question, but I am scared if I go, ‘eh, ah, Sylvia,’ she ‘WHAT, WHAT YOU WANT?’” When asked on Hear U Out how her staff would appraise her, she said confidently, “they would say I am fair, love that they write reports, and, if anything that is not done well, no matter who is guilty, I would scold.” Also on The Weird Couple, NOC’s star performer Tan Jianhao (now the CEO of his own company Titan Digital Media) said, “If they have any questions, go to Ryan, but when they see Sylvia, they will (shielding the right side of his face with his right hand), ‘oh my god, is she going to scold me?’”

Last year, the couple, minus their fervid avatars, shocked their fans and the world of local YouTubers with the news that they were divorced. The information was, like so much of their lives up till then, released via video on YouTube. This enjoyed a staggering 2.1 million views. Ms Chan, told Quan Yifeng that day, the viewers and fans knew of the divorce before her parents! Unsurprisingly, some Netizens wondered if they profited from this. Not long after the We Got A Divorce video, Ryan Tan shared his struggles with depression in an Instagram post. There was even a suicide attempt while filming a travelogue in Osaka in 2017. On the pressures of being a power couple and the demands of work, Mr Tan wrote, “I completely gave up on myself and started to loathe my existence, believing that my sole purpose was to just produce videos after videos (later, he described NOC as a “video factory”). I no longer had the desire to travel, to buy anything, or to even look forward to anything.” On the Divorce video, he said, “I don’t enjoy fame; I don’t enjoy recognition. I don’t enjoy being in the public eye.” The stress from the sacrifices is understandable. By then, it was known that “every YouTuber has appeared in an NOC video” and that the founders of NOC are the mother and father to the community”.

“Employees have noted that even after this survey was done, there was no improvement in the welfare of the staff, and no follow-up actions were conducted. Sylvia’s alleged feedback on this HR investigation was that she was not happy with the results of this survey as she found it to be biased”

It is not unreasonable to assume that Sylvia Chan was experiencing similar professional pressure, enough for the build-up to turn her into the verbally abusive person whose text and audio messages were leaked on social media three weeks ago, opening up allegations—and more allegations—of vulgar outbursts. While it is possible that Ms Chan has not resolved the affliction that she called “rage disorder”, it is also imaginable that she is a temperamental person to begin with, even when she has learnt martial arts, specifically wushu and taekwando (blue belt), whose basic tenets include courtesy, integrity, perseverance, and self-control. Not only are her present and former employees speaking up, others who have had dealings with her, including providers of personal services, are also relaying, “she is not a very nice person.” Armchair psychiatrists and her supporters attribute her explosive temper to survival instincts, honed during her students days, when she claimed she was bullied by classmates and teachers. We may never know the truth, but it is unfortunate that juvenile angst and anger can’t be left behind. Instead, they tag along and dominate adult professional life.

From the start of her career, Ms Chan has not worked as an employee. She made the leap to the station of boss in almost a single bound. Even when she helped out at Mr Tan’s restaurants, she did so as the boss’s lover. When NOC was formed, she ran it as one who had never been part of an organisation, at any level, that would have allowed her to see how an effective, pro-staff manager works. By her admission on Hear U Out, she knew almost nothing when she and Mr Tan started the business. She was even clueless about HR, although, as she said in Draw my Life, she studied “econs”. As she told Quan Yifeng, “At the start, we may not have a finance department, we have no accounts, no auditors, but suddenly we are working with government agencies, and many brands are coming onboard, and they would say, ‘does your HR know how to issue…’” So she went to learn: “I had to do my investigation—eh, what is HR?”

But it seemed she still did not quite grasp what she picked up. She said on Ask.fm, “I don’t know if many of you know but NOC is not just a YouTube channel but also a company—Ryan and I have staff to take care of…” Yet, top on the list of grievances aired on the End the Silence blog post is “alleged failed attempt to remedy HR issues”. As shared, a survey was conducted among the staff to help management better manage HR issues, but, as the writers of the blog stated, “employees have noted that even after this survey was done, there was no improvement in the welfare of the staff, and no follow-up actions were conducted. Sylvia’s alleged feedback on this HR investigation was that she was not happy with the results of this survey as she found it to be biased”. Is it possible that she is still ignorant of HR, and, therefore, runs her company based on unreliable instincts and the instilling of fear?

Sylvia Chan’s disposition is known to be like the colour of her hair: fiery

The startling exposé on End the Silence did not only reveal Sylvia Chan’s “misdeeds and mistreatment”, which the sharers—identified as “Sylvia’s victims”—want her accountable for, the single-entry blog post also laid open supposed financial irregularities that could fall afoul of the Companies Act, issues with salary paid to her ex-husband Ryan Tan (in a text chat that was also shared, she purportedly wrote, “I was the one who assign him the pay”), and the supposed request for her younger brother Sikeen Chan to be under the NOC payroll so that he could attain an S Pass and, as a result, file a PR application (it is not known if he is now a permanent resident, but in a May 2021 issue of Home & Decor, it was reported that “Sylvia and her brother decided to model this 1,700 sq ft shophouse after their childhood kampung home”). While she said on Hear U Out that she and Ryan Tan are no longer at a “玩玩 (play-play)” stage, as there were at the start, and that she has “slowly discovered” that, for many things, she has to “go by corporate rules”, followers of the on-going saga are now asserting that if the serious and incriminating allegations on End the Silence were true, she was merely paying lip service. And Quan Yifeng lapped it all up.

Perhaps more unfair was the digging up of her personal life away from NOC. However, since it was categorised as supposed infidelity, with its own cross head “Alleged Cheating On Ryan While He Was In Taiwan”, the whistleblower probably thought it ranks up there with “the improvement of employee welfare”. Through a series of text chats supposedly shared by “someone who was close to Sylvia” (yes, in the past tense), and who appeared to be away with Mr Tan and his team at the time the text messages were exchanged, Ms Chan was depicted to live a life of a sexually active woman, who enjoys the occasional fling and fellatio. She has admitted on television that part of the reason for revealing her divorce on YouTube—or so publicly—was because people were DM-ing Ryan Tan with the information that she was seen with other guys. She called this “拍拖, 喝咖啡而已 (dating but only drinking coffee)”. She did not deny engaging in social appointments with the possibility that a romantic relationship may develop. Her detractors would say neither did she admit to the details so explicitly shared—including the girth of the man’s genital—with the someone who was once close to her. But in the scandalous text messages revealed, she did acknowledge that she is inclined to cheat.

Social media stars tend to find fame and success rapidly, without the usual mundane trajectories experienced by those not in the same line of work. When they set up companies and are keen to give themselves fancy titles to show that, ultimately, they are the boss, not many are capable of living up to the lofty position that they have hoisted themselves on to. From the time her former husband saw her “on the street and she was scolding some vulgarities to her ex-boyfriend” to the alleged “strong language”—as she called it—used against a novice YouTuber under her watch to the fierceness on the confrontational Zoom meetings, Sylvia Chan has mostly shown the tough, street-savvy side of her that has not quite reflected the acceptance of “corporate rules”, which also include engagement, that she uttered so passionately. From watching her former husband dig into the till to gamble at a casino in the hope of a win to remunerate the restaurant staff to her own alleged late payments of NOC staff brought up in that Zoom meeting that was reported to have taken place last year, she seems to have adopted the stance, as many young, first-time bosses have, that it’s my company and my money, and I can do whatever I want. It is hard to see how this will end. But digital lives are forgettable lives, even when they hang over the heads of participants like a tragedy. Sylvia Chan, like the proverbial phoenix, will rise again.

Illustrations: Just So

Koh Boon Ki, Has It Come To This For You, Too?

Another day, another influencer in the news. Like Sylvia Chan, Koh Boon Ki was exposed and then she apologised. And as with Ms Chan, sort of

Influencers are good at generating news—that, we have to give to them. Few go about their digital lives quietly. After the Sylvia Chan saga, before you could say there would be a lull, another influencer makes the news. And, again, not for excelling in what they do (even if it’s creating some amazing TikTok videos), but what they should not do. Koh Boon Ki (许文琪) is, until now, your regular TikToker and Instagrammer. But she decided that, in her dating life, one thing is a requisite: “Just tell me all I should know before I even start talking to him”. No one guessed it then, but “all” is the operative word. So, last Sunday, she posted on TikTok a message superimposed on her sort-of-dancing (with hand movements to underscore her bust and to the apt soundtrack of Meghan Trainor’s narcissistic song Me Too), telling her 112,000 followers what she intended to do: start a “Telegram group with girls from all the dating apps in Singapore and we discuss the guys we’ve talked to and dates we’ve been on”. But it wasn’t innocently just a social group to “share notes”, as they would say in the old days. Ms Koh added, one senses, with relish: “imagine the excel sheet we can make”.

Shortly after the TikTok post, she created the said Telegram group, and named it “sg dating adventures”. She was determined; she did not renege. We don’t need to tell you what that spurred. The beauty of digital sisterhood is that it is so easy to mobilise members for action. Excited by the prospect of the gossip they could crowdsource and the certainty of the cads that they could out and spurn, someone took up Ms Koh’s suggestion, and turned what could have been an innocuous and girly group into one that is potentially pernicious. A Google spreadsheet, also innocently and inoffensively titled, “Dating Guide SG” was shared by an unidentified person. Split into two unkind, even spiteful, tabs, “Blacklist” and “Avoid”, it supposedly listed dozens of guys, entered by anonymous, don’t-mess-with-me users, with claims that the men are guilty of behaviours adverse to romantic dating life. These ran the gamut, from infidelities to molestations to outright sexual assault. But other than a warning to others of the men best to avoid, it was also a comparative study of some of the listees’ skill—or none—in pleasing the listers, sexually!

No one could say if what were seriously alleged were at all true. What’s even more startling and disturbing is that the compilation purportedly included the men’s full names and contact details. Is it at all surprising then that Netizens were quick to call what was happening “doxxing” and cyberbullying? Even trolling? Ms Koh, who has admitted to the media that there are viewers who find her videos “cringey”, reacted rapidly too, declaring in the wee hours of Monday morning that the group chat she started was closed. Later in the day, the recent pharmacy graduate from NUS pointed out, via TikTok, that she was not the one behind the open doc. She subsequently said, possibly in the hope of absolving herself from guilt, “I did not realise that it was also spiralling into a name-and-shame group”. How about date and divulge? Or, the good ol’ kiss and tell. And a collective one! Group gratification, to boot. Safety in numbers. A vexed SOTD reader texted us and asked, “What’s the difference between this and revenge porn?” We could only reply with “good question”.

“I did not realise that it was also spiralling into a name-and-shame group”

Koh Boon Ki

Pleading innocence further, Ms Koh continued, “It did not turn out the way I imagine, and (sic) it turned out way worse”. Many think “worse” is putting it extremely mildly: she gathered the girls; she was the facilitator; she did not stop the list from view. Or, likely, from circulating. Then came the apology video, which is viewed 282.9K times and is loved by 7,460 followers (at the time of this writing). It is delivered in rapid-fire speech, without even a single use of either of two crucial words: apologise or sorry. She opened by saying, “I am here to address the video that I posted and the group chat I created”. The TikTok video, according to her, was conceived and put out “in the spur of the moment”. In other words, swayed by impulse. It did not dawn on her that her action was reckless. Throughout the explain-herself video post, she littered her prattle with “I did not” and “I didn’t”. Rather than expressing remorse (she did say “regret”, but only that the spreadsheet exists), she cleverly turned the drama into a chance to spotlight sexual assault alleged in the document and “if (they) were true, I hope there are authorities involved”. The lack of self-reproach is, consciously or not, remarkably consistent with the digital lives of uniquely self-obsessed influencers.

The spreadsheet is reportedly deleted after its scandalous existence was exposed and deemed harassment. Ms Koh has mostly denied that she had anything to do with the shared doc although she did first tantalise, not scandalise, her followers with “imagine the excel sheet we can make”. Another layer of mystery emerges: Did Ms Koh already know of such a list, one that would grow a Telegram group in just one night? If not, who would be able to compile the names and the corresponding misdeeds and character flaws with such speed? Or, again, was the list already prepared to be shared? Who has been waiting for Ms Koh’s “spur of the moment” to pounce? That the document exists is, perhaps, unsurprising. We live in a shame-free, blame-much co-ed social culture where it seems totally acceptable, even when it’s deplorable, to post such a poser on forums—Hardware Zone, no less: “Nowadays girls all so chio (hot), how married guys tahan (bear it)?” Is the Google spreadsheet “Dating Guide SG” pay-back time?

Koh Boon Ki has 112.7K followers on TikTok, where she posts, like so many of her peers, inane, lamely comedic videos. A member of the site since Christmas day, 2019, she seems to enjoy sharing (mainly) herself in dance, showing moves of no discernible flair, but in touch with her inner Ah Lian. On Instagram, where she enjoys a surprisingly smaller following—13.5K, but no less hyper-visibility, she posts stills of her hawking anything, from clothes to skincare products to pasteurised fruit juice. In videos and in selfies, she reminds us of Elaine Heng (formerly Elaine Jasmine), who was also embroiled in an influencer-style scandal in 2018. They dress alike and pose alike. Both their expressions metronome-clicks between sweet and sweeter (occasionally goofy), a twinning that would encourage her male followers to call her cute or even chio, to use the expression popular in chat groups. Like many of her fellow Gen-Zers, Ms Koh is weaned on fast fashion. As such, she demands fast dates too. She wants to know all she should know about the guy before she meets him, and a group chat would, therefore, “save everybody some time”. On Instagram, she wrote in her “Bio” (and we quote verbatim): “can’t talk right now. i’m doing hot girl sh!t”. Last Sunday, she sure was. Will “hot girl sh!t” then land her in hot girl soup?

Updated (19 October 2021, 23:00): Koh Boon Ki shared a new TikTok video, directed to “my FA friends”, less than 24 hours after her supposed apology video. In her latest post, she said, “the next time I tell you about my spending habits, and you think I need an investment plan, NO. I need therapy”. As she probably does not think she has done anything wrong, laying low isn’t on the cards.

Illustration: Just So

Kim Kardashian Looks Upholstered

So that you’ll know she’s pretty wrapped up in herself?

By Mao Shan Wang

Kim Kardashian has so many firsts that I stopped counting. Her debut as host of Saturday Night Life this past weekend is certainly one. But watch I did, not count. As her performance went rather smoothly and on-script, it didn’t have the same impact as the sex tapes (2007) or the Vogue cover (2014), or the time she broke the Internet (also 2014, a vintage year). I think it has to do with the jelak factor. Even when she is totally shrouded in black for an event that one attends to be seen: the Met Gala. Can Ms Kardashian, 41, surprise anymore? Sure, she is a savvy businesswoman and, to her fans, a style icon, but can there be more to her that would cause our jaw to drop? In that confidently handled SNL monologue, she already ruled out the possibility of being an American president. However hard I tried, I could not think of anything else I want to see her do except not to see her. Or, to see less of her.

When she walked down the stairs of the set of SNL, I thought it was a stagehand gone rogue, beating her to it by appearing as Miffy with a remade body in the shape of Kanye West’s still-legal-wife. But it was not so. As she moved towards the camera, one question immediately hit me. Why would anyone who would not hesitate to share naked selfies of herself on social media now want to look like a upholstered love seat, removed from a love hotel? And in lurid pink! I am serious. Or, after the Met Gala, should I say re-upholstered? Ms K loves nudity, but now she preferred covering every part of her body—more completely than a sofa. Yes, even her fingers and her toes. Why the strange modesty? Is this a divorce-in-the-process look? The fIngers covered so that no one can see that she is no longer trapped by a wedding ring?

The pink velvet(?) catsuit is designed by Demna Gvasalia of Balenciaga. We sort of had a preview of Ms K’s total-onesie in the Paris Fashion Week animated short of the Simpsons walking a Balenciaga show. She was seated in the front row, looking vacuum-sealed. Her face for SNL, however, was not covered. But as with the black outfit—also by Balenciaga—that she wore for the Met Gala, there was no mistaking who the silhouette belonged to. A body with such a defined and smooth shape had to be enhanced by some shape wear. It is, of course, expected that she’d wear one to promote her own Skims line (initially called Kimono!), however successful it already is. The Balenciaga second skin needed the Skims for sure. So why let Balenciaga have all the publicity? Now, that to me is a symbiotic relationship. And what better place to show it than on YouTube-bound television, on Saturday night?

Photo: NBC/YouTube

And It Comes To This

Facing controversy, influencers tend be defiant till the end… until they cannot be. Sylvia Chan’s strategy is no different

Warning: this post contains language and descriptions that some readers may find offensive

Like so many people, we too have been following the Sylvia Chan (陈思华) saga. This is far more compelling than her own scripted “content” for Night Owl Cinematics (NOC) and anything that the writers of the won’t-conclude Kin have dreamed up; this is real life, this is hot-blooded harshness. But Malaysian-born Ms Chan is neither Ella Shelley nor Loh May Wan, nor any of their children. She is a bona fide influencer. Major, or depending on how easily influenced you are. And like so many of those who chose this line of work, she is no alien to controversy or behaviour of doubtful propriety. As you would have read, Ms Chan was ”exposed” on the Instagram page @sgcickenrice (yes, chicken spelled without the ‘h’) for language used against employees, including their looks, that are, at best, impolite (the posts have been removed). “Vulgar” and “abusive” have been bandied about in the media, social or others, but, in the newest post on her Instagram page (which enjoys 231K followers), Ms Chan wrote somewhat euphemistically that her “expressions may have been harsh” (may?). One target of her ungentle ways was purportedly NOC’s own talent and fellow influencer Samantha Tan, who is described as a newbie, as she joined NOC only two years ago—but not new enough to benefit from the clemency of an old bird.

In case you think influencers are those who really have nothing better to do than take selfies of themselves and post the photos on social media, as well as aligning themselves with brands for enviable income, Ms Chan is also the co-founder and chief executive (sheEO?) of Night Owl Cinematics (in Facebook, she calls herself “big sister” of NOC), a media company that is (self-)touted as creators of “content with a cause”. In fact, co-founding seems a particular professional flair of hers. In 2012, she co-founded her earliest digital media venture, a YouTube channel named Ryan Sylvia—the former, Ryan Tan, now her former husband. With him, she also co-founded NOC in 2016. A year later, she co-founded Food King, another YouTube channel, this time dedicated to the F&B scene. Ms Chan was also co-listed with Mr Tan on the Forbes’ 2016 salute to young achievers in Asia, “30 Under 30”, which capped a career of accolades for NOC, including numerous “Top Trending Videos”, among them the weak-minded, stereotype-perpetuating, and unfunny 12 Types of Classmates. Eleven months after the two co-s announced their divorce on YouTube (garnering 2 million views to date!) in May last year (it was finalised in March), Ms Chan received her Singaporean citizenship.

Is it possible that beneath the smiles, there are struggles with mental health, as in the cases of quite a few women of this past year, who were prone to outbursts and social disobedience?

In an IG post on 30 September, Sylvia Chan shared what could be a first: a photo of her unsmiling self, with another influencer Joanna Lim, a chum from her “all time top 10 friendship list”. The accompanying message read: “Just because someone chooses to smile instead of cry, it (sic) does not mean that she is not struggling with mental health problems”. Almost all of Ms Chan’s selfies on IG offer a smile, sometimes with teeth baring between amply plump and coloured lips, even when she isn’t hawking client Yunnan Baiyao’s (云南白药) toothpastes (we won’t mention Colgate since the company has “decided to terminate all related collaborations with her”). Oftentimes her mouth gapes so she’d look goofy. Is it possible that beneath the smiles, evident since her third IG post in 2014 (she joined the social media four months earlier), there are struggles with mental health, as in the cases of quite a few women of this past year, who were prone to outbursts and social disobedience, especially the recalcitrant? If you, like most, know her only through Ryan Sylvia or the videos of NOC, Ms Chan comes across as a joker or a fun seeker, who can’t be separated from her Ah Lian self.

As it turned out, what she wrote in her post was from first-hand experience. In one edition of the Chinese talk show Hear U Out (权听你说), televised last year, Ms Chan agreed with host Quan Yifeng (权怡凤) when the latter said, “…其实你本人不搞笑, 很严肃 (…in fact, personally you are not funny, very serious [or, as we now guess, even mirthless?]). Speaking in mostly halting Mandarin, breathing with hints of unmistakable Federation accent, she soon revealed that when she was 17 and studying in Anglo Chinese Junior College (ACJC), she was diagnosed as clinically depressed, following the death of her maternal grandmother, to whom she was close to. By her own revelation in English (that peppered much of her chatter), she was suffering from “severe depression, OCD, and rage disorder”, which she said was caused by “hormonal imbalance”. Her doctor gave her “两年的MC, 不是两个月 (a medical certificate for two years, not two months)”. The Johorean quit ACJC after the diagnosis, and later enrolled in an unspecified eight-month course to learn about depression, partly to heal herself and partly because she thought she wanted to be a doctor. But, that fell through once she discovered that she “不是当医生的料 (is not doctor material) as studying science, she 根本都不喜欢 (does not like at all)”. She did not say if she is still suffering from (or receiving treatment for) any of the three diseases mentioned.

The Protestor in 12 Types of Classmates

It is not easy to reconcile Mr Chan’s revelation of last year with the revelation on social media of the past two weeks. On one audio recording (as well as text messages) attributed to her that was leaked, Ms Chan appeared to swear as fervently—and naturally—as Xiaxue (aka Wendy Cheng), and with as much gusto. If her tendency to eff anyone who crosses her was, for many, disconcerting, it is harder to imagine how the victims would feel, especially when one was shown to have been called “fuck face”. While the exposé on @sgcickenrice (and, according to vigilant Netizens, also TikTok) was incriminating, Ms Chan did not respond publicly. But three days ago, NOC did share a four-page post on IG, addressed to “valued artistes, employees, clients, partners and viewers”. It called the online accusations “attacks that have been carefully crafted and mounted on” the organisation and those under its employ. And that they are “serious breaches of the privacy laws”. On the same day, @sgcickenrice received a cease-and-desist letter from her lawyers. Yesterday, two weeks after the accusations surfaced, Ms Chan posted a near-apology on IG.

In the aberrantly-constructed, nine-page post, she wrote “apologise” once. “Sorry” fared better; it appeared twice. But the apology was not extended to Samantha Tan and others at the receiving end of her ready-to-dispense expletives, rather it was for not responding to the online charges soon enough. She was also sorry that she “did not step up to the standards” expected of a person in a leadership role and to her team, whose “good character and excellent work” were “undermined by (her) past action”. Is it any wonder Netizens thought the apology insincere? As for the rebuke of Ms Tan, “strong language”—as Ms Chan called it—was admittedly used, but, she assured readers that there was no “intention to harm, abuse or discriminate against her or anyone”. To the end (and in the last paragraph), she considered what she was accused of as “allegations” (which, together with its verb form, did as well as “sorry”—it showed up twice too). These include whatever was said to make her out to be a person—whose own “notable on-screen personas include Xiao Bitch, Luciana”, as stated in her LinkedIn profile—who was “rude and had used vulgarities”. There was no mention of rage disorder.

Via social media, and as she underscores in the lengthy IG post, she projects herself as one who “give(s) back especially to youths, women and mental health causes”

In all the characters that Ms Chan plays, few, if any, could be considered to be of model behaviour (are these birthed by mental health issues?). In 12 Types of Classmates, she played “The Protestor”, a delinquent agitator, who tells her teacher, “我忍你很久了 (I’ve had enough of you)”. But via social media, and as she underscores in the lengthy IG post, she projects herself as one who “give(s) back especially to youths, women and mental health causes”, while selling/promoting tons of stuff. In the Forbes listing mentioned above, it was shared that she and Ryan Tan were supposed to “start a fashion brand”. Nothing, it seems, came out of that desire. Ms Chan, whose clothier-clients include Love, Bonito and H&M, is not a fashion influencer in the same mould as, say, Yo-Yo Cao. With her predilection of letting her hair go unmistakably pink (and in ombré too), her style is more akin to pal Xia Xue’s, but, perhaps, with the sexiness and doll-likeness considerably dialled down. In her lively posts, the content and message take precedence, rather than the clothes. In fact, her vivid hair is often more the focus than what she wears. But, as she told Quan Yifeng in Hear U Out, she does not think she’s “loud”. Perhaps its myriad colours, like her smile, do not reveal her state of mental health, nor a predilection for profanity, even by her own admission that when it comes to work, “如果哪里做不好,不管是谁我都会骂 (if something is not done well, no matter who it is, I will scold)”.

That questionable influencer behaviours, which digital life shows abundantly, still surprise is, in itself, surprising. The fascination with the slip-ups of individuals who are socially influential won’t wane for as long as followers by the hundreds of thousands consider what the former wields to be influence. Unseemly speech and conduct deemed as undignified are all part of the mix. So are mental health issues as underlying issues. Decorum, online or offline, are going the way of punctuation in text messages: dispensable. Ugly manners and action, like ugly fashion, have ceased to be. Ugliness is no longer even recognisable. However, this post is not to identify it. Shortly after what @sgcickenrice shared two weeks ago, an SOTD reader sent us a message to ask who Sylvia Chan is. This answers the question based on what is already out in the public domain, and not intended to cause, as her lawyers asserted about the recent online exposés, “harassment, alarm and distress to many” (they did not say whether what their client supposedly said about others could effect the same). In her last IG post, Ms Chan wrote that she would be “removed from NOC’s lineup of artistes”. Even if so, she would still be seen as an influencer, an Instagrammer, a YouTuber. In one thread on a messenger chat that is still available on the web, Ms Chan purportedly wrote, “I can’t talk to influencers they are stupid (sic)”. Just with that, she could be encouraging many to agree with her. Let’s hope not.

Illustrations: Just So