Resident writer Gerald Sim goes to Singapore's first and biggest LGBTQ+ R&B party and writes about party culture, R&B music, and love and affinity. Photographs by Ong Chan Hao.
Everyone had phases. The indie rock phase when everyone was listening to MGMT, The Strokes, Temper Trap, and we thought we were cooler than everyone else. Everyone else was listening to the same thing. Then there was the wild, free-wheeling techno phase, head-banging to Vitalic and Aphex Twin, the inseparable drug culture suggested but enjoyed only from the sheltered comfort of the teenage bedroom. And of course there was the R&B phase.
Aaliyah’s smooth intoning, telling us to “Try Again”, cut short by the crash of her plane in the Bahamas kids my age were too young to mourn. TLC telling us to better our standards, telling us that scrubs aren’t wanted. And of course, Missy Elliott’s mantra, "Get Ur Freak On", the sweaty, dirty bhangra beat so painfully suggestive that if aliens were to hear it, one of them were bound to get turned on.
But as all phases, that phase came and went. I didn’t think much about my bygone love for R&B until a friend of mine, Chan Hao, told me about a queer R&B party that he shoots photographs for. I did a double take — it never occurred in my mind that R&B and queer went together, not in Singapore at least where the mainstream scene seemed to miss the spectacular rise of queer R&B artists like Cakes da Killa, Le1f, and Mykki Blanco.
I was intrigued. I was put in touch with Nat, one of three of the organisers of Baby Boy, which described itself as “a queer night dedicated to the Queens of R&B and Hip Hop from the 90’s to present. A hip hop EXTRAvaganza of sweatdripping floor fillers, playing nothing but back-to back killer booty-twerking anthems and the finest female-fronted R&B gems from the last few decades.” I didn’t think twice — I was put on the free guestlist and was there on the Saturday.
When we got there people were streaming out of Riot, a drag show that has just concluded. My friends and I made our way in, and M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” was just starting to play. I freaked out.
The song’s iconic line goes “all I wanna do is *bang bang bang bang* and-uh *krrrrRRRRRRRR-ching* take my money” — the idea was to shoot when the bullet sounds fired, pull the trigger and “cash out”. I got laughed at (synchronised dance moves are so 2000s) but M.I.A. repeated the lines axiomatically like bible verses, and I complied obediently, dancing until my shirt was soaked. I felt badass, like secondary school me.
What followed was a slew of good music that was unabashed about it being good, in Baby Boy’s own words, “hip-hop, R&B — a lot of 90s, 2000s, some 80s.” The playlist was something you would listen to back in your pre-teens, perhaps in the comfort of your own room, feeling J-Lo’s sexiness overflow out of “Waiting For Tonight” playing out of the tinny computer speakers, rubbing against you. Destiny’s Child, TLC, Missy Elliott.
“We wanted to create a safe, fun, and crazy place where we can express ourselves through dance,” Bobby, one of three of Baby Boy, told me in a design shop he co-runs with some friends at Orchard Gateway. I’m speaking with Nat, Stefan, and Bobby — the people behind Baby Boy.
“We’ve known each other for a good ten years now. We all used to go to Bobby’s club, The Butter Factory (now defunct). We went there every weekend. We were basically honorary members.” Nat and Stefan were your typical art school kids, looking for something fresh in the Singaporean party scene that easily jaded people.
Baby Boy’s predecessor would be Swagger, a queer hip-hop party. “Hip-hop was the sound that we wanted to push. From there, Baby Boy — what could be said as Swagger’s sweatier, more shameless, less hard cousin — started. “It would be good if we could do a sub-set where we can do a R&B night for queer people. I just wanted to see if there’s enough of a crowd to fill up the room.”
The first Baby Boy party was then held at Overeasy Orchard in May 2017. Bobby had a lead into the venue because he had been working with Overeasy with Yum Yum Disco Dong, another queer party that played a line-up of classic disco. “A lot of our friends listened to R&B, and there was nowhere that played it for the whole night, not just one song in the middle of other EDM tracks. We wanted to do that. The first party was a trial as to whether or not (a party like Baby Boy) worked.”
And work it did. The venue was filled up to its capacity in the first party. There was a great enthusiasm from the queer community, and the reception was great. Following the indomitable success of the first party, a second one was held at Black Swan, a third one at Canvas Club, and then came this fourth iteration at Hard Rock Cafè.
The three could recount getting excited at how quickly the free guestlist filled up. “Once it was over a thousand — that was when we got worried whether or not the venue could fit all of us.”
The dance floor was packed with all sorts of people. I could see so many familiar faces — and so many unfamiliar ones. An acquaintance’s ex-boyfriend, still insanely handsome. A tinder date from three days ago, now in the hands of some other guy who looks eerily like me. Registered faghags. All backs against one another, the nodes of people weaved together by the filthy R&B being spun.
“These guys get immersed in the music and culture,” Nat said. For a lot of us — me at least — we shared the proxy solidarity that R&B offered us in growing up, the strength and unbridled sexuality of these black and latina women inspiring our queer cultural space. We could relate to this music.
It was not only the music that created that safe space — but the little things here and there that the organisers snuck in. They went gleefully overboard. Glitter artist Polina Korobova had a booth in a corner over there, and there was a line of people waiting to be beglittered. And of course, perhaps inalienable to every queer party, drag shows.
“We’ve worked with different performers — Hirzi, Vanda Ms Joaquim, Ms Andreas Chua, this duo of drag queens, Lily Elle and LaylaOnFire — for our last parties. This time we’re switching things a bit.”
Drag queens Salome Blaque and Farrah Shamrock were slated to perform that night. Salome Blaque rendered Nicki Minaj’s “Chun-Li”, the crowd’s energy barely matching up to hers. And Farrah Shamrock performed Khia’s “My Neck My Back”, a slutty crowd favourite. The stage didn’t only belong to the performers — at some tracks, people would go up to the stage and dance exuberantly, feeding off the energy of the unwitting audience. And people said Singaporeans are reserved.
As if the party couldn’t get more outrageous, somewhere along the night Stefan took a chair and danced dirty on it. Bobby was dressed in an outrageous outfit that I don’t even have the words to describe. His partner, Ritz, a steady supporter of Baby Boy and the other parties that Bobby has hosted, was wearing an outfit that rivalled that of Bobby’s. Nat was killing it. I could see them inspect the party from time-to-time from the second-floor balcony, but there was no Baby Boy for the night. We were all Baby Boy.
I stayed up to the very end with my two friends, starving, sweaty, and cold from all the dancing. “They played really good music,” I said to my friend.
“Yeah,” she said in this half-hearted, hungry, and tired voice. On our way to get dimsum afterwards, I couldn’t stop thinking: that was a fucking good night.
Listen to the playlist Nat from Baby Boy made for the party below.