Kit Chan breezes into the studio for our cover shoot, dressed in faded blue jeans, a crisp white shirt and flats. “This is my uniform,” she says, as if reading my thoughts. “I actually feel most attractive in this. On stage, I am always in gowns and extremely done-up hair. I feel extremely unnatural,” she adds, professing that she’s not a dress-up kind of girl. But that in no way means she doesn’t care about what she’s going to wear. She leafs through the different looks laid out for her, with a careful and curated eye. There’s a friendly curiosity about her, she is chatty, approachable, yet decidedly assertive. But all these different sides of her morph into one in front of the camera. She becomes sultry, seductive and mysterious, all at once.
It’s a year of anniversaries
It’s a big year for Kit – 2018 marks 25 years of her career as a singing star, and she’s celebrating with a brand new concert — 25 Years On: A Time For Everything. The two-night concert is jointly organised by KKBOX and Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, and will be held at the iconic Esplanade Theatre on 9th and 10th November 2018. Tickets will go on sale on September 7 via esplanade.com/kitchan.
She also has a new album scheduled to release this year. At press time, she was not able to reveal much of the details. “I can’t yet tell you the name, what I can tell you is that it has mainly Chinese songs, with one English and one Cantonese song thrown into the mix as is my practice,” says Kit.
It’s also the 20th anniversary of Singapore’s unofficial national anthem, “Home”. Who can forget Kit’s soulful rendition of Dick Lee’s song? She was the first solo artist to perform at the National Day Parade in 1998, and it immediately made Kit, then 25, the darling of every Singaporean household. And the song, one of the most popular NDP songs ever.
“Home” holds a special place in her heart
When Kit was approached with the opportunity to sing the song, Kit was already an established singer in Taiwan and Hong Kong, yet “Home” remains her personal and career favourite. “It is a song that is so simple and plain, and I think it worked because Dick Lee (the songwriter) and I were living away from Singapore to pursue our music careers. But the longing for home was there, and feelings and emotions are ultimately what give life to a composition,” she says.
Being back in Singapore for a few years now has not changed that feeling, Kit still feels a sense of pride whenever she hears the song being sung. But she claims to have also developed a detached attachment towards it. “Over the years, I feel it no longer belongs to me, but to Singaporeans,” she explains. “Any Singaporean living anywhere can just pick up this song, and sing it, and they can own it.”
Neither Dick nor Kit expected the song to become so well-loved. “So, no, nothing was going through my mind, except that I had to do the job well. Everything is such a struggle when you are young. That is why age doesn’t bother me at all. I’m relieved to be older,” she laughs.
Singing was her calling
At 45, Kit is today a lot more than just a songbird. She also has actress, writer and entrepreneur added to her list of achievements. “My first time on stage was when I was 13 years old,” she reminisces. It was at the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall for Raffles Girls’ School Night, her alma mater’s biggest annual event. “It was quite a jump in the deep end for a clueless teen!” she adds. She sang “Memory” from the Broadway classic Cats – no mean feat considering that the school’s biggest night included two evening shows and a matinee over a weekend. “I think I caught the performance or stage bug that first time. I was nervous, I literally felt my knees knocking against each other involuntarily, but I remember thinking how strange it was that all this shaking and loss of bodily control did not affect my vocal delivery.” She had found her calling.
Kit was discovered by music producer Billy Koh in 1989. Three years later, he signed on Kit, and her first album Do Not Destroy The Harmony was launched at the end of 1993. She was barely 20 at the time, and pursuing a diploma in Drama at LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts. She chose to quit her course to start her singing career. “My first contract was signed by my very reluctant mum, who was half-charmed and half-coerced into it, I suspect, by my producer,” she laughs. Kit did get back to LASALLE during her six-year hiatus from the music scene from 2004 to 2010, and graduated with honours.
Singing in Mandarin didn’t come easily
It is ironic that although it was her English performance that got her noticed, Kit found fame in Mandopop. “I always saw myself singing in English or as a ‘musical theatre person’,” she says, having listened mainly to English songs growing up.
“Much of the preparation and training to become a Mandopop singer was done in the recording studio. It was so painful to record each track,” she recalls. “I had to recite all the lyrics to make sure the diction was emotive and natural, before even attempting to sing them, and of course, when I listen again to them now, I totally cringe at how unnatural and ‘put-on’ it was!”
But, by the time it came to giving live performances, she was a pro – fans in Hong Kong and Taiwan will concur, and her hits such as “Heartache” and “Liking You” stand testament.
Kit has come a long way from that young person who was completely in the charge of her record company. She’s found success, but has also had her fair share of failures, disappointments and heartbreaks and the negative publicity that comes part and parcel with showbiz. But she has successfully warded off all those with what she calls her personal “mind filter”. “I have always had on a filter in my head. I don’t let a lot of what people say get through that filter if I detect malice, or insincerity or hypocrisy,” she says. That said, she has no regrets, saying there’s nothing in her life that she would have done differently.
A total homebody
“I am actually a very shy and introverted person. It might be hard for people to see that because I also appear confident and self-possessed. But they are not mutually exclusive,” she adds. Watching Kit’s body language in the studio that day, we get that. She is by her own admission also a homebody with her cosy apartment here being her favourite hangout, where she binge-watches TV shows on-demand, like Game of Thrones and Westworld, and listens to music, with the likes of Charlie Lim and Melody Gardot as favourites.
There’s also this fiercely private side to her, which she gives out at times with her guarded manner. She has a strict “no-photographs” policy whenever she is not in “work mode”. “I am totally cool with having a conversation or signing an autograph. I just don’t like photographs. It seems to ‘capture’ and ‘possess’ sacred moments of mine, and then they are not mine anymore,” she explains.
A Singaporean at heart, always
She keeps her circle of friends close and comes from a close-knit family with three sisters. But when she’s travelling, it’s the food she misses, “like any true-blue Singaporean! I love spicy food, like Nasi Padang…”, she trails off. There’s almost that dreamy look of love in her eyes. “I think it’s the spiciness in the food here. It’s not the same in other cultures. It’s not that ‘hot’ taste, but chilli. When I was living in Taiwan, I used to be desperate for home food, so after landing I’d head to Tiong Bahru Market for the Nasi Padang. At that time, it was just a row of hawkers and a wet market.”
The wave of nostalgia is cut short by the time. Our time with Kit is up and she has to rush off to another meeting. But before that, she gushes about her new album and the all-Singaporean production team with live studio sessions to boot. “I have never felt as close to my musicians as I did on this album. I feel so fortunate and elated, and I hope people will really like this album.” We have no doubts about that.
Fashion direction: Janice Pidduck / Photos: Joel Low, Kit Chan & The Straits Times / Styling: Shaun Chen / Hair: Nigel Woo/Passion Hair Salon / Makeup: Andy Lee, using Cle de Peau Beaute / Feature Image: Kit in top, skirt & earrings, from CH Carolina Herrera