If you religiously follow Nathan Hartono on Instagram (@nathanhartono), you would have noticed the shots of his chiseled abs, nestled among his videos, press shots and pictures of his dog. “I’ve always wanted to get in shape,” says Nathan, valiantly hiding his guffaws after I pointed those #fitspo pictures out. “I just never did it properly until recently.”

I asked whether it was prompted by his entry into the China entertainment market. Almost two years after his second-place finish in Sing! China, Nathan finally released his debut Mandarin single ‘爱超给电‘. His upcoming Mandarin EP is scheduled to be out in April.

“There’s definitely a side to it that’s because of the entertainment industry. The image sells, so of course you work on yourself and your image,” Nathan says.

Nathan Hartono
Photo credit: Leslie Kee

What took you so long to finally go into China though?

I wanted to properly sort everything out because it’s a new market that I’m wholly unfamiliar with. I just wanted to make sure that I was putting my best foot forward because I know of a lot of people who have found themselves in dead end contracts or have signed nine years of their life away.

So I was quite cautious about China. I wanted to make sure that if I was to take this risk and pursue a career outside of Singapore, I wasn’t just jumping in blind.

Was going into China a given after your Sing! China success?

Not at all. Sure, the prospect of such a huge audience is a hard opportunity to get but I still had reservations about going into the country in the first place. That’s why I really wanted to take my time and sort everything beyond the music first. Then, we can start getting into the music.

Do you have any fears that your China sojourn might not work out?

Oh, definitely. But that goes for any project. I think there will always be doubts about the level of success you can achieve when breaking into a new market. But what has kept me stable is that I am aware of my base ability, of what I can and cannot do. So I trust myself in that regard.

Honestly, success doesn’t really matter to me. It’s more about whether I can be proud of the work that I put out. If I fail, I know it’s not because I suck at music but because I am terrible at the other facets of a music career. Maybe I suck at promoting myself (laughs).

Nathan Hartono
Photo credits: Leslie Kee

Would you ever do something that would make you uncomfortable but ensure the success of your music career?

If it goes against my moral values, it’s a hard no. But if it’s something that makes me uncomfortable in terms of me thinking I can’t possibly do that, then of course I’m going to jump at it. That’s how you figure out the parts of yourself that you don’t usually explore.

Since we’re on this topic, did you learn anything about yourself in these two years?

I think I had a lot of revelations about fame and attention. It took me a while to get used to it. In the beginning, if someone wanted to take a picture with me, I was ambivalent about it. But as the fame grew, I almost felt like I was being surveilled. It made it very difficult to leave the house and it took me a while to get out of that negative head space.

Now I’m okay but I do draw the line. I remember once when I had literally just taken a piss and as I turned around while zipping my pants, a guy came up to me and said, “Can I take a photo with you?” Usually I never turn down someone but that was not cool man (laughs).

I told him, “Dude, not in the bathroom. Outside man.” And bless this guy because I think his EQ might have been a bit on the shorter side because he literally stood outside the bathroom door waiting for me!

written by.
Farhan Shah
Farhan believes that every man needs a good tailor and a better barber. You can usually find him at the gym, the bar or the poker table, usually all three in one night.

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