Pop Rock Band Paperplane Pursuit Brings Hope to Glum Malaysian Youths

Paperplane Pursuit. Photo: Roshan Menon / EPA

KUALA LUMPUR — Amir Pakiam was talking over the phone animatedly with a disc jockey of a popular FM radio station in Kuala Lumpur while he lay lazily on his bed.

As soon as he put down his mobile phone, an infectious danceable song began playing on the speakers of his computer, which was tuned in to the radio station.

"Paperplane Pursuit," the 24-year-old computer engineer said nonchalantly, referring to the English language Malaysian pop-rock band that is hugely popular in the predominantly Islamic Southeast Asian country.

Amir, like most Malaysian youths, has found solace in contemporary music to shake away his boredom and angst.


He says Paperplane Pursuit tracks relax him after a hard day's work for a multinational manufacturing firm.

"At work, I feel like just a cog in the wheel," Amir said. "I do not get satisfaction with what I'm doing."

Amir said the trio's songs with their upbeat rhythm "chase away blues and boredom."

Youth Angst

A global survey conducted between September 2014 and January 2015 by global entertainment company MTV showed that Malaysian youths are the most bored among respondents from 26 countries.

MTV's "Break Boring, Ignite Passion" survey showed 83 percent of Malaysian youths respondents said they are bored, followed by Britain with 79 percent, Brazil 79 percent and Singapore 78 percent.

While the survey did not identify specific reasons why Malaysian youths experience high levels of boredom, it noted that young people are most likely to get bored while at home before bedtime, on the weekends and during holidays.

On the other hand, a 2012 study sponsored by Germany's Goethe Institute showed Malaysian youths are conflicted and "full of ambivalence."

"While taking a very conservative stand on religious and moral issues, Malaysia's Muslim youths are not rigorous in fulfilling their own religious obligations such as praying five times a day, reading the Koran or fasting during Ramadan," the study said.

"Taken as a whole, the findings show both … conservative and liberally democratic trends among Muslim youngsters which may possibly be due to the obvious juxtaposition of pressure and freedom young Muslims grow up with in Malaysia," it added.


'Satisfaction and Fulfillment'

Malaysian youths also have to grapple with the harsh realities of life.

Such is the case of Mahendra Suresh, 22, a communications arts graduate who admitted finding it hard to land a job that fits her easygoing lifestyle.

"Sure, there are lots of jobs that you can find, but the question is not just about working to survive, but working to find satisfaction and personal fulfillment," she said.

Shamsuddin Bardan, executive director of the Malaysian Employers Federation, has urged youths not to be so choosy about jobs.

He said although the country's 3.2 percent unemployment rate was not worrisome, Malaysia's unemployed are mostly youths.

But Mahendra believes that her persistence will one day pay off and she will land a job that will give her personal satisfaction.

Mahendra said a friend introduced her to the music of Paperplane Pursuit four years ago and she instantly got hooked by the catchy tunes and lyrics of their songs.

"I listened to their music while resting in my room after another day of fruitless job search," she said. "Somehow, my stress is relieved, listening to their songs.

"Paperplane Pursuit cheers me up in these struggling times," she added.

The band, consisting of vocalist John Oommem, drummer Andrew Yap, and guitarist Isaac Ravi, injected new life into the country's English music scene after its song "Feel Good" gatecrashed into the U.S. Billboard Top 40 chart in October.

The group started in 1998, way back when they were in high school, and called themselves Stop Sunday. In 2006, they changed the band's name into Silent Scream. It was in 2009 that they renamed the band Paperplane Pursuit.

Ravi, the Paperplane Pursuit guitarist, said fans easily relate to their music, the rhythm as well as lyrics.

"Our main draw is the level of quality of our songwriting and production and ultimately how relatable our music is to the fans," he said.

P. Balakrishnan, 19, a college student, said he fell in love with Paperplane Pursuit because their songs are full of enthusiasm and optimism.

"Their music is a whiff of fresh air," he said. "I feel happy in their hope-filled songs."

Oommem said that since the band was rebranded in 2009 and took the name Paperplane Pursuit, the members agreed to come up with positive songs, with good vibes and endless optimism.


"People must listen to our music and feel happy," he said. "Even if we write an 'emo' song, it must have hope at the end." Emo is a dark, sad, "emotional" style of music.

Lin Meng Chui, 18, another student, described Paperplane Pursuit as a band that easily connects with young people like him.

"I hope they just continue singing and writing songs," according to the aspiring digital artist. "They inspire us to forge ahead despite adversities."

Story:  John Grafilo / DPA