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The Revolution of the Ah Lian Subculture

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Respective countries fathom through individual series of subcultures. In consonant to David Muggleton (Muggleton 2005, p. 1), ‘Subculture often create their distinctiveness by defining themselves in opposition to the “mainstream”’. As for our motherland, Singapore, the distinct youth subculture would be the “Ah Lian” and “Ah Beng”. Undoubtedly, the “Ah Lian” subculture is one that locals would cross paths in stages of our lives, especially early teenage years. In this essay, I will discuss the “Ah Lian” subculture. Joanne Entwistle wrote in The Fashioned Body that “Fashion, Dress and Modern Social Theory, dress distinguishes different groups, evident through the various youth subcultures”. I will be exploring and elaborating on the extent of the “Ah Lian” subculture in Singapore through the eyes of society from the past and to the current era. Additionally, the dressing of “Ah Lian” will be analysed and rationalized.

Chua Beng Huat wrote in ‘Proud to be “SingapoLian”: A Scrutiny on the Rise of “Ah Lian” Culture in Singapore’ that “Ah Lians” was a synonym for wayward girls. But nowadays the association with gangsterism has diminished and Singaporean youths have seemingly embraced “Ah Lian” culture. This change is brought about as gangsterism is simply not prevalent anymore.”

Singaporean actress Michelle Chong in her Ah Lian persona in her latest video to subtly promote Taobao’s Singles Day promotions – including the clock on the wall.

“Ah Lian” derived from Urban Dictionary, is a common term “..used in Malaysia and Singapore to refer to ethnic Chinese youths with a rather loud, and/or some would say, terrible sense of fashion”.

I have referenced Michelle Chong as her “Ah Lian” persona was a successful a great marketing technique on television and advertisements. It is a smart and witty method as a content marketer to appeal to eyeballs through the power of social media videos. She is seen wearing a white tank top with a khaki green jacket over. From obvious striking pink strands of highlighted hair behind her left ear with her fringe tucked to the centre back of her head with extravagant volume to over the top bling nail designs. Supplements such as oversized silver hoop earrings are worn on her. In addition, she is also wearing thick and dark eyeliner that wings out at the end of her outer eyeball with bright pink lipstick on her lips. These visual statements are what a typical “Ah Lian” would put on.

“The image of an “Ah Lian” is effectively epitomized by the adjective “loud” elucidated by Chua Beng Huat in his book ‘A Scrutiny on the Rise of “Ah Lian” Culture in Singapore’. To add on, “… the clothes of Ah Beng and Ah Lian are filled with bright, or to the English-educated, gaudy colours” (Chua, 2003, p. 4). Their ostentatious sense of dressing, incorporating haphazard prints and colours, reveals the inclination of alluring other’s that they are the limelight. Being comfortable in the limelight, it does not bother them if the impression they give is positive or negative. “Dress is used to articulating a sense of ‘uniqueness’ and express a difference from others”, is quoted from Joanne Entwistle who asserted in ‘The Fashioned Body’. Amongst the Ah Lian culture, there is a sense of strong aspiration of being adventurous in opening up to new things so as to stand out from the rest. From the choice of their dressing, they deem to be bold and youthful. Thus, through dressing, “Ah Lians” are comfortable in their own skin.

The term “Ah Lian” came about in the 1980s where it was used to describe females who are incapable of keeping up with the education system and market economy. “An assemblage of body modifications and/or supplements displayed by a person in communicating with other human beings” (Eicher and Roach-Higgins 1992, p. 15). In the 1980s, besides their gaudy trend of dressing, body modifications such as tattoos, piercings, and dying of hair colors was a distinctive part of “Ah Lian’s” look. As part of the Asian culture, traditional-mindset seniors would fallaciously conclude that when they see one with tattoos or other body modifications such as piercings, they are thugs or are from a part of the gang. Hence, in the past, tattoo as a supplement to “Ah Lian(s)” was profoundly associated with girl gangs. In today’s day and age, the alliance of stereotyping people with tattoos has waned as we develop to be more westernised which results in “Ah Lian” culture being seemingly accepted. “Their association with gangs and criminal activities have also diminished over the years as society becomes more open and less judgemental” (Goody Feed article). Here’s the reason why an “Ah Lian” is called and “Ah Lian”.

According to Michelle Chong interviewed on Business Insider Singapore, “I think the “Ah Lian” culture is something that is truly, uniquely Singaporean, belonging to us and us only”. Additionally, “Ah Lian’s” traits such as being fearless, carefree and unpretentious, modern western-influenced youths are now moving past stereotypes and seeing the subculture as genuine and local.

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Other than dressing as a statement, the common parlance for an “Ah Lian” is Singlish. Most of the time mispronounced and spoken in an unrecognizable manner due to broken sentence structure such as incorrect grammar and choice of words. Often, they are deemed to be obtrusive as they converse with their friends in an unrefined tone and profanities. Unlike the foreigners, Singlish is music to Singaporeans. It emerged in 1965 when Singapore first gained independence and chosen English as the universal language. Depending on the race of the speaker, Singlish is a fusion of English borrowed from languages spoken commonly. It brews of local languages: English, Malay, Indian, Chinese and Dialects. According to Wikipedia, Singlish is regarded as having low prestige. Singlish is slang and accent of Singaporean, words used are generally not understood by foreigners.

“Ah Lians” could be teenagers falling between the age group as young as twelve to early twenties. Generally, they are either schooling or dropouts. Derelict in the competitive education system, they are qualified for low educational requirement jobs such as bar girls, manicurists, customer service, help desk, tending mobile accessories shops. In more recent years, due to the advance in technology, some work as live streamers on platforms selling products. A typical lifestyle of “Ah Lian” would circulate around suburban malls; passing their time in arcades, parks, neighbourhood basketball courts and chilling under void decks of HDB blocks.

Adelyn Hosehbo is an infamous teenager who became an Internet sensation for her absurd doings in 2011. She became a topic of interest on forums, Facebook posts and made it up to local Chinese newspaper, ZaoBao for her ugly doings she bragged on Facebook. At 2011, Adelyn who was born in 1993, makes her 18 years old during her online saga. Adelyn used Facebook as a platform to announce her resentment towards her mother and shamelessly bragged about how she physically abusive with her mother.According to, “…she epitomises the worst of Gen Z, the generation born into a world where the Internet already existed”. Adelyn allegedly slapped her mum for nagging at her and brought deeds to another level by bragged about it on Facebook withdrew attention and concern from Facebook to the world. During the saga, Adelyn faced backlash from the public. However, other gen z Facebook users – including her friends and strangers came out to support her actions after the saga hits the newsstand. The word ‘hosehbo’ is not her actual surname, ‘hoseh’ pronounced as ‘ho say’, a term coined as a Hokkien exclamation of satisfaction, indicating things are good or complete. The word ‘bo’ means yes or no in Hokkien. Using ‘Hosehbo’ as her online name signifies her boldness in her character – rebelliousness and doings. Despite the negative limelight, she was under, Adelyn Hosehbo allegedly stole her mum’s jewellery and pawned them for cash to buy a Louis Vuitton (LV) wallet which bragged on her Facebook page as well.

In 2012, an infamous clip of an “Ah Lian” who got in a heated argument with an elderly over priority seat on the MRT was circling around the internet. The outcome of this clip commented from the public was negative as she was mocked and memes were created out of it. The attire of MRT “Ah Lian” showed that she is a working class. Fashion attire of a typical working “Ah Lian” of Singapore is her tight blazer outerwear that was worn over a snake print tank and hot shorts. Supplements on her were the extreme long fringe that was swept to the side of her face, she also styled her hair in a half up half down look with volume at the centre back of her head. Her makeup is done with exaggerated winged jet black eyeliner. This informal and gaudy dress sense of “Ah Lians’ can be ascribed to their working-class background.

Adelyn and MRT “Ah Lian” is an exemplification of “Ah Lians” being in the limelight. The doings by Adelyn and MRT “Ah Lian” caused negative backlash when it happened.

“S Hook Ah Lian” is a video that got Singaporeans hooked was viral on Facebook. It took the social media by the storm which was smart and evolutionary in today’s era for the local “Ah Lian” subculture. Lerine Yeo who is better known as the ‘S Hook Ah Lian’ was a saleslady who did live videos to sell her goods. This Facebook live video was shared over 34,000 times and currently has more than 2 million views. In her viral video, Yeo was passionately demonstrating the pros T-shirt with eyelet holes she was modelling in. Yeo creatively showcased her audiences how they could put the holes on her garment to greater use such as using it to carry an umbrella, take away noodles. cane and even wallet. In her exact words, she boldly exclaimed in Singlish: “You can hook your kueh png lah, your wanton mee lah, your whatever, you can hook, ok! No problem”. “These are caricatures of the Singlish-speaking Singaporeans who are ‘adorably’ laughable to the middle-class, English-educated writers and audience for whom switching code from ‘the Queen’s English’ to Singlish is a marker of ‘authentic’ Singaporean identity” – according to Beng Huat Chua (2003, p. 56) who wrote in ‘Structure, Audience and Soft Power in East Asian Pop Culture’. Besides, bits of media blitz-being radio shows after being signed by Mark Lee, she has been making money by being invited to radio shows to demonstrate her witty sales pitches, blowing media interviews and also, becoming a punchline of an Ikea advertisement.

The fearless qualities that “S Hook Ah Lian” carried are traits Singaporeans embrace today. With acceptance comes to support, Yeo has gained many fans attending her meet and greet session. With her fan’s support, she is enjoying greater longevity for a salesperson than an average Internet fad. Consequently, her online clothing store is generating more profits.

Having explored the history, rationales and dressing that follows the “Ah Lian” subculture of Singapore, it can be summarised to an enormous extent that dress and behaviour plays a very crucial role. Conclusively, Michelle Chong’s persona, Adelyn Hosehbo in 2011, MRT “Ah Lian” in 2012 in and “S Hook Ah Lian” in 2018 are “Ah Lian” examples that carried distinctive personalities which all broke the internet by storm through their valiantness. The different attention and outcomes from the public. Respectively, Adelyn was a negative example for an “Ah Lian” with the comment and backlash she received for putting her doings on the internet. Whilst, MRT “Ah Lian” was an internet fad that was shared intensely and widely spread that was short-lived. Lastly, “S Hook Ah Lian” made a name for herself and received mainly positive outcome through her “Ah Lian” persona in her marketing video. Aptly, the subculture was first formed through the way that “Ah Lian” is through their dressing and behavior at the beginning of the time. It was cliche as they used to be stereotyped by the traditional members of the local. However today, this subculture shares a different point of view by the public. The revolution of “Ah Lian” subculture summaries through their authentic qualities which stays the same such as dressing in bombastic fashion and being comfortable with attention. Retaining qualities of old “Ah Lian” like profanities and unfeminine manners they are no longer analogous viewed and surmised as criminals nor associated with girl gangs but embraced and are proud of.

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The Revolution of the Ah Lian Subculture. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 25, 2023, from
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