Some of their countrymen call the girls of Me N Ma Girls plain ugly. Others say they’re completely unrecognisable, forgettable even, when they’re spotted alone. The five-member band is completely unfazed by the disparagement.
“People in Myanmar have told us our music is quite good but we’re not pretty enough to be in a girl band,” says Ah Moon, 24, the spunkiest and most gregarious member of the group. She’s speaking in fluent English. “Their idea of a girl group is more like the K-pop groups – you know, girls who are fair-skinned and look perfect.
“But we don’t care. K-pop girls all look the same and we’re not interested in that. All five of us look very different and we have different personalities, so we’re not going to change anything.”
Plastic surgery has never crossed their minds, they say.
“We just want to make music and do what we love and get onstage and sing and dance,” Ah Moon adds fiercely. “Hopefully we’ll win over our audience with the music.”
The quintet recently performed at the RHB Singapore Cup 2012 football tournament, which had Myanmar versus the Philippines in the quarterfinals.
Htike Htike, Wai Hnin, Kimmy and Cha Cha, ages 21 to 24, round out the group.
All graduated from colleges in Myanmar, in subjects such as Russian, computer science and chemistry. None is interested in using her degree, however.
Their parents – whose occupations range from street food sellers to a church minister – are “very supportive” of their music career after harbouring initial misgivings about it.
“Our parents just want us to be happy,” says Wai Hnin. “As long as we’re not doing anything bad they’ll be okay. They’ve seen some of our shows too, so that’s nice.”
They have at least three gigs a month, at events like company dinners and charity shows. Other times they’re busy with rehearsals and recording. They released an album late last year and hope to put out a second one in the coming months.
The songs are mostly in Burmese, with smatterings of English.
Me N Ma Girls – a homophone for “Myanmar girls” – got together two years ago under the guidance of Myanmar-based Australian dancer Nicole May, who selected the girls from more than 120 candidates at an audition.
They are confident, chatty women who go against the typical stereotype of a naive Burmese girl. All are dating except Kimmy.
Though Ah Moon has the strongest grasp of spoken English – she even speaks with a slight American twang – the rest can converse in it relatively well.
The kind of music they listened to growing up might have something to do with their spoken English ability.
“We listened to Western music like Britney Spears and a lot of Western pop, R&B and rock,” says Ah Moon. “Of course we also had a lot of ‘copy tracks’ around – Burmese versions of Western songs. These days K-pop is also very popular.
“Foreigners think everyone in Myanmar is very poor and uneducated and doesn’t know anything, but it’s not true.”
The group’s trip to Singapore was only their second overseas outing. Late last year they travelled to Bangkok to shoot the music video for their song “Liar!”
Other than the different food and culture, one thing in particular excited them on both trips: the clothing fashion. “The girls can wear anything they want and everyone looks so fashionable!” Wai Hnin says. “It’s very freestyle, which is different from Myanmar.”
The girls say they have to be more cautious about their clothing choices. “We won’t wear anything too low-cut or skirts that are too short,” Htike Htike explains. “And we’ll never wear bikinis. It’s just not part of our culture.”
“When I go out with the group I might wear a pair of shorts,” Ah Moon says. “But if I’m at home with my grandfather I’ll put on a pair of jeans.”
The group is eager to travel around the world should they get the chance. “Hopefully we’ll get to travel to many more countries,” says Htike Htike. “A lot of foreign media have written about us, so people may have heard of us over there, but they don’t actually know our music.
“We’d rather go to those places and perform so that we can spread our music. We really want to be able to bring a bit of Myanmar to the other parts of the world.”