This story really started when we received this WhatsApp message from Sonia Chew in June: “Hey Celine! Have smth I wanted to chat w you about. Lemme know when you’re free? :)”
What was so important/urgent that we had to talk on the phone? (Do Millennials still actually do that?) We were intrigued. We called back, and the conversation went something like this. Sonia: “Eh you know that Joakim really wants to be on the cover of 8 DAYS, right? So I thought, since we’re the first radio partners to host the NDP together, and also it’s his 30th birthday… if there’s anything you can do… (Guffaws)” Us: “Ohhh… hmmm…..”
There were now a few things to consider: 1. There are only, like, six 8 DAYS covers left (for those of you who still don’t know, we are going fully digital after September). 2. Do we want to give one of these six precious covers to Sonia and Joakim? 3. Why does Joakim want to be on the cover of 8 DAYS so badly? 4. Is Sonia a really, really good friend/work girlfriend or what? (And no, he didn’t know she was going to ask us, and no, it’s not because the 26-year-old herself die-die wants to be on the cover, too, although that would be a wonderful side effect, no? If you remember, she was on our Swimsuit Issue cover last year.)
The happy ending here, of course, is that Sonia and Joakim are now on this week’s cover of 8 DAYS. Or more importantly, maybe, that Joakim is on the cover of 8 DAYS. Bucket list checked! And just in the nick of time! Between that first WhatsApp message and the shoot, there should have been another WhatsApp or phone convo that would have gone like this: Us: “Hey Joakim! Guess what? We want to shoot you and Sonia for cover! When are you free?” Joakim: “OMFGGGGG!!!” But no, that never happened. Because Sonia, being the mischievous prank-pulling sprite that she is, decided to spring the whole 8 DAYS shoot as a surprise on her radio partner and BFF. The dude didn’t know he was going to be shooting the cover of this magazine until he was shooting the cover of this magazine. Suffice to say that artiste managers, radio managers, photographers, stylists, and a large video crew were roped in and sworn to silence, and a chat group with a fake name called “Project NDP” was created to discuss the mechanics of The Big Reveal and the Actual Shoot without arousing suspicion. Joakim was told to turn up at Santa Grand Hotel East Coast, and he never saw the truth coming till Sonia paused mid-way through the 987 Secret Sound spot they were supposedly filming and said, “Screw this, we’re not actually here for this shoot”, led him through the doors of the hotel’s Platypus Kitchen restaurant, and announced, “We’re shooting our 8 DAYS cover.” Cue stunned silence, disbelief and eventual dawning happiness. There’s a video, of course. See the reactions for yourself on the 8 DAYS and 987 Facebook pages and on Instagram at @8daysmagazine.
After the dust had settled, there was still the business of the actual 8 DAYS shoot. We were in Katong for a specific reason, to soak in some vintage local charm and pass it on to you, dear reader. Two photogenic showbiz up-and-comers meet Katong old-school cool meets kaya toast — what’s not to love? The idea was to document in photos a few East Coast spots that aren’t just Instagrammable, but brimming with heritage and history. The Peranakan shophouses reflected in the window of modern bistro Platypus, the famed Chin Mee Chin bakery, the unmistakable rattan chairs spilling out of Teong Theng Co, the bright pink, blue and pastel terrace houses that are raised above ground (once upon a time, this area was near the sea) in a little cul-de-sac at 150 East Coast Road so beloved by OOTD-ers. While these iconic spots aren’t exactly in danger of disappearing anytime that soon (unlike the much-discussed Pearl Bank Apartments), there are similar decades-old but less famous shops and eateries which are slowly but surely closing their old-school shutters and making way for modern establishments. While we enjoy them and immortalise them in Insta-snaps, it’s also nice to take a minute to reflect on how the dizzying speed of urbanisation makes these places even more precious.
Also proceeding at a dizzying speed is this 8 DAYS shoot — Sonia has to dash back to the studio for their radio show, The Shock Circuit with Sonia & Joakim, which is on weekdays from 4 to 8pm. Joakim is on leave, so after the shoot, he has time to sit down and let the feeling of having just shot his first 8 DAYS cover wash over him. “It hasn’t sunk in yet,” he laughs. Actually, technically, this isn’t his first 8 DAYS cover. In 2006, a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 18-year-old Korean-Indian teen joined a certain singing competition called Singapore Idol and emerged, not as the winner (that was Hady Mirza), but as one of the more memorable faces of the contest. In that year, he appeared on the cover of 8 DAYS, along with 11 other singer-wannabes. “I don’t really count that as a cover though,” he says. “That was with so many other people! Apart from that time I also appeared as a small blurb in 2007 or 2008 when Ch 5 drama Lifelife was out — I remember that Johnny Depp was on the cover — I consider today’s shoot my first 8 DAYS cover. I feel very humbled and happy and honoured. To turn 30 and have this, it shows I’ve done something right.”
Awww. Two weeks after our shoot, Sonia and Joakim went on to host the biggest gig of their lives — the National Day Parade 2018. It was Sonia’s first time and Joakim’s fifth. To say that these two are on the up and up is an understatement. And now that they’re on the cover of 8 DAYS, their star status is pretty much set in stone. (C’mon, allow us this ego trip — it’s our last few issues in print!) They are good on their own, but together, they’re superpowered, and represent something all of us can aspire to — friendship, platonic love (and in another universe, maybe something more?), and the simple, unselfish act of looking out for each other, propping each other up and being happy for your pals. And if that’s not something to celebrate and put on one of the last few print issues of 8 DAYS, we don’t know what is.
8 DAYS: I guess the number one question is: Joakim, why was getting a cover on 8 DAYS so important to you? You’ve asked us to put you on the cover on your Instagram, and people around you all know how much you wanted a cover.
JOAKIM GOMEZ: I grew up reading 8 DAYS and I feel like to be on the cover is an achievement and something to be very proud of. It means you must be doing something right in your career and that someone has taken notice, and also that you are relevant. I thought, “What can I do to go further, to improve?” I’m not gonna win a Star Award, right? (Laughs) So let’s work towards getting an 8 DAYS cover. It started off in jest on radio, like let’s get Joakim on the cover, but I’m so happy that it’s happened.
We know you think it’s an honour, but it’s nice for us as well that you see being on the cover as such a benchmark.
I feel like I’ve come full circle, from getting bashed on 8 DAYS in my Idol days to this. (Laughs) I still have those issues of the magazine, and I read it now and I think it’s quite funny lah.
What did we say about you then, 12 years ago?
One of your writers then wrote an open letter to Joakim fans. It was the week before I got out of the competition. It was something like, “Would you rather listen to a great song or a greatest hits of the Teletubbies by Joakim Gomez?” (Laughs) Back then, it was like so mean, but hilarious.
Glad you managed to see the humour on hindsight! That ability to laugh at yourself must have served you well in this industry.
Yeah, I had a tough start, a baptism of fire, but I toughened up, improved myself and now that I’m on 987 and hosting the NDP for the fifth time, it’s all a dream come true. And making it on the cover of 8 DAYS, it’s like I’ve run out of dreams! (Laughs) I need to make more dreams, like win an Oscar next! (Guffaws)
Sonia, what you did for Joakim — canvas for him to be on the cover, and plan this surprise for him, it’s pretty amazing.
SONIA CHEW: It was just one of those things he really wanted. He has expressed a few times how he never got to be on the cover of 8 DAYS before you guys went fully digital and I was wondering what I can do to make this happen for him. We do things for each other, as friends. I mean, he is a hardworking guy, and also it was his 30th birthday. Usually, I’m not so buay paiseh one, like calling you and saying hello, can you put us on the cover? (Laughs)
It wasn’t like you wanted to get yourself on the cover one last time too, right?
(Laughs) No, no! I was already very grateful for my last cover! I thought it was good timing also, since we are the first radio partners to host the NDP together. It was a good hook, I thought. If it’s not possible to get Joakim on by himself, at least we can get us together! (Laughs)
It’s our total pleasure to put you two on the cover. A very well-planned surprise, as well!
He was shocked, for sure! He didn’t expect it at all. And when I did the reveal, he didn’t know what to say. And Joakim usually has something to say. (Laughs) It’s the first time I’ve seen him speechless! Shoot-wise, I think he did pretty well. We’ve come a long way — last time, when we did shoots, he was super awkward, like he didn’t know where to put his arms… like, where do my limbs go? What do I do with my face? (Laughs) This time he did a lot better. He’s improved a lot.
Joakim, you had an early start in showbiz. But it took you a while to get here.
Yeah, I was 18 and brickbats were coming left, right and centre, and I didn’t know how to handle it one bit. Like, reading the articles in 8 DAYS was hurtful! But I embrace it now. I look back and I laugh.
Guess what didn’t kill you made you stronger! And all that publicity gave you a strong public profile.
Yes, if not for Idol and all that, I wouldn’t be here. It’s the Butterfly Effect — one simple decision led me here. That experience kept me grounded, and Sonia can keep me in check as well! (Laughs) I don’t think I have lost my head in this industry. I’m still very much my own person. I’m thankful I made all the mistakes early in my career!
What did you do after Idol?
I signed on part-time with Mediacorp, and I had acting and hosting jobs. Then I went to NS, then joined 987 part-time. And I’ve been here for 12 years.
Joakim: But I achieved the most in the past four years.
And Sonia, you’ve been in showbiz for about six years, since winning 987 Radio Star in 2012.
Sonia: When I joined showbiz, the whole social media thing exploded. It was probably very different compared to [12 years ago]. We’re here at a very interesting time. We still need to be very good at our craft, but at the same time, we need to develop other skills.
Is this your first magazine cover together?
Sonia: Yes! We’ve done a Toggle drama together, but this is our first cover! We’ve been radio partners for a while now. We were partners in the morning show for a year, then they broke us up. I was solo for a while, and he was with Gerald Koh doing The Bro Code. Then two years ago, they paired us up again, so this is our third year together as radio partners.
Joakim: I’m really happy to be on the cover with Sonia. Talking about her is like talking about my wife like that.
S: (Laughs) On-air wife!
J: She’s really a big part of my career. When I first went full-time on 987, she was my first radio partner.
S: I was his first!
J: We ironed out any working style differences in the first few months and everything went up from there. And when they split us up, I was like, why??? I consider Sonia a very good friend. We have the same kind of humour, same wavelength, same nonsense, and we party and don’t take ourselves so seriously. We both work very hard and are very driven — we really, really want to succeed and do our best for any show.
What does it mean to work hard in radio?
S: We’d like to bust the myth that it’s just four hours of sitting down and talking. There are a lot of sacrifices to make in an industry like this. You really have to hustle in the years you’re hot and in demand. When clients are asking for you, you really wanna push — we have no weekends and we work on public holidays, and we’re not afraid of having to spend extra hours and effort for research or prep for a gig or show.
J: We are always trying to think of ways to do better, reinvent and create original content. We don’t just do the radio show. We do videos and social media content too.
S: We are lucky ’cos we’ve figured out our identity. In showbiz, it can be very hard, like “What’s my branding?” Some people may not be able to answer that still, or they’re given a branding by their managers. For us, we’re quirky, goofy and funny — ownself say one — we are ourselves. But it’s not like we sat down and said, “We’re going to be funny and spontaneous.” It took a while, but then it appeared out of nowhere. We have chemistry lah, and we bounce off each other.
What about hosting the NDP? Joakim, did you give Sonia any advice?
J: She didn’t need any advice.
S: Joakim’s energy level is always very high. Between the two of us, I’m the mellower one. If I’m off work, I’d just be like in a corner chilling.
You’re quite the Energizer bunny too.
S: Yeah, but when you’re hosting on this kind of scale and on that stage, he definitely has a lot of energy and adrenaline.
J: The only advice I’d give her is how to clap in rhythm.
S: Oh my god! (Laughs) I’m not as musically-inclined as Joakim. I have a problem…
J: So says the Vice-Prez of the St Anthony’s Canossian Chinese Orchestra Club.
S: It was a long time ago! I played guzheng and liuqin. I had a SYF solo on my guzheng and I almost messed up. I wouldn’t say I can’t clap in rhythm lah, just like I’m unsure of when you count the 1… (Laughs) Okay fine, I’m not that musically-inclined. The end. (Laughs)
In this digital age, why do you still think it’s important to be on magazine covers?
S: I think being in magazines marks moments in your career. When you do something interesting or notable, people wanna interview you and write about you. And making it into one of the last few issues — my heart is full that we made it before the window closed. 8 DAYS is so iconic. We will miss it very much.
J: It’s like I made it just in time. Like, aaaaaaand there’s Joakim! (Laughs) 8 DAYS is the best two dollars you can spend every week. (Sings) 8 DAYS every week!
Don’t worry — we’ll be coming at you 8 DAYS every day now, online at 8days.sg!
J: Going digital could be a great new window of opportunity for 8 DAYS — it’s an evolution.
Even as we evolve, it’s important to remember our history, such as the old-school places we shot at in Katong.
J: Yes, it’s nice to remember and take photos at these places before they’re gone. I used to fly kites at Marina South, before MBS was built. The whole area has changed so much and I’m so glad I have those pics at Marina South.
S: In this day and age when it’s all about something being Instagrammable, people may forget what these place are actually all about, or what they stand for. Like the rattan shop we shot at — it must have been a family business with so much history, and they are so chill to let us take pics there.
J: Yes, we need to boost our knowledge of all these nostalgic places, and our awareness of great food! Like the kaya toast we had at Chin Mee Chin! I need to go back there! It’s so traditional and delicious.
If you were not radio DJs, what would you be doing?
J: For me, it was either sports or entertainment — both were big dreams of mine. I wouldn’t have minded being a runner or professional sportsperson. I might have been an accountant as well — I was very good at accounting! It was my best subject in secondary school. I loved that feeling during exams when I balanced the balance sheet. I’d be like, “Yes!!!” If I had pursued that, life would have been very different. (Laughs)
S: I wanted to be a lawyer.
S: You see, you see!
J: You’re just defending yourself. (Laughs)
S: (Laughs) So when that didn’t work out, I wanted to be a vet, then I wanted to be a journalist. So in poly, I did everything related to journalism, like radio and TV journalism. I interned at CNBC. Then I joined Radio Star.
And the rest was history. What does it take to be a great radio DJ?
S: Personality is so key, so it gives us great pride and pleasure when people remember the silly things we say and do.
J: I was terrible on air when I first started, but I slowly improved, ’cos I really wanted to be here.
Were you criticised a lot?
J: Not by the public, but by my peers and trainers. I was trained by the Muttons and Justin Ang was very straight up. He’d tell me, “This is terrible, you have to improve.” I was making all kinds of mistakes on air, like talking too much and stumbling over words. But I slowly improved.
Do you think you guys have made it, with a successful radio show, hosting the NDP, and now an 8 DAYS cover?
J: Silently I’m content, but knowing Sonia and I, we are not gonna rest on our laurels. We’re always hungry. We enjoy our success but the dangerous thing is to be too satisfied.
S: It’s important not to be complacent, but at the same time, a very big flaw people have is that we’re never satisfied with what we have. Over the years I’ve also learned to be content with some things in life. It’s okay to be ambitious but let’s not be greedy. Stop questioning things not in your control. There’s been a lot of acceptance along the way. We will grow up as well — we can’t always want the same things. Our goals will change.
What’s your next goal?
J: Fall in love.
S: you mean with each other, or?
J: (Laughs) Can I tell you the story of how Sonia and I met? I met her way before radio. It was one random Halloween night at Butter Factory. I was going to go home, and as I was walking out, I felt someone pulling on my shoulder. And it was this girl going “Hiiiiiii!!!! Where are you going??”
Sounds like a drunk Sonia.
S: (Laughs) Not that drunk!
J: We were introduced by a mutual friend that night and she was like, “Where are you going? No, you’re staying!” I was like, “Eh, this girl is kinda cute.”
S: You are kidding. I was wearing a Halloween costume. So you wouldn’t know if I was cute or not!
J: So back then it was all about Facebook so I added her on Facebook and I asked her out for one date. Just one date. We went to this meat buffet restaurant that is now closed down, at Vivocity and watched this Robert Downey Jr and Zach Galifianiakis movie…
S: Due Date!
J: So we watched the show and I was digging the humour and thankfully she was laughing as well, and I was like, yeah, but then the next day was National Service. (Laughs) And two weeks after my book out, she was the very first girl to see me botak!
S: Anyway, it ended there.
So if you didn’t have NS, do you think something might have happened?
S: I dunno man, we were such different people then. This was like eight years ago.
J: In 2012, when we saw each other in the 987 studio for training, I was like, “Eh, it’s you!”
Was it at all awkward?
J: No, no, we kept in touch lah and when she was in Radio Star, I sent her a text. I told her, “You know what, I think you’re gonna win, you got this. You stand out and you’re very out there.”
S: But I got kicked out of the competition first, then got pulled back in.
If circumstances had been different, maybe you guys might be dating. Obviously you have chemistry.
J: It’s hard to say — we get questioned every day about this.
J: Even my teachers were like, “Eh, you guys make a very good couple.” She’s gone from that to someone I consider a very beautiful friend.
S: From Mad Hatter screaming in Butter Factory to this. (Laughs)
J: She knows my love life and problems and everything that’s happening to me. But like the old saying goes: Never shit where you eat.
S: Perhaps if we didn’t end up working together...
J: You don’t wanna ruin such a beautiful friendship! That’s the answer I give to the students when they ask, “Are you guys together?”
S: But can you imagine if we were together and we fight and we have to go on air?
J: Hashtag Friendzone.
Didn’t someone comment on one of your IG pics that Joakim was friendzoned?
S: Actually it kinda adds to our branding also. People sorta remember, like, Sonia, why you always so bad to Joakim, and Joakim, why you always try so hard? (Laughs) So you know what, just keep the listeners guessing lah.
So Joakim, if your next milestone is to fall in love, I assume you’re not dating anyone at the moment.
We heard this rumour that you used to go out with Julie Tan.
I used to go out with Julie Tan? (Shocked face) We were in the same school in NAFA. This was like 10 years ago!
So you knew her lah.
But you never went out?
Got go out here and there lah! But no… not as an item. I don’t think we were an item.
You don’t think you were an item?
I wouldn’t call it an item…
Hmm. So no solo date or anything?
No, no, no… (Sheepishly puzzled)
Alright, moving on. It’s Sonia’s turn for the third degree. Are you seeing anyone?
S: Yeah, I’m dating this guy, but it’s damn new. We’ve only officially been together for a couple of months.
What does he do?
He’s an investment banker and he’s 40, quite a bit older than me. I’ve always dated older guys. The age gap is definitely not a problem for me cos I feel like I’m slightly beyond my years, perhaps ’cos I’ve been working for a while now.
Cool. Back to Sonia and Joakim. What’s the silliest thing you guys have done on air?
J: When we first started, we rapped traffic reports.
S: Like, “Chhh-krrr, chhhh-krrrr, duuuummmm… traaaaffic jam on the AYE, all the waaaay to the MCE…” We were told to stop it.
J: And take it seriously.
How about off-air?
J: Come see for yourself at Zouk!
S: For him, downing four Flaming Lamborghinis at Zouk on his birthday. We are always scared to be around him at Zouk ’cos it’s always either a Flaming or a Blue Spin. It’s the most epic way to start your night, ’cos it ends right there. (Laughs)
Don’t you guys get sick of each other after seeing each other all day?
S: Actually, I do lah, but he pays me money every week to say that I’m not sick of him.
J: We have mutual friends. So it’s not just the two of us all the time.
S: Sometimes, we go and eat after work and we’re like a married couple of 30 years. We just sit and don’t talk and half an hour later, we’re like, “Eh, wanna go? Okay, let’s go.” (Laughs)
J: Sometimes after a long day, we just sit there and stare at each other and laugh. For no reason. And she does this weird thing where sometimes, she’d stretch and go, “Eerrrghhhhh!!!
S: These weird sounds come out once in a while. I have to physically express it.
How about those weird derp faces she makes?
S: He’s mostly immune. Sometimes, they still scare him.
J: That’s what makes Sonia special — she’s beautiful, she’s great, she’s crazy and she doesn’t take herself seriously. She’s not afraid to take a chinfie or a fat face pic.
Both of you are a good team. Do you think that if you guys had had separate careers, you would be as successful, or continue to be on the up and up?
S: I wouldn’t say our careers would be down or up, they would just be different. Aside from our radio partnership, we have our own personal branding. He has sports-related stuff, like he’s been interested in marathon running in recent years — that’s a branding he’s carved for himself. For me, it’s lifestyle, beauty, fashion and travel. Both of us have very different branding, which we can sustain outside of our partnership.
J: We are two very strong and driven individuals, and when we’re paired together with the same goals, we help each other achieve.
Sonia’s doing really well with a lot of hosting gigs and sponsorships. Joakim, do you ever feel like you’re not quite on par with her?
I’m genuinely happy for her. I don’t wanna compare. When she does something successful, I’ll make fun of her. I will spoof her ads and campaigns. I’m happy that I’m here, and in terms of gigs and stuff, my time will come. Hopefully I age like fine wine. (Laughs)
Some people are competitive. But you find a way to be happy for each other.
S: It comes back to whether you’re a real friend. A real friend is happy for you when you achieve something. We are happy for each other and support each other.