It all started with a dare – well, ten to be exact. Exhilarating, nerve-wrecking and sidesplittingly hilarious, Munah Bagharib and Hirzi Zulkiflie first introduced themselves to the world in 2008. What ensued was a YouTube takeover of mammoth proportions, catapulting the former schoolmates from guerilla-style online creators to bonafide stars.
The match that lit the fire? A viral series titled “10 Dares”, which documented the pair surprising the odd passerby with unflinching, in-your-face antics. Thirteen years on, both Bagharib and Zulkiflie have amassed a reel of characters with a cause. Amongst them, feisty domestic worker Leticiacia and a nosy macik, just two of the many caricatures that have helped lift the veil on modern day prejudices.
Perhaps most synonymous with their YouTube channel Munah and Hirzi Official, however, is the duo’s take on some of the biggest music videos of our time: Minahconda (Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda), Minah Funk (Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk) as well as Beyonce’s Formation. Fast forward to present day and the pair – who professionally parted ways in 2018 – have shown no signs of slowing down. Solo projects and a new viral Cardi B-inspired video later, it’s clear that the very no-holds-barred charm that won netizens over a decade ago hasn’t worn off in the least. As for the music video we’re hoping they’ll take a stab at next? The Thelma and Louise-esque Best Friend. In the words of Doja Cat and Saweetie: “That my best friend, she a real bad…”
Hirzi: Looking back, why was it so important for us to establish the platform we have today?
Munah: When we started, we were so green and obnoxious! But it came from a pure place – just two kids wanting to make videos. We’ve been through a lot and I think the reason we kept going was because we wanted to be resilient in light of the people and factors that were pushing us down. It also became clear that MHO (Munah Hirzi Official) wasn’t just us, it was all the people who were supporting us as well. It was important to have this platform because we wanted to build a community, a safe space.
Munah: What do you recall being some of the biggest challenges and glass ceilings we had to break through?
Hirzi: I think the obvious one was having to just be ourselves. I don’t think the industry and the community was ready for us. There wasn’t a blueprint for two kids like ourselves. Everything we strategised in those 10 years, we had to do ourselves. For every door closed in our face, we had to find and sneak through other openings on our own. And I thank God I had you every step of my way at the start because my resilience would mean nothing without your light.
Hirzi: What have been some of our biggest triumphs?
Munah: There have been so many things. One of my favourites would be our farewell show. It’s been a dream to produce our own live show and we have so many people to thank for making that happen. Secondly, it was so special because it was held at the Capitol with 1.5K people in attendance, but it felt really intimate. It was a spectacle but when we heard people singing along, we saw the faces, we felt the warmth from the crowd – it was one of the most special connections I’ve ever felt.
Munah: Prior to “Munah and Hirzi”– how do you think humour played a part in our respective personal lives?
Hirzi: I think I cope through humour. I picked up my “roasting” skills as a kid because I was bullied a lot for being effeminate by teachers, students and even my older relatives. Then one day I realised, “If I take away the punchlines from people, they don’t get to say it and they don’t have power over me.” So self-effacing humour was something I practised to survive as a young kid in school and bigger family gatherings. Before anyone could say something about me, I’d say it first. I thought, “that’s how I’ll win.” I eventually became so good at it that I started doing it to other people. I wasn’t just stealing punchlines anymore, I was making them. I think the lesson in my 30s on roasting as my coping mechanism has been about how to gauge “when roasting is welcome.” If Rupaul ever removes the reading challenge on his series, I’ll be so mad. He said it best, we shouldn’t take life too seriously.
Hirzi: When do you think you first realised how healing humour and laughter – for both ourselves and our viewers – could truly be?
Munah: Mine will always be that one YouTube Fan Fest Meet & Greet. We had some time after we snapped photos with everyone and we thought to sit and chat with those who were there. People really started opening up about their own struggles and that’s when I thought, “There is so much more to what we do.” You think you put out silly videos for fun but people do see the intention behind it and what you stand for.
Munah: What part do you think music has played in our journey?
Hirzi: I think being parody artistes, music gives you seasons to your body of work. When you think of a song today, you immediately transport yourself to the period it was made in. It becomes a time capsule and you remember how different times were and what needed to be said then. I enjoy watching us through the seasons. I can confidently witness growth. And I smile fondly every time I cringe watching ourselves.
Munah: Music and the power of sound have also subtly infiltrated other aspects of your life.
Hirzi: So, I’m a shaman now (laughs). I am that new age guy who listens to Binaural Beats Therapy when I have a migraine. All our close friends in the industry happen to be musicians and it’s so inspiring to see them do their magic. Music really has that power to just bring people together. I’ve also done a lot of guided meditations through sound baths and I cry each time. It’s something about when the gong is hit and the vibrations run through your body... It’s as if you’re being awakened. It’s my moon in Pisces and sun in Cancer. Did I say I was a new age guy?
Hirzi: How did we come up with parodying music videos, in particular?
Munah: Leticiacia! Our foreign workers have been a big part of the MHO days. They were always so happy to be part of our videos and we kept wanting to do something for and with them. You’re a very good writer, Hirzi. You’re very creative with how you balance humour, weirdness and seriousness behind what we’re trying to say. Our music parodies became such a big part of MHO because our crazy characters were completely in your face but they signalled at important topics. Our parodies were really out there, but had strong messages behind them.
Hirzi: We’ve tackled a lot of Singapore’s societal issues head on through our work – what do you think is left to address that we haven’t touched on yet?
Munah: I feel so many issues – ones we have talked about and ones we have yet to – fall under the umbrella of equality and humanity. And don’t you think everything we’ve talked about still needs to be talked about? We’re moving but not progressing enough. It’s about looking at how else we can make changes. I think the crucial question here is what specific actions we can take – both on our own and together.
Munah: Inclusion, diversity, classism and stereotypes are some of the things we’ve challenged. Why was it so important for us to talk about things most were too afraid to talk about?
Hirzi: At one point of time when all doors closed on us, we had nothing to lose. Sometimes I feel if we had been the cookie-cutter brown conservative artiste (which at one point of time were rules we subscribed to too, by the way), we could not have produced any of the body of work we have so far. I’m glad life penned itself like this, because now this has become my person and my art and I don’t have to pretend to be someone else in my career.
Hirzi: We’ve done it all – acting, writing, dancing, singing… What other mediums have we yet to explore?
Munah: (Laughs), we still can barely sing Hirzi! There’s definitely so much that we have yet to explore but you know me – I just find it when it comes. I like to be surprised. I honestly do believe you’re going to keep changing the game and that you’ll find new mediums to do so. TikTok maybe?
Munah: What’s next?
Hirzi: Survive this pandemic. Find love. Be wifey. Retire.
Hirzi: What’s next for you?
Munah: Is this where I plug upcoming projects? Catch Lost Cinema 20/20 by Brian Gothong Tan, as part of the Esplanade Studios series, this April – finally going back to live theatre and I cannot be more thrilled.
As for what’s next… Life is. I said to you at the start that this year, I want to commit to focusing on my happiness, finding my time and of course my Mamreh and Abreh (mom and dad).
I love you. Thank you. I am so lucky to have found you and have grown up with you. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Look at how far we’ve come. Keep believing in yourself because honestly, I cannot think of anyone who can do what you do, so damn well.
Hirzi: I’ve missed doing work and creating with you so much. Life is always light with you around. Thank you for our 2021 reunion season.
Photography JOEL LOW
Styling GREGORY WOO
Hair JUNZ LOKE USING KEVIN MURPHY
Makeup SHA SHAMSI USING CHANEL BEAUTY
Photography Assistant ALFIE PAN