The association between getai and the Hungry Ghost Festival can be traced to the 1970s. Traditionally, Chinese opera and puppet shows were staged during the festival, but getai gradually supplanted them as the main attraction. Unlike the longer and more restrained narratives of Chinese opera, getai provided popular and up-tempo songs performed by a live band and singers, and eventually became a mainstay of the Hungry Ghost Festival.
The appearance of getai is characterised by loud, garish, and carnivalesque colours, outfits, and backdrops. Traditionally, the stage would feature a backdrop made of cloth or other temporary material. The contemporary setup features multi-coloured stage lights, LED props and screens, laser displays and even pyrotechnics. The outfits of performers and comperes tend to be what one may describe as “over the top”, featuring glitter, sequins, bold prints, and flamboyant accessories.
A distinguishing feature of getai performances is the use of the Hokkien dialect. In addition to Hokkien/Taiwanese songs, performers would also sing popular Mandarin and Cantonese songs from the Taiwanese and Hong Kong entertainment scenes, and sometimes Malay or Indonesian songs. In recent years, K-pop songs have also been featured.
Given the declining usage of Hokkien and other Chinese dialects in Singapore society, getai remains one of the few public platforms where the use of Chinese dialects continue to be prominently featured.