Taylor Swift performs in Singapore exclusively. The residents of the region resent it

The country paid an exclusivity deal for the star not to perform anywhere else in Southeast Asia. The decision raised tensions with Thailand and the Philippines.

Taylor Swift sings onstage wearing a silver costume and knee high boots.
Swift’s performances are a boost to Singapore’s economic recovery after the pandemic.Credit…David Gray/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mike Ives , Muktita SuhartonoandCamille Elemia

Mike Ives reported from Seoul, Muktita Suhartono from Bangkok and Camille Elemia from Manila.

Taylor Swift has arrived in Southeast Asia, or at least a small part of that geographical area: her six sold-out concerts are held in Singapore, the richest country in the region.

The Times   A weekly selection of stories in Spanish that you won’t find anywhere else, with eñes and accents.

Many of his followers in this part of the world, where more than 600 million people live, are disappointed. But the Singapore leg of Swift’s popular Eras tour , which began last weekend and ends Saturday, is a coup of soft power and a boost to the country’s economic recovery from the pandemic.

The presentations — and the undisclosed price Singapore paid to host them — have also raised diplomatic tensions with two of its neighbors, Thailand and the Philippines.

Last month, Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin publicly stated that Singapore had paid Swift up to $3 million per concert on the condition that she not perform anywhere else in Southeast Asia. A Filipino lawmaker later said that was not “what good neighbors do.”

Singapore responded. First, his Minister of Culture said that the real value of the exclusivity agreement – ​​which he did not want to specify – was “not that high at all .” The former permanent secretary of the country’s Foreign Ministry later called the criticism “ sour grapes .” And on Tuesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told reporters that he did not consider the deal an “unfriendly” diplomatic move.

Two girls take a selfie with a cellphone holding their VIP tickets.
Fans in other Southeast Asian countries are disappointed that Swift will not be performing elsewhere in the region.Credit…How Hwee Young/EPA, via Shutterstock

But that was no consolation for the despondent fans.

“Sometimes I think, ‘When will I get to experience this?’” said Sherin Nya Tamara, 26, a Swift fan in Jakarta, Indonesia, who has liked the singer since 2011 but has never seen her perform live. “I was hoping there would be additional dates and that Jakarta would be included, but no.”

At a time when Southeast Asian governments are facing tensions over the South China Sea and the fallout from a brutal war in Burma, among other serious issues, the controversy over Swift’s Singapore shows is “something refreshing” said Susan Harris Rimmer, a law professor who has studied soft power in the region.

“It’s nice to see them arguing about something so fun, I guess, rather than very, very difficult things,” added Professor Harris Rimmer, who teaches at Australia’s Griffith University. “But it shows that there is tension, jealousy and rivalry.”

Swift’s concerts in Singapore, which follow those in Japan and Australia , would have been a big deal anyway. But last month they took on geopolitical overtones, when Srettha told a business forum that Singapore paid the artist up to $3 million per concert to ensure they were the only stops on her tour in Southeast Asia.

Srettha said he had learned the details of the Singapore payment from the concert promoter, AEG Presents. Representatives for the promoter and Swift did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

An exclusivity agreement around a concert, a type of non-compete agreement known as a “radio clause,” is common practice in the music industry, according to Susan Abramovitch, head of the entertainment and sports law division of the international law firm Gowling WLG.

“That said, this territorial exclusivity is more measured in hundreds of kilometers from a city rather than encompassing entire neighboring countries,” he said, adding that the scope of the Singapore agreement was a kind of “Taylor expansion” of the norm. of the sector.

This expansion has not been well received outside of Singapore.

A pile of televisions with pictures of Taylor Swift on the screen make up a display in a building.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told reporters that he did not consider the exclusive deal with Swift to be an “unfriendly” diplomatic move. Credit… Roslan Rahman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Late last month, a Philippine lawmaker generated headlines by claiming he had asked the country’s foreign ministry to discuss the exclusivity clause with the Singapore government, alleging it had been done at the expense of neighboring countries.

The lawmaker, Joey Salceda, stated this week that he had raised the issue after realizing how difficult and expensive it would be for Filipinos, including members of his own staff, to attend the concerts.

“The basic principles of ASEAN are solidarity and consensus,” he declared in an interview, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. “What happened? “They even used their tourism board to block other nations.”

On Tuesday, when asked about the value of the grant, the Singapore government did not directly address the issue. But the Tourist Office and the Ministry of Culture said in a joint statement that Swift’s concerts, for which more than 300,000 tickets had been sold, were likely to “generate significant benefits” for the national economy.

At an ASEAN conference in Australia on Tuesday, Prime Minister Lee was also asked about the deal. He stated that it had been financed through a post-Covid tourism recovery effort and that he did not consider the exclusivity clause to be an “unfriendly” action with other countries.

“If we hadn’t reached that agreement, would the singer have come to another place in Southeast Asia or more places in Southeast Asia?” he said, speaking in Melbourne. “Maybe yes, maybe not”.

The Wall Street Journal , The Diplomat and other media outlets have already echoed the region’s reaction to the deal.

Professor Harris Rimmer said that, financial incentives aside, Singapore is a logical place for Swift to perform in Southeast Asia, partly because it is safe for fans and has excellent transport links to the rest of the region. He added that Swift’s glamorous mystique also fits perfectly with Singapore’s efforts to promote itself as “Asia’s glamor kitty”.

“At this point I don’t think she needs Singapore’s money,” he added.

Some Swifties have made peace with the singer’s limited itinerary in their region. Most.

José Bunachita, 30, a writer in the Philippine city of Cebu, said he had seen Swift in Japan last month and that his 11-day trip had cost him about $1,500. “I had the night of my life singing at the top of my lungs,” he said.

He added that “I also feel like it would have been a more fun experience if the majority of the concertgoers had been fellow Filipino Swifties.”

Sui-Lee Wee contributed reporting.

Mike Ives is a Times reporter in Seoul. He covers breaking news around the world. More by Mike Ives

Muktita Suhartono informa sobre Tailandia e Indonesia. Stay in Bangkok. Más de Muktita Suhartono

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