Taylor Swift’s Singapore show will be her only South-East Asia stop, revealing how super concerts can get political

Tens of thousands of Swifties are flying into Singapore over the next week because of a deal the city-state government struck to be the only South-East Asia country to host Taylor Swift.

Fresh off her record-breaking seven-night tour in Melbourne and Sydney, the pop queen is doing six sold-out shows at Singapore’s national stadium.

It will match the run that British rock group Coldplay did at the same venue in January.

But the singer-songwriter’s appeal is so great that the taxpayers of Singapore are paying to ensure she only plays there, much to the chagrin of fans in neighbouring countries.

The slate of shows will bring a financial windfall for H๏τels, restaurants and airlines.

But it has meant fans from Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines have had little choice but to fork out thousands of dollars in flights and accommodation to see their idol.

“I think I’ve spent 10 million rupiah [$1,000] so far,” said Indonesian fan Ernas Tiara, who is going on her first overseas trip with friends for the concert.

To save money, they booked a package deal early and are taking a non-direct red-eye flight from Jakarta to Singapore.

Three women wearing hijabs laugh as the woman in the middle holds an iPad with a portrait of Taylor Swift.

Ernas Tiara (left) is joining an army of Swifties who are flying into Singapore for Taylor Swift’s shows.(ABC News: Mitch Woolnough)
Ms Tiara will also stay in the airport on the first of their two nights in the city-state, but she knows other expenses will be unavoidable, including Swift’s concert merchandise.

“I’m not just spending money on accommodation and tickets, I’m also spending on the outfit, the make-up and friendship bracelets,” she said.

Her friend Annisa Pratiwi said she missed out on seeing Swift during her only Indonesian concert in Jakarta 10 years ago.

So when the Asian leg of the Eras tour was announced, she set up multiple user accounts to secure tickets for Singapore when they first went on sale last year.

“I can’t describe the feeling of seeing her in person. I just can’t wait,” she said.

Other fans weren’t so lucky and had been counting on more countries in Asia being announced.

A concert by Coldplay last year in Jakarta and another by British pop singer Ed Sheeran this month stirred hopes among Swifties that their idol would return to Jakarta.
But like fans in the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia, they were disappointed to learn they would have to travel to a much more expensive city-state to see her.

Adding to their sorrow will be the news that it was engineered this way to deliver an economic boost to Singapore.

Singapore’s exclusive deal is ‘not what good neighbours do’

Earlier this month, the prime minister of Thailand, Sretta Thavisin, let slip at a business forum that Swift was avoiding other countries because Singapore had locked her in exclusively.

American singer songwriter Taylor Swift is seen performing at Accor Stadium

Taylor Swift is doing six sold-out shows at Singapore’s national stadium.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

He said the promoter, AEG, had told him Singapore’s government was offering between $US2 million and $US3 million a show for an exclusive agreement.

AEG has not publicly commented.

The revelation prompted Singapore’s government to confirm it paid a grant to the singer to entice her to the city, although it didn’t specify the amount or the terms of the deal.

“The Singaporean government is clever. They told [organisers] not to hold any other shows in [South-East] Asia,” Mr Sretta reportedly said at the forum.

He wasn’t the only one admiring Singapore’s move.

The Association of Music Promoters in Indonesia also hailed the economic boost that the deal would bring to Singapore’s tourism sector.

“When will the Indonesian government support the promoter industry like in Singapore?” the organisation wrote in an Instagram post.

The contract also made waves in the Philippines, with politician Joey Salceda asking the country’s Foreign Affairs department to diplomatically protest Singapore’s deal with Swift.

While he expressed admiration for the move and stressed the need for the Philippines to “up its game” to reap the economic benefits of big concerts, he said it was “not what good neighbours do”.

Mr Salceda also warned the deal denying Swifties in his country from seeing their idol in Manila “hurt” the friendship between the two countries.

An exclusivity deal didn’t apply to Coldplay, which held concerts throughout South-East Asia as part of its Music of the Spheres tour, but the band cashed in when it did a brief stop in only one Australian city.

The band, which declared in 2019 that they were seeking to make touring more sustainable, claimed it chose Perth over Sydney due to its proximity to Jakarta.

But like Singapore, the Western Australia government also paid the band a fee to play in the city.

While the full amount wasn’t publicly revealed, some media reports claimed the inducement stretched to eight figures.

Governments spending huge sums of money to secure big events is pretty common, according to Kirsten Holmes, a international events expert at Curtin University.

“Governments typically spend the money to support tourism businesses because it’s generally a large, fragmented and diverse sector,” Professor Holmes said.

“Spending money to bring key people in, whether they’re influencers, celebrities, a TV show to be filmed or a band, it’s all part of promoting the destination.”

How super concerts can become political

Money alone isn’t likely the only factor that may have swayed Swift to Singapore over neighbouring countries.

Taylor Swift smiles and waves among a crowd of people on a stadium field.

An estimated 600,000 people saw Taylor Swift live in Australia during her Melbourne and Sydney shows.(Reuters: Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports)

The Singapore Tourism Board listed its “strategic location, quality infrastructure, safety, efficiency and diverse cultural offerings” as some of the other reasons why it stands out as a major event location in the region.

Being able to move large amounts of people in an efficient way is a key focus for the Swift tour, given all the sold-out shows.

The ease for fans to get to and from Singapore’s stadium complex contrasts with the traffic gridlock that greeted thousands of people trying to attend Coldplay concerts in Manila and Jakarta.

The Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jnr even took a helicopter to one of the Manila shows because the traffic was so bad.

Zachery Rajendran, an integrated events management specialist at Singaporean educational insтιтute Republic Polytechnic, also says a “stable and safe environment” and “cosmopolitan atmosphere” helped put Singapore above neighbouring countries.

Two young women hold up their friendship bracelets and hands with the number 13 written on it.

Fans have forked out thousands of dollars to attend Taylor Swift’s concert in Singapore, including spending money on outfits.(Reuters: Tomas Cuesta)

Last year a Malaysian music festival was cancelled after two members of British band, The 1975, kissed on stage to make a point about the country’s laws criminalising homoSєxuality.

And in Jakarta, protesters cited Coldplay’s support for LGBT rights to try to have their concert cancelled last year, though it went ahead anyway.

In 2012, religious protesters successfully forced Lady Gaga to cancel a planned Jakarta show due to safety concerns.

China is off limits to many artists

Approval to play in some Asian countries is also an ongoing issue.

One of the region’s biggest markets, China, remains off limits to many international acts.

Touring performers have to adhere to tight censorship rules to be granted entry but even bands with no political baggage struggle to get approval to play there.

“We just need permission,” Coldplay’s frontman Chris Martin quipped after telling fans at a show in Tokyo that it was the band’s “dream” to one day play in China.

A new visa-free deal between China and Singapore has come into affect just ahead of Swift’s concerts.

Taylor Swift dressed in a sparkly leotard points her finger on stage as she sings into a microphone

Taylor Swift started the Asian leg of her tour in Tokyo before she headed to Australia.(ABC News: Danielle Bonica)

“Regardless of whether there are international acts performing in Singapore, we can expect an imminent boost in visitors from China,” said Mr Rajendran.

But he says Swifties from South-East Asia remain the main market for the six shows.

“[Local media reports] say demand for flights and accommodation around the dates of Swift’s concerts has increased up to 30 per cent,” he said.

“This demand is mostly coming from fans within the region in south-east Asia.”

Ms Tiara is happy to be part of the travelling army of Swfities descending on Singapore, but wishes one day she’ll see the singer in her home city.

“If she ever comes to Jakarta, I will spend all my money again to see her,” she said.

A woman wearing a hijab holds an iPad with a portrait of Taylor Swift infront of a well-lit building at night.

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