Swiftly swayed, not stirred

Taylor Swift’s stop has been a boon to the city-state, with analysts estimating that seven in 10 of the 300,000 concertgoers will be coming in from abroad, spending between US$260 million to $370 million on hotels, food and entertainment.


Taylor Swift’s concerts began in Singapore on March 2 at the National Stadium, with the last concert to be held on March 9. PHOTO: THE STRAITS TIMES

March 8, 2024

JAKARTA – This week, Southeast Asia witnessed a multi-day gathering where issues that matter to many hearts and minds were shared and celebrated.

We are of course talking about American megastar Taylor Swift’s week of concerts in Singapore, which is her only stop in the region as she goes around the world on her Eras Tour.

Around 300,000 of Swift’s passionate fans, also known as Swifties, from around the region are expected to attend the six sold-out shows that began last Saturday.

Swift’s stop has been a boon to the city-state, with analysts estimating that seven in 10 of the 300,000 concertgoers will be coming in from abroad, spending between US$260 million to $370 million on hotels, food and entertainment, with the cost of flights into Singapore nearly tripling and accommodation bookings almost quintupling throughout the week.

Hotel rooms in Singapore are reported to cost 30 percent more this week than in pre-pandemic 2019. Bookings for attractions and tours in the city have also shot up by more than 20 percent.

For a few days, Swifties from across ASEAN are united, or more specifically, geographically concentrated in Singapore.

Social media timelines are teeming with photos and videos of fans sharing, and boasting, of attending the concerts in what some would consider a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

It was hard to hear, but most fans have been able to accept Swift’s single stop in the region. After all, why would Singapore not be the only place to hold her concerts? In ASEAN, Singapore is the only advanced economy.

A concert by a star of Swift’s scale needs to be hosted by the highest standards that in the region, only Singapore can offer, right?

Or so Southeast Asian Swifties and governments thought and came to accept.

Then came the report, from Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, that Singapore offered Swift up to $3 million per concert if she agreed not to play anywhere else in Southeast Asia.

Srettha told a business forum in Bangkok on Feb. 19 that global concert promoter Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) had told him about the deal with Swift in exchange for exclusivity.

“If I had known this, I would have brought the shows to Thailand,” he said as quoted by the Bangkok Post.

Last week, a Philippine lawmaker also criticized Singapore, saying this was not “what good neighbors do”.

Philippine district representative Joey Salceda even asked the Department of Foreign Affairs to ask the Singaporean ambassador to the Philippines about the claims of exclusivity.

On Tuesday, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong entered the fray, defending the secretive arrangement. It was a jarring statement since Lee made it during the ASEAN-Australia special summit in Melbourne, a sober affair typically more preoccupied with matters of security and economic growth.

“A deal was reached. And so it has turned out to be a very successful arrangement. I don’t see that as being unfriendly,” Lee told a joint press conference with his Australian counterpart.

On Thursday, Indonesia’s Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan chimed in during the cultural squabble, arguing that Indonesia should also be able to have a similar exclusive deal in the future to match Singapore’s Swift contract.

“What Singapore can give, we will also give. We must have the courage to compete. If Singapore can make a profit, why can’t we?” Luhut, a former Indonesian envoy to Singapore, said in a business forum in Bali.

With the region’s heads of state getting involved in the controversy, we cannot help but wonder whether this Taylor Swift issue is threatening ASEAN unity.

After the glitter settles, scholars and analysts will probably soon offer us better perspectives or insights on what is currently taking place. Those in universities where courses on Taylor Swift are offered can certainly help.

We hope Swifties can enjoy the shows and treasure the memories, the Singaporean government gets what they bargained for and other ASEAN governments learn a lesson for the future.

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