Taylor Swift Struck a Deal With Singapore Not to Perform in Any Other Southeast Asian Country

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In this 10 July 2019 file photograph, singer Taylor Swift performs at Amazon Music’s Prime Day concert at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York. (Photo: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

Taylor Swift stole the show at an Asian summit on Tuesday, 5 March, when Singapore’s leader was prompted to defend his tiny country’s exclusive concert deal with the singer, which risks bad blood in the region by preventing her from performing in neighboring nations.

Singapore is a key member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a 10-nation bloc known as ASEAN. Its three-day summit was expected to focus on member Myanmar’s humanitarian crisis and conflicts in the South China Sea.

Instead, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was grilled on the summit’s sidelines about a lucrative and exclusive deal his city-state struck with Swift that prevents the singer from taking her Eras Tour to any other stop in Southeast Asia.

Swift is performing six concerts from 2 to 9 March in Singapore, and some Southeast Asian neighbors complain that the Singapore deal deprives them of the tourism boom her concerts bring to hosts. Her Eras Tour shattered records when it reportedly surpassed USD 1 billion last year, and her film adaptation of the tour quickly took No. 1 at the box office and became the highest-grossing concert film to date.

The Singaporean leader confirmed on 5 March that Swift was provided with “certain incentives” in exchange for making Singapore her only Southeast Asian destination on her Eras Tour. Lee defended the deal at a joint news conference with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, a self-professed Swiftie whose Spotify Wrapped list boasted Taylor Swift as his second most streamed artist of 2023. Albanese is hosting the summit in Melbourne, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Australia becoming ASEAN’s first external partner.

Lee did not reveal the cost of the exclusive deal, which was paid for from a government fund established to rebuild tourism after COVID-19 disruptions. He also did not directly answer when asked if he had encountered bad blood among other leaders due to the deal, instead suggesting that if Singapore hadn’t struck an exclusive deal, a neighboring country might have done so.

“It has turned out to be a very successful arrangement. I don’t see that as being unfriendly,“ Lee said.

Thailand’s Prime Minister, Srettha Thavisin, brought attention to the deal in February with a public claim that a promoter told him the Singaporean government subsidized the concerts with around USD 2 million to USD 3 million per show with a condition that the artist not play anywhere else in Southeast Asia.

Srettha said that if he had known about the deal before, he was confident he would be able to pull off something similar.

But Thailand doesn’t hold it against Singapore, said Prommin Lertsuridej, the Secretary-General of the Prime Minister. He told reporters in a group interview Monday that Thailand took what Singapore did as an example, and while Thailand already has some laws in place to allow such incentive packages, the government is working to remove red tape and make Thailand a more attractive venue for international events.

“We learn from each other,” Prommin said, adding that he admired Singapore for being able to come up with and achieve this “good business idea.”

In February, Indonesian Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno took to Instagram to apologize to Swift’s fans, saying: “International music events, such as Taylor Swift concerts, do have a big impact on a country’s economy. But I’m sorry Swifties, Taylor Swift hasn’t stopped by in Indonesia yet. Bought out by Singapore. However, this is a lesson for us.”

Raisa Christy, a 37-year-old fan living in Jakarta, Indonesia, said she regretted that Swift’s closest stop by far was in Singapore. However, she believes it’s the only spot in the region that has the capabilities and infrastructure that meet Swift’s standards.

Lee said that, while he didn’t know what Australia’s arrangements were, he expected it similarly made “mutually acceptable, sensible arrangements” with Swift when she performed in Melbourne and Sydney — one of which Australia’s prime minister attended — before flying to Singapore.

Swift’s representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Other questions at the news conference covered increasing tensions in the South China Sea, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and the likelihood of China joining a regional free trade pact.

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BY ROD MCGUIRK, Associated Press writers Jintamas Saksornchai in Bangkok and Edna Tarigan in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed.