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Taylor Swift's Singapore leg spurs bad blood in SE Asia. Neighbors can't shake it off

Taylor Swift performs during her Eras Tour at the National Stadium on March 2 in Singapore.
Ashok Kumar/TAS24
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Getty Images for TAS Rights Mana
Taylor Swift performs during her Eras Tour at the National Stadium on March 2 in Singapore.

HONG KONG — Pop star Taylor Swift is in Singapore this week, performing six sold-out shows in the city state. But the concerts — and what the government did to secure them — have sparked some bad blood between Singapore and neighboring Southeast Asian countries and territories.

Singapore this week confirmed it negotiated a deal with Swift's concert promoters, paying an undisclosed sum of money to ensure that Singapore was her only stop in the region.

Rumors of the exclusive deal had sparked outcry among Southeast Asian neighbors, with a Philippine lawmaker demanding an explanation, Thailand's prime minister claiming Singapore paid millions of dollars per concert for the deal, and Hong Kong's chief executive insisting his city was still an attractive destination for mega events.

Singapore's prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, defended the exclusive deal at a press conference on Tuesday.

"A deal was reached. And so it has turned out to be a very successful arrangement. I don't see that as being unfriendly," he said at an Asian summit in Melbourne.

Lee added that an "incentive" had been paid for the deal. The Singapore Tourism Board declined to comment on the amount, citing business confidentiality. AEG Presents, Swift's concert promoter, did not respond to a request for comment.

Following Lee's remarks, Philippine lawmaker Joey Salcedatold a local newspaper that Singapore was operating by "the law of the jungle" and not the law of a "neighborhood of countries bound by supposed principles of solidarity and consensus."

Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines typically enjoy smooth diplomatic relations. They are all members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN, a regional economic and security bloc.

Underneath the heated rhetoric is a growing industry worth billions of dollars. Event tourism — like Swift's concerts — brings in a lot of money for cities. Research firm Business Markets Insightsexpects the Asia Pacific events market to grow to nearly 550 billion dollars by 2028.

Fans of singer Taylor Swift take pictures next to an installation in the "Eras Tour Trail" that depicts different eras of the pop star's career, at the Marina Bay Sands complex in Singapore, on Feb. 28. More than 300,000 Swifties from Singapore and neighboring countries will attend the U.S. superstar's six sold-out Eras Tour shows at the National Stadium from March 2-9.
Roslan Rahman / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Fans of singer Taylor Swift take pictures next to an installation in the "Eras Tour Trail" that depicts different eras of the pop star's career, at the Marina Bay Sands complex in Singapore, on Feb. 28. More than 300,000 Swifties from Singapore and neighboring countries will attend the U.S. superstar's six sold-out Eras Tour shows at the National Stadium from March 2-9.

"Event tourism is a key trend," said Erica Tay, an economist in Singapore with Malaysia-based Malayan Banking Berhad, or Maybank.

Younger travelers crave experiences, more than stuff, and are more likely to travel to a city to attend a concert or watch a sporting event, she said. "By hosting Taylor Swift and other A-list acts, I think Singapore is building its credentials to be an event tourism hub," she added.

Tay estimates Swift's concerts will bring in $370 million in tourism receipts to the country

in a little over a week, while the pop star is in town.

When nearby cities see the multimillion dollar boost they are missing out on, it prompts some soul searching.

Last month, Hong Kong's chief executive, John Lee, was asked by reporters about Singapore's efforts to get Swift, and whether Hong Kong is being ambitious enough when it comes to securing mega events.

"We know we'll be competing with different cities. And we'll ensure we're attractive enough and competitive enough," he said.

Until that happens, Hong Kong is losing out on fans spending big bucks to see performers like Coldplay, Ed Sheeran and now Taylor Swift — top acts that skipped Hong Kong, but played in Singapore.

Husband and wife Haseeb Khan and Audie Wibowo paid about $450 each for their Swift tickets, plus another $300 each for flights from Hong Kong. They plan to stay with family in Singapore.

Taylor Swift fans, known as a Swifties, take photos as they arrive for the first of the pop star's six sold-out Eras Tour concerts at the National Stadium in Singapore on March 2.
Roslan Rahman / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Taylor Swift fans, known as a Swifties, take photos as they arrive for the first of the pop star's six sold-out Eras Tour concerts at the National Stadium in Singapore on March 2.

"I think it's totally worth it," said Khan. "It's Taylor Swift, it's like a once-in-a-generation tour."

Wibowo, a self-described long-time Swiftie, said she has never traveled so far for a music concert before, but was determined to go to one of Swift's Singapore shows.

"Even if my family wasn't there, my friends weren't there, if we didn't have anything in Singapore to go to, we would still go," she said.

It was a similar story for 13-year-old Anoushka and her mom Neha Malik. Malik used loyalty points for their flights from Hong Kong to Singapore, to offset the steep price they paid of about $750 per ticket.

"It is a big splurge, but it's kind of like birthday, Christmas, everything rolled into one," she said. "Better to have one big memory which will last forever."

Getting nearby Swifties to fly in and splurge on her concerts is exactly what Singapore officials wanted.

Beyond an economic boost, there's also the reputational lift Swift's presence brings.

"Her endorsement of Singapore, you know, will really put the country on the map for hundreds of millions of her fans," said Tay, the economist.

"It's hard to put a value on it, but I think it's really positive."

Copyright 2024 NPR

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