Debate heats up as Singapore prime minister says exclusive Taylor Swift deal isn’t ‘unfriendly’

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Tuesday that a closed-door deal for Taylor Swift to perform in the city-state ensured she would not perform in other Southeast Asian countries during her Eras tour.

″(Our) agencies negotiated an arrangement with her to come to Singapore and perform and to make Singapore her only stop in Southeast Asia,” he said at a press conference at a regional summit in Melbourne, according to Reuters.

The statement is the first confirmation from the city-state that the agreement for Swift to perform in Singapore contained exclusivity terms preventing her from performing in other countries.

On Monday, Edwin Tong, Singapore’s minister for culture, community and youth, declined to answer this question twice during a parliamentary session.

He also did not reveal the size of the grant to Swift, but stated the amount is “not anywhere as high as speculated.”

Is Singapore's 'grant' to secure Taylor Swift concerts good business or unfair to other countries?

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Is Singapore’s ‘grant’ to secure Swift concerts good business or unfair to others?

“Due to business confidentiality reasons, we cannot reveal the specific size of the grant or the conditions of the grant,” he said.

The issue gained prominence on Feb. 16 when Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin alleged Singapore gave Swift’s team between $2 million and $3 million per show, in exchange for not performing in other regional cities, according to The Bangkok Post.

A diplomatic thorn

The payment of a grant to Swift’s promoters has become a diplomatic thorn for Singapore, prompting criticism from neighboring countries for brokering a deal that shut them out from the highest-grossing tour of all time.

Member of the Philippine House of Representatives Joey Salceda said this “isn’t what good neighbors do” and added that such agreements are contrary to ASEAN principles, according to local media.

Lee on Tuesday disputed this characterization, saying, “It has turned out to be a very successful arrangement. I don’t see that as being unfriendly.”

SINGAPORE, SINGAPORE - MARCH 02: EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO BOOK COVERS Taylor Swift performs during "Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour" at the National Stadium on March 02, 2024 in Singapore. (Photo by Ashok Kumar/TAS24/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management)

Taylor Swift performs at Singapore’s National Stadium on March 2, 2024. Singapore and Tokyo are the only stops Swift is making in Asia during her global Eras tour.
Ashok Kumar/tas24 | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Swift’s six concerts in Singapore are expected to pump between $260 million and $372 million into the island’s economy, assuming 70% of concertgoers come from overseas.

During her first three concerts in Singapore, Swift asked her audience to applaud — first the locals, then those who had traveled from overseas to come to the show. In every instance, the applause of travelers was far louder.

Average daily rates at hotels in Singapore rose from $256 to $400 this week, with bookings up 92% from travelers coming from Malaysia, 111% from Thailand and 189% from Indonesia, according to the travel software company RateGain.

Swift’s tour prior to Eras, her Reputation Stadium Tour in 2018, included only one stop in Asia — Tokyo.

But her previous tours — Speak Now, Red and 1989 tours — included stops in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia.

Shrewd or selfish?

Singapore’s agreement has sparked a debate on whether this is just smart dealmaking or greed.

“It certainly was a bold, shrewd strategic move for Singapore,” said Selena Oh, a Singapore-based communications director.

But others say a winner-takes-all mentality harms regional tourism industries, which are still recovering from the pandemic, as well as fans who can’t afford the steep travel prices to see Swift in person.

“Slightly selfish with ONLY Singapore in mind and not the wider region. Clearly [Singapore authorities] aren’t very caring for anyone other [than] themselves,” said Christian de Boer, a Cambodia-based hotel managing director.

You have to make your calculations and work out what’s in Singapore and Singaporeans’ best interest.”

Edwin Tong
SINGAPORE MINISTER FOR CULTURE, COMMUNITY AND YOUTH

Some liken the deal to how cities vie to host major sports events, such as the Olympics, the Super Bowl and the World Cup.

“Did anyone protest when F1 decided to come to Singapore?  Is anyone pretending that there were no monetary or other material considerations?” said Irene Hoe, a Singapore-based editorial consultant.

Concerts — which see artists traveling from city to city to reach their fans — haven’t always been this competitive.

But that may be changing as experience-led tourism pushes concerts into money-making juggernauts, with fans willing to travel across continents to see their favorite artists.

A ‘mean’ deal?

During Monday’s Parliamentary session, Singaporean politician Gerald Giam asked Tong whether the Singapore government negotiated to make the island Taylor Swift’s only “blank space” in Southeast Asia, referencing her smash hit of the same name.

“And did it realize that this may be perceived by some of our neighbors as being mean?” he asked.

Tong replied, “You have to make your calculations and work out what’s in Singapore and Singaporeans best interest.”

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