Singapore PM says in Melbourne that Taylor Swift deal not “unfriendly” to SE Asia neighbours

Pop superstar Taylor Swift is taking a two-day break in between her Singapore concerts, but even when she is not on the stage, she is still at the centre-stage.

Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong speaks in Melbourne
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the 2024 ASEAN-Australia Special Summit press conference in Melbourne. Screenshot courtesy: YouTube/Prime Minister’s Office Singapore

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, while addressing a joint press conference with Australian premier Anthony Albanese in Melbourne on Tuesday, had to explain that the “deal” to keep Taylor Swift exclusive to Singapore in South-East Asia was not “unfriendly” to other nations.

During the press conference, held on the sidelines of the 2024 ASEAN-Australia Special Summit, the Singapore leader said, “Taylor Swift is performing in Singapore. [Our] agencies negotiated an arrangement with her to come to Singapore and perform, and to make Singapore her only stop in South-East Asia. And there [were] certain incentives provided to her from our Tourism Development Fund — really, [it] is a post-COVID fund, to revive tourism after COVID — and a deal was reached.

“And so, it has turned out to be a very successful arrangement. I don’t see that as being unfriendly. Sometimes, one country makes a deal, sometimes another country does.”

Talking about the Singapore government’s rationale for the exclusive Taylor Swift deal, PM Lee Hsien Loong said that the agencies had worked to achieve an outcome that was “mutually beneficial”. He said it was an outcome that “from Singapore’s point of view, serves not just to grow the economy but also to bring in visitors and goodwill from all over the region”.

The prime minister went on to say, “I don’t see why not? I mean, if we had not made such an arrangement, would she have come to someplace else in South-East Asia or [to] more places in South-East Asia? Maybe, maybe not. These are things she will decide.”

Taylor Swift on stage in Singapore
Taylor Swift on stage in Singapore on the third night of her concert series. Photo courtesy: X/@tswifterastour

There have been a lot of injured feelings since it was first revealed — by Thailand Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin — that Taylor Swift had entered into an agreement with the Government of Singapore to perform only in the island nation in this part of Asia. Reportedly, she was offered a sum of up to SGD 4 million per show for this exclusive deal.

Following this, Singapore confirmed that there was, indeed, a “grant” for the exclusive rights to host Taylor Swift, but the amount was not confirmed. In reaction, a lawmaker in the Philippines said that this was not “what good neighbours do”.

The New York Times has published a March 5 report on the subject, headlined ‘Singapore Has Taylor Swift to Itself This Week, and the Neighbors Are Complaining’. The NYT report said that many Taylor Swift fans in South-East Asia were “disappointed”, but that “the Singapore leg” of the ‘Eras Tour’ was “a soft power coup and a boost for the country’s post-pandemic economic recovery”.

“The shows — and the undisclosed price that Singapore paid to host them — have also generated diplomatic tension with two of its neighbors, Thailand and the Philippines,” said the publication.

Given that the ASEAN bloc, in recent years, has been experiencing tension because of serious geo-political reasons, such as territorial aggression from China, this regional tussle over Taylor Swift makes for a refreshing change, according to some observers of soft power.

NYT quoted a faculty member of Griffith University in Australia as saying, “It’s nice to see them arguing about something this fun, I guess, instead of really, deeply difficult things.”