Left Out in the Cold: Why Singapore Is Quickly Displacing Malaysia as a Concert Destination

A composite photo of superstar Taylor Swift and Coldplay's Chris Martin.

Taylor Swift and Coldplay are among the artists who will hold concerts in the Southeast Asian region, especially in Singapore. (Photo: Getty Images)

By Min Hani

FARHA Jamil spent nearly RM50,000 following her favorite Korean rapper Min Yoon-gi — otherwise known by her rapper name Agust D and better known as Suga of BTS — all over Southeast Asia.

The money, said the 28-year-old Malaysian music fan, went on concert and flight tickets, official merchandise and expensive accommodation. And he has no regrets.

“When Yoon-gi announced the D-Day Tour, I knew I just had to splurge,” Farha said.

The D-Day Tour is Suga’s first worldwide concert tour in support of the Agust D solo album of the same name. And the response from both fans and critics to the 25-show jaunt has been nothing short of impressive.

Unfortunately, while Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore have all played host to the Korean performer, with multiple back-to-back concerts in all three countries, Malaysia has been conspicuously left out.

“I’m glad I managed to see him, but I still wish he’d toured Malaysia. Nothing beats seeing your favorite artiste in your home country,” said Farha.

Malaysia has attracted its fair share of A-listers over the years. However, it has often played second fiddle to its Southeast Asian neighbors.

And the situation with Suga’s tour, along with the recent announcements of British rock band Coldplay and American pop superstar Taylor Swift indicate that music artists are not only skipping Malaysia in favor of Singapore, but also choosing to hold many gigs in the latter country.

Singapore Rock City

To be clear, initially with no Singapore dates mentioned in May, Coldplay announced concerts in Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur as part of its Music of the Spheres world tour.

In June, however, a total of six dates in Singapore, set for January 2024, were added to the itinerary. This, despite Malaysian fans petitioning for a second show in the country after tickets were snapped up in record time.

And then Swift got in on the action, confirming six concerts in the island republic in March 2024 as part of her The Eras Tour.

However, none of this is particularly surprising to industry players in Singapore. They suggest, in fact, that the Singapore government’s strong support for the events industry is what has made international artists make the city-state their No. 1 destination.

They say Singapore has worked tirelessly over the years to position itself as the leading entertainment hub in the region, with aggressive bidding for the world’s top performers to stop in the country of just six million people.

Additionally, there is better infrastructure of Singapore and the efforts of those in charge, which makes hosting events easier.

“The government here is making everything streamlined and quite straightforward,” said a music company executive who declined to be named.

“Also, while we (Singapore) may not have the biggest audience in terms of population size, it’s important to remember that the Asian headquarters for music platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube and TikTok are here.”

Left behind?

Across the Causeway in Malaysia, meanwhile, within the music and live events industry, the feeling is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain performance visas and approvals for artists.

And religious conservatism and protests by political parties and rights groups are only part of the problem.

For the record, demonstrations against music events, both planned and staged, have long been par for the course in Malaysia, with Michael Jackson (in the 1990s) and international superstar Beyonce Knowles (in 2009) among those affected.

But many believe that with the billions of ringgit currently at stake, the powers that be should act to sort things out.

“The government should start taking the creative industry seriously. It’s a pot of gold. And music tourism can have a huge economic impact on host destinations. (In fact) the United States leg of Taylor Swift’s tour alone is expected to generate economic activity of US$5 billion,” said Joe Lee, a veteran entertainment editor and music management consultant.

The problem, he says, is the seeming reluctance to change things.

“I’ve been trying to help the government by sharing frameworks for over a decade now. Everything is free, just let us (industry players and authorities) work closely with each other, iron things out and ease the application process for holding events.

“But everything seems to fall on deaf ears.”

Concert promoter Rahul Kukreja was similarly distraught. Putting the numbers into perspective, he said Malaysia seems to be ignoring a large revenue stream.

“Let’s say there are six major tours that will be held in Singapore between January and March 2024, and we consider that there are 70,000 who can afford and will travel to see at least three of the six shows. That’s 70,000 Malaysians traveling there in Q1.

“Let’s say a person spends about RM5,000 per trip. That’s RM350 million contributed to Singapore’s economy from Malaysians alone. And that’s a low estimate.”

Kukreja added that the basic figures, when taking into account music fans from other countries heading to Singapore, indicate a potential revenue of S$5 billion to S$8 billion. And that, he said, will change the business of live events and music tourism in the region.

However, he feels it is not too late for Malaysia to develop an action plan for Q3 and Q4 of 2024.

And if key decision makers are keen to change things, Kukreja said he, like many others, would be open to sharing relevant data and statistics and working with the government.

In other words, things can definitely change and fans can see their favorite acts in concert here. But the ball is definitely in Malaysia’s court.

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