Taylor Swift Concert

Singapore to Taylor Swift: "You Belong With Me"


The Singaporean leg of Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour, on track to become the highest grossing tour in history, is drawing the attention of Southeast Asia’s live music industry. ASEAN countries are reacting and adapting to the announcement that Singapore reached an “exclusivity deal” with the pop megastar.

On March 9th, 2024, American singer-songwriter turned global phenomenon Taylor Swift, known for such hits as Cruel Summer and Anti-Hero, concluded the sixth and final Singaporean show of her ongoing Eras Tour. The worldwide tour, which surpassed the $1 billion mark in earnings and became the highest grossing ever in touring history in December 2023, has begun to attract the attention of politicians and government officials. Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is one such individual – on March 5th, during the 2024 ASEAN-Australian Special Summit, he disclosed that Singapore had signed an "exclusivity deal" with Swift’s team that guaranteed the six shows in the city-state but barred her from performing anywhere else in Southeast Asia for the duration of the tour.

Taylor Swift and The Eras Tour

Swift has been on the Eras Tour since March 2023, which pays tribute to every eponymous “era” of her illustrious 17-year career. By its conclusion in December 2024, it will have played 152 dates, potentially making it the biggest tour of all time by number of shows. Swift has cemented herself as an American success history with her influence on concert revenues, merchandise sales, album sales, and even cinema, with her Eras Tour film ranking among the highest-grossing concert movies ever. Owing to the enormous economic influence of the tour, the concept of “Swiftonomics” has emerged to describe its tangible impact on local and municipal economies. In the United States, consumer spending on tickets, travel, and concert outfits costs more than $1,300 on average; having sold upwards of 4.35 million tickets in the United States alone, the tour could generate up to $5 billion for the American economy.

The Eras Tour impacted not only the United States but also other countries, particularly in Asia. In Japan and Singapore, the tour’s only Asian destinations, economic benefits were driven by fans traveling from across East and Southeast Asia to attend the shows. Ticket revenue and other spending related to the four Eras shows in Japan are estimated to have an economic impact of 34.1 billion yen ($230 million), according to Mitsumasa Etou, a researcher at Tokyo City University who performed the calculation.

In Australia, where Swift performed seven shows across Sydney and Melbourne, Sally Capp – the Lord Mayor of Melbourne – estimates Australia’s economic upswing from the Eras Tour at 1.2 billion Australian dollars ($787 million in US dollars). Not all effects are beneficial, however: Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Michele Bullock addressed the “Taylor Swift inflation” effect at a February 6th media conference, whereby fans prioritize their discretionary spending on flights and accommodations, driving up prices.

Nevertheless, in Singapore, the tour increased airline and hotel demand by up to 30%. Its total economic impact on the city-state is estimated up to $375 million, exceeding that of Japan. A Bloomberg survey estimates that Singapore’s GDP likely rose by 2.9% over the span ofthree months, with some economists crediting the tour for the gains.

Singapore’s Deal with Swift

Swift performed for six days at the National Stadium in Singapore from March 2nd to 9th; all 300,000 available tickets were sold out, drawing attendees not only from Singapore but also from nearby countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, and even China.

Fans of Swift (“Swifties”) across Southeast Asia were deeply disappointed by the announcement that she would only stop in Singapore; this exclusivity was the result of a grant from the Singapore Tourism Board’s (STB) Tourism Development Fund to concert promoter Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) – the company that produces global tours, such as Swift’s Eras.

Prime Minister Lee provided the following comments at the ASEAN-Australia summit: “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.” He added that “if [the deal] is what needed to be done to get an outcome which is mutually beneficial, and which 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, I don’t see why not.

Reactions from Southeast Asia

The Swift-Singapore deal was known to government officials across ASEAN long before Loong’s summit statement. Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin was the first to reference the deal during a keynote address on February 16th at the iBusiness Forum 2024; there, he alleged that AEG had signed a deal with the government of Singapore wherein Swift and her team would receive $2 to 3 million per show in exchange for exclusivity over where she could perform in Southeast Asia.

This claim prompted critical reactions from some members of ASEAN. Philippines lawmaker Joey Salceda, the representative from Albay’s 2nd congressional district, urged the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs to “officially register [their] opposition” to the Swift-Singapore deal. “I don’t think we should just let things like this pass,” he declared. “It also runs contrary to the principle of consensus-based relations and solidarity on which the ASEAN was founded.

Others responded more optimistically. Indonesian Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy Sandiaga Uno took to Instagram on February 26th, 2024, to apologize to Indonesian Swifties for his country’s absence from the Eras Tour. In the same post, however, he announced the creation of a 2 trillion rupiah (roughly $130 million in USD) “International Tourism Fund” to help attract and host global concert events in the future. “We need 'Swiftonomics' in Indonesian tourism,” he added, referring to the aforementioned economic phenomenon. “Not only music, but also sporting events. We need to hold a good cultural event in Indonesia to attract quality tourists to Indonesia, stay longer, and have an impact on larger dollar spending on the local economy.

A spokesperson for the Thavisin administration later clarified that the prime minister’s initial words were not critical, and that “Thailand doesn’t hold it against Singapore.” Prommin Lertsuridej, Secretary-General of the Thai Prime Minister, said that the country admired Singapore's move and would view it as an example to follow in the future. Lertsuridej stated that the government is priming Thailand to be more attractive for mega events and world-class festivals through “tax incentives, visa facilitation, and other conveniences to stimulate tourism.”

Implications for SEA’s Live Music Industry

The Swift-Singapore deal comes at a time when the live music industry in Southeast Asia is on the rise. British rock band Coldplay recently concluded their six shows in Singapore in late January 2024; English singer-songwriter and Shape of You star Ed Sheeran also just finished his tour in Asia in March 2024, where he performed in Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, and Manila.

The reason these A-list performers and others – Charlie Puth, Post Malone, and Taeyeon, to name a few – are coming to Southeast Asia is because of abundant demand from the region’s fans: in 2023, British pop band The 1975 added a second show to the Singaporean leg of their world tour after the first show was sold out within 30 minutes, only for the second show to also sell out. In the same year, world-famous Korean boyband BTS singer Suga added additional third nights to his shows in Bangkok and Singapore.

As economic benefits abound with each concert, Southeast Asian countries have greater and greater incentives to invest in their live music industries in the face of logistical difficulties. Live Nation Philippines promised more efficient shuttle services to Philippine Stadium, the country’s largest live entertainment venue, after many concertgoers missed large parts of pop chart-topper Bruno Mars’ June 2023 Manila concert due to poor traffic. After Coldplay was only able to secure one show in Jakarta as part of their 2024 Asia tour (compared to the aforementioned six in Singapore) due to Indonesia’s time-consuming and cost-prohibitive licensing system, the country agreed to digitally revamp and streamline the process for ease of attracting future performances.

Evidently, Southeast Asia has begun to recognize the growing potential of this industry. At the same time, American artists with global reach – like Swift – have profound implications for cross-cultural connections. The United States stands to gain from the immense cultural capital afforded by her Eras Tour and its universal appeal among Southeast Asian Swifties. In this way, the Swift-Singapore deal should, rather than incite strife between countries, serve as an opportunity to strengthen the cultural exchange and cross-pollination between the United States and Southeast Asia.

Vincent Zhang is a Spring 2024 Young Professional at the East-West Center in Washington. He is a senior at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, pursuing a B.S.F.S. in International Politics with a concentration in Foreign Policy.

Arrizka Faida is a Young Professional at the East-West Center in Washington DC. She received her master’s degree from Cornell University, Brooks School of Public Policy, studying MPA in Science, Technology, and Infrastructure Policy.