Taylor Swift agreed not to perform in other Southeast Asian countries with Singapore.    

Melbourne  — At an Asian conference Tuesday, Singapore's leader was forced to justify his tiny country's exclusive performance arrangement with Taylor Swift, which risks regional animosity by prohibiting her from performing in neighboring countries.

The 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) includes Singapore. The three-day meeting was supposed to address Myanmar's humanitarian crisis and South China Sea disputes. Instead, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was questioned on the summit's sidelines about a lucrative and exclusive arrangement his city-state negotiated with Swift that precludes her from touring Southeast Asia.

Swift will perform six performances in Singapore from March 2 to 9, and several Southeast Asian countries say the contract deprives them of the tourism boom her concerts bring. Her Eras Tour reportedly grossed over $1 billion last year, and her film adaption of the tour became the highest-grossing concert film ever.

The Singaporean leader said Tuesday that Swift received “certain incentives” to make Singapore her only Southeast Asian stop on her Eras Tour. At a joint news conference with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, a Swiftie whose Spotify Wrapped list included Taylor Swift as his second most streamed artist of 2023, Lee justified the transaction. Albanese hosts the meeting in Melbourne for ASEAN's 50th anniversary as its first external partner.

Lee did not disclose the exclusive deal's cost, which was funded by a government fund to revive tourism after COVID-19. Instead of answering if the transaction had caused ill blood among other leaders, he suggested that a nearby country might have done so if Singapore hadn't. The arrangement has been successful. Lee didn't think that was hostile.

In February, Thailand's Prime Minister, Srettha Thavisin, claimed that a promoter told him the Singaporean government subsidized the concerts with $2 million to $3 million per show if the artist didn't play elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Srettha believed he could replicate the arrangement if he had known about it.

But Thailand doesn't hold it against Singapore, said PM Secretary-General Prommin Lertsuridej. He told reporters in a group interview Monday that Thailand follows Singapore's example and is aiming to cut red tape and make Thailand a more appealing destination for international events. Thailand already has some legislation allowing such incentive packages.

“We learn from each other,” Prommin remarked, praising Singapore for its “good business idea.” Indonesian Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno apologized to Swift fans on Instagram in February, saying: “International music events, such as Taylor Swift concerts, do have a big impact on a country's economy. Unfortunately, Taylor Swift has not visited Indonesia yet. Purchased by Singapore. However, this teaches us.”

Jakarta-based 37-year-old Swift fan Raisa Christy disappointed that Singapore was Swift's closest stop. However, she feels it's the only place in the region with Swift-compatible capabilities and infrastructure.

Lee didn't know Australia's preparations, but he expected it to make “mutually acceptable, sensible arrangements” with Swift when she performed in Melbourne and Sydney, one of which the prime minister attended, before going to Singapore. A Swift spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

The news conference also addressed South China Sea tensions, the Gaza humanitarian crisis, and China's potential participation in a regional free trade pact.

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