Taylor Swift has arrived in Southeast Asia, or at least a small part of it: all six of her sold-out shows are held in Singapore, the richest country in the region.

Many of his followers in this part of the world, which is home to more than 600 million people, are disappointed. But the Singapore leg of Swift’s wildly popular Eras Tour, which began last weekend and ends Saturday, is a soft power coup and a boost to the country’s post-pandemic economic recovery.

The shows – and the undisclosed price Singapore paid to host them – have also raised diplomatic tensions with two of its neighbours, Thailand and the Philippines.

Last month, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin of Thailand said publicly that Singapore had paid Swift up to $3 million per show on the condition that she not perform anywhere else in Southeast Asia. A Philippine lawmaker later said that was not “what good neighbors do.”

Singapore retreated. First, his Culture Minister said that the real value of the exclusivity agreement, which he did not want to reveal, was “nowhere so high.” The country’s former ambassador general later called the criticism “sour grapes.” And on Tuesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told reporters that he did not consider the agreement to be diplomatically “unfriendly.”

But that was no consolation to despondent fans.

“Sometimes I think, ‘When will I get to experience this?’” said Sherin Nya Tamara, 26, a Swift fan in Jakarta, Indonesia, who has liked the singer since 2011 but has never seen her perform live. “I was hoping there would be additional dates and that Jakarta would be included, but no.”

At a time when Southeast Asian governments are grappling with tensions over the South China Sea and the fallout from a brutal war in Myanmar, among other serious issues, the controversy over Swift’s Singapore shows is “something refreshing,” said Susan Harris Rimmer. , a law professor who has studied soft power in the region.

“It’s nice to see them arguing about something so fun, I guess, rather than really difficult things,” added Professor Harris Rimmer, who teaches at Griffith University in Australia. “But it does show that there is tension, jealousy and rivalry.”

Swift’s concerts in Singapore, which follow her stops in Japan and Australia, would have been a big deal anyway. But they took on geopolitical overtones last month, when Mr Srettha told a business forum that Singapore had paid the artist up to $3 million per show to guarantee they would be her only stops in Southeast Asia.

sir srettha saying that he had learned the details of Singapore’s grant to the artist through the concert promoter, AEG Presents. Representatives for the promoter and Swift did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

An exclusivity agreement around a concert, a type of non-compete agreement known as a “radio clause,” is standard practice in the music industry, said Susan Abramovitch, head of the sports and entertainment law division. from the international law firm Gowling WLG.

“That said, this territorial exclusivity is more typically measured in hundreds of miles from a city rather than encompassing entire neighboring countries,” he said, adding that the scope of the Singapore deal was a kind of “Taylor-style magnification” of the standard in the industry.

It has not been well received outside of Singapore.

Late last month, a Philippine lawmaker made headlines for saying which had asked the country’s Department of Foreign Affairs to discuss the exclusivity clause with the Singapore government, saying it had been done at the expense of neighboring countries.

Lawmaker Joey Salceda said this week that he had raised the issue after realizing how difficult and expensive it would be for Filipinos, including members of his own staff, to attend the concerts.

“The fundamental principles of ASEAN are solidarity and consensus,” he said in an interview, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. “What happened? They even used their tourism board to block other nations.”

When asked on Tuesday how much the grant was worth, the Singapore government did not directly address the question. But the Tourism Board and Culture Ministry said in a joint statement that Swift’s concerts, for which more than 300,000 tickets had been sold, were likely to “generate significant benefits” to the national economy.

Prime Minister Lee was also asked about the subsidy on Tuesday at an ASEAN conference in Australia. He said it had been funded by a post-Covid tourism recovery effort and that he did not consider the exclusivity clause to be “unfriendly” to other countries.

“If we hadn’t made such an arrangement, would you have come to another place in Southeast Asia or to more places in Southeast Asia?” she said, speaking in Melbourne. “Maybe, maybe not.”

News of the regional reaction to the grant was previously reported by The Wall Street Journal, The diplomat and other media.

Professor Harris Rimmer said that, financial incentives aside, Singapore is a logical place for Swift to play in Southeast Asia, partly because it is safe for young fans and has excellent transport links to the rest of the region. He said Swift’s glamorous mystique also fits well with Singapore’s efforts to promote itself as “Asia’s glamor kitty”.

“I don’t think she needs Singapore’s money right now,” he added.

Some Swifties have made peace with the singer’s limited itinerary in their region. Mostly.

José Bunachita, 30, a writer from the Philippine city of Cebu, said he saw Ms. Swift in Japan last month and that his 11-day trip there had cost him about $1,500. “I had the time of my life singing my heart out,” he said.

Still, he said, “I also feel like it would have been a more fun experience if the majority of the concertgoers had been fellow Filipino Swifties.”

Sui-Lee Wee contributed reports.