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Singapore defends Taylor Swift payment after Thai criticism

Singapore defends Taylor Swift payment after Thai criticism
Taylor Swift performs onstage for the opening night of "Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour" at State Farm Stadium on 17 March 2023 in Swift City, ERAzona (Glendale, Arizona). (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management)

Singapore defended its strategy of offering incentives to secure Taylor Swift’s exclusive concerts in Southeast Asia, saying the economic benefits of doing so outweigh any cost the city-state incurred in the process and that it was ultimately her choice where she wanted to perform.

“A deal was reached and so it has turned out to be a very successful arrangement,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday when asked about the matter during a visit to Australia. “If we had not made such an arrangement would she have come to someplace else in Southeast Asia or more places in Southeast Asia? Maybe, maybe not,” he said. 

His comments are the latest in a chorus of government voices that have justified the arrangement, after Southeast Asian neighbours aired their displeasure over the exclusive deal. Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said that Singapore offered the singer subsidies of up to $3-million for each concert to ensure she doesn’t take her Eras tour anywhere else in the region, while a Philippine legislator reportedly urged the Department of Foreign Affairs to raise the issue with Singapore’s envoy in the country.

“These are things that she will decide,” Lee said Tuesday. “I don’t see that as being unfriendly.”

On Monday, Singapore’s Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong dismissed online speculation about the size of the grant offered to Swift, saying “it is not accurate and not anywhere as high as speculated”. He declined to share the actual size of the deal, citing business confidentiality reasons.

Channel News Asia reported last week that the figure was closer to $2-$3-million in total for all six shows without specifying where it got the information from.

The economic benefits to Singapore including additional tourist arrivals and spending on entertainment and retail in the island nation are “significant” and outweigh the size of the grant, Tong said.

Concert tie-ups have also helped the likes of Singapore-based United Overseas Bank Ltd. The lender, which allowed cardholders in the region to buy presale tickets for popular artists like Swift and Ed Sheeran, reported a 66% surge in credit card fees to a new high of S$382-million in 2023.

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