Singapore to Taylor Swift: You Belong With Me

Instead of holding concerts throughout the region, the American pop star is performing in just two East Asian countries—Japan and Singapore.
Instead of holding concerts throughout the region, the American pop star is performing in just two East Asian countries—Japan and Singapore.

Summary

The pop star’s performances in the city-state have stirred some jealousy in the region.

SINGAPORE—Asia’s mightiest economies are vying for a piece of one of the world’s proven economic-growth engines: Taylor Swift. Only a lucky few countries are cashing in. The losers are struggling to shake it off.

Instead of holding concerts throughout the region, the American pop star is performing in just two East Asian countries—Japan and Singapore. Swift is perhaps expecting—not unreasonably—that her devoted fans will be willing to travel any distance necessary.

Singapore, for its part, is eagerly awaiting the economic bump that has been dubbed “Swift-onomics."

The only problem is that Swift’s six concerts in Singapore in March have stirred up more than a little jealousy—and even some bad blood—in the region.

At a February economic forum, Thailand’s Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin lamented that neighboring Singapore had subsidized Swift’s tour on the condition that the pop star skip over the rest of the region. Had he known about this, Srettha said, he would have made his own offer.

“Every business from hotels, tourism industry, down to the barbecue pork stalls would definitely want that," he said.

Others have been more pointed about it. “Our countries are good friends. That’s why actions like that hurt," said Joey Salceda, a legislator in the Philippines who asked his country’s foreign ministry to seek an explanation from Singapore over the alleged exclusivity of the terms.

In Hong Kong, which has long competed with Singapore for the mantle of Asia’s most global city, legislator Regina Ip scolded city officials for not doing more to attract star power such as Swift.

“This year she will be going to Singapore. We lost that opportunity." Ip said at a January hearing, encouraging the government to be proactive about booking superstars.

Singapore’s government has copped to offering a grant in support of Swift’s performance, but declined to provide details on the size or the conditions attached. “Due to business confidentiality, we are unable to share further details," said Calida Soh, a spokeswoman for Singapore’s Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.

The marketing for the events has been less discreet: They have been billed as Swift’s only performances in Southeast Asia.

“It is a bit unusual that she’s hit a giant region like that and is only staying in two places," said Linda Bloss-Baum, a former music executive who is assistant director of the Business and Entertainment Program at American University’s Kogod School of Business.

In contrast, during the next leg of her tour in Europe, Swift is traipsing across major and minor cities throughout the continent, hitting four European cities in May, and another six in June, including smaller U.K. cities such as Liverpool and Cardiff.

Many of the more than 300,000 tickets sold in Singapore have gone to overseas fans who will fly in, and hotels and restaurants haven’t been shy. The city’s iconic five-star hotel, the Marina Bay Sands, is offering “The Wildest Dreams Package," which comes with a three-night stay, four VIP tickets and a round-trip limousine ride from the airport. The cost: nearly $40,000.

More than 90% of guests buying the exclusive packages are coming from abroad, according to the hotel. Travel booking website Agoda said that searches for accommodation in Singapore spiked 160 times over usual levels after ticket sales began last summer.

As foreign visitors arrive, they will be greeted at Singapore’s Changi Airport with a singalong event led by local cover artists that the airport has called “probably the largest Swifties event in Singapore ever."

There is no mystery about why countries are feeling pangs of jealousy.

Swift’s “Eras Tour" has become a massive booster for cities seeking to shake off the hospitality industry’s post-Covid languor. The effect is sometimes known as Swift-onomics, although has also been referred to as Taylor-nomics by some experts. One study found that Colorado’s gross domestic product was boosted by $140 million from two Swift shows last year. Chicago and Minneapolis broke records for hotel occupancy when Swift performed last year. Even people without tickets are known to flock to cities to be close to their idol.

Economists have been dedicating some serious effort to studying the effects of pop concerts recently. Renewed interest in the industry’s impact could be traced to last year, when an economist at Denmark’s Danske Bank credited Beyoncé’s “Renaissance World Tour" in Stockholm for higher-than-expected inflation, as hotel and restaurant prices rose amid an avalanche of Nordic Beyoncé fans.

Nomura Bank estimates that the combined effect of six Coldplay concerts in January and six Taylor Swift concerts in March could contribute $300 million to Singapore’s tourism revenues in the first quarter. Bookings for tours and Singapore attractions have surged, according to travel booker Trip.com.

“With the trade recovery yet to take off fully, Singapore is busy making ‘concert economics’ its new growth driver," said HSBC in a note.

Still, George Moran, a European economist for Nomura, said he was skeptical that luring Swift offered a new economic model. “As a long-term growth strategy, it’s not something you can rely on—attracting pop stars—I don’t think," he said.

Long-term growth strategy or not, local businesses are cashing in. Singapore cake shop store Baker’s Brew says it has received around 40 or 50 orders for its Taylor-Swift themed cakes and cupcakes, which launched two weeks ago. A 10-inch cake with an edible Taylor Swift fondant figurine costs about $225.

“That was a very smart thing for the Singapore government to do," said Monique Tendencia, the bakery’s marketing and e-commerce manager. “They come here for Taylor Swift but they find out about the brand."

One 22-year-old Indonesian Swiftie was disappointed when she found out the artist would be skipping over her hometown of Jakarta. Audilla Ferialdi decided to turn it into a family trip to Singapore. She bought tickets in the cheap seats with her mom, dad and sister.

“I was like, ‘Let’s kill two birds with one stone,’" she said. Between hotels, restaurants, transportation and tickets, she estimates that her family—along with a friend who is coming along—will pour as much as a couple thousand dollars into the local economy.

Ferialdi said that Indonesia’s government, which held national elections in February, had probably been too distracted to focus on wooing Swift. “That’s too bad," she said.

Write to Jon Emont at jonathan.emont@wsj.com

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