When Taylor Swift unveiled the schedule for her upcoming concert tour around the world on Wednesday, fans across Southeast Asia took to social media to express dismay—with some decrying the injustice and others blaming thorny domestic politics—over the fact that she only has one stop in the sub-continent: Singapore.
But the American singer-songwriter isn’t the first or only artist to catch similar ire from fans: British rock band Coldplay announced Tuesday two more nights in Singapore for their Music of the Spheres world tour, bringing the total shows in the country to six, outnumbering the nights the band are scheduled to perform next year in any other nation across the world.
Just how the small city-state of less than 6 million people has come to be the preferred venue for top artists is no mystery. Can Seng Ooi, a professor in cultural and heritage tourism at the University of Tasmania who researches Singapore’s tourism strategy, tells TIME that Singapore’s popularity among international acts has been decades in the making—a result of the government’s proactiveness in seeking collaboration with artists and concert organizers.
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“Singapore is a destination, but an event in itself is [also] a destination,” says Ooi. “People come here for those reasons, and because of that they will also enjoy Singapore and spend a lot of money there.” Ooi adds: “The concert tickets are not cheap by any standard. Those who can afford it can afford to fly to Singapore.”
It’s been an explicit government initiative in Singapore to establish itself as the “events and entertainment capital of Asia.” Since the 2000s, authorities have actively courted international artists in an attempt to lure their fan bases to travel to the city. Swift’s upcoming concert, for example, has been promoted by top officials. Singapore’s Tourism Board also previously partnered with American singer Charlie Puth and Hong Kong rapper Jackson Wang to produce a series of videos promoting the country’s attractions.
Singapore’s not just pulling concert headliners from the West. Earlier this year, a show by Indian music producer and singer Anirudh Ravichander at the Singapore Indoor Stadium sold all 12,000 tickets in just two days. And this month, K-pop sensation TWICE also sold out their two nights of shows later this year at the same arena.
IMC Group Asia, an entertainment company that manages concerts in Singapore, tells TIME that Singapore has also proven to be an ideal location for performing artists in part because of “good hospitality facilities such as hotels, food and transport.” The ease of obtaining work permits and visas for tour members is another key consideration, the company added.
“Big!!!” the U.S. ambassador to Singapore, Jonathan Kaplan, tweeted on Wednesday about Swift’s upcoming appearance, “My huge CONGRATS to everyone involved in making #TaylorSwiftinSG happen.”
Fans, local and overseas, disgruntled over lack of access
Over 200,000 tickets for Coldplay’s January concert were snapped up during the presale on Monday, breaking the country’s record for the most number of tickets sold in just one day.
Among the whopping million virtual queue numbers on the sale site that day, many belonged to fans from other Southeast Asian countries who will have to fly to Singapore for the concert.
While that’s exactly the kind of travel the Singaporean government has hoped to inspire with events like these, this has irked some local fans, who have called for measures to limit the number of foreigners purchasing tickets—some going so far as to suggest incorporating Singpass, a national identification app, to restrict ticket sales exclusively to Singaporeans.
Even greater furor, however, has come from those outside Singapore. With just one Coldplay concert scheduled in Malaysia, Singapore’s neighbor with more than five times its population, some fans there took to social media to blast their government for repelling rather than enticing popular acts. Religious groups and political conservatives have taken issue with Coldplay’s performance in the country after lead singer Chris Martin was photographed waving the LGBT Pride flag.
One Twitter user said she understood why Malaysia was not in the list of Swift’s stops in Asia: “If she were to come to Malaysia, religious fundamentalists would make noise about her concert outfits and her support for LGBT rights.”
Malaysian non-profit Arts, Live Festival and Events Association lauded Singapore in a statement about Coldplay’s six shows in the city-state, saying “it is a true testament and example when various government and private bodies work cohesively for the benefit of economies, job creation and tourism.” At the same time, the group lamented “what could’ve been for Malaysia, which would’ve brought millions in tourist income and benefit hotels, transportation, food and beverage, retail and more.”
Malaysian lawmaker Syed Saddiq reiterated similar points in a video posted on his social media channels Wednesday, saying: “While we are arguing amongst ourselves, Malaysia is losing economic opportunities at home.”
Swift’s upcoming tour has also sparked particularly sour sentiments from fans in the Philippines, home to the singer’s largest fanbase in the region. (Late last year, Quezon City in the Philippines’ capital region became the top Asian city in a list of Taylor Swift’s biggest streamers on Spotify.)
But while many Southeast Asian fans continue to vent their disappointment about the lack of concerts in places other than Singapore, the show, it seems for some Swifties and Coldplayers, must go on. On social media, some are already suggesting itineraries for those traveling to Singapore for the concerts next year, complete—of course—with quick stops at some of the country’s tourist attractions.
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