Over the weekend, The 1975 caused the total cancellation of the highly anticipated Good Vibes festival (GVF) when its lead singer, Matty Healy, went on an expletive-laden rant against Malaysia’s anti-LGBTQ laws, which culminated in a prolonged kiss between him and his bandmate, Ross Macdonald.
“I do not see the point of inviting The 1975 to a country and then telling us who we can have sex with,” he lamented, stating that his rant in itself was unfair to the audience as they are not representative of the Malaysian government. “You are young people, and I’m sure a lot of you are gay and progressive,” he said, addressing the audience.
As a result, Malaysia’s Communications and Digital minister, Fahmi Fadzil made the decision to cancel the whole festival, a decision which had a reverberating impact on multiple stakeholders who were involved in the organisation of the festival such as vendors, performers and more.
Currently, the band is potentially facing a class action lawsuit for its direct defiance of Malaysian laws and for its impact on vendors but while that is happening, Malaysians seem to be more concerned about how this act has left an indelible stain on the future of Malaysia's live entertainment industry. The industry has already taken a beating following the incident where Malaysia’s Islamist party leader, Nasrudin Hassan, called for British band Coldplay’s concert in the country to be cancelled due to their explicit advocacy of the queer community’s rights. The outcry caused the band to have to publicly apologise and opt to only have one show in the country, a stark contrast to the whopping six shows it intends to perform in neighbouring country Singapore.
In a statement to the press about the cancellation of GVF, Future Sound Asia (FSA), the organising committee, said that Healy's unprofessional behaviour and his overt defiance of Malaysian laws and regulations was disturbing.
“Healy chose to utilise his performance as a platform to express his personal views, rather than delivering the quality show that his Malaysian fans were eagerly anticipating.” More importantly, the cancellation of GVF, they said, represents not only a catastrophic financial blow to the organisers but carries a greater detrimental effect on live entertainment. “The repercussions of this incident definitely extend beyond us," they said, adding:
We fear it will erode the confidence of music promoters and various stakeholders in the live entertainment industry across the nation and threaten the stability of our burgeoning live arts scene.
Who stands to lose more over this controversy? The 1975 or Malaysia?
This snafu brings to the forefront concerns about the future of live entertainment in Malaysia which now faces the risk of more bureaucracy and restrictions. Joey Gan, market lead at PRecious Communications, said that in the grand scheme of things, The 1975's role in this situation seems insignificant. "They simply faced the consequences they deserved. On the other hand, Puspal (the central committee for application for filming and performance by foreign artistes), now faces the task of revising the approval guidelines for foreign artists to perform in the country," she said, before adding:
Personally, I don't believe the guidelines can get any stricter than they already are. If only foreign acts would respect the local culture and acknowledge that they are guests here, it would make everything much smoother.
Jarrod Reginald, executive creative director at The Chariot Agency, who has previously worked closely with FSA on previous iterations of GVF, echoed similar sentiments as Gan, sharing that Healy's act is not what ally-ship or activism should look like. “Adhering to local performance guidelines is a basic requirement. If rules were hard to follow, he could have declined performing in Malaysia,” Reginald added.
Turns out, Healy and the band had reassured FSA that they would adhere to local performance guidelines, as stated in the latter's official statement. “Regrettably, Healy did not honour these assurances, despite our trust in their commitment. Healy’s actions took us by complete surprise, and we halted the show as promptly as feasible following the incident,” they added.
Reginald added that ultimately, Malaysia stands to lose at the end of this debacle, stating that it is not The 1975 but the organising committee that is being investigated for its involvement in this debacle. FSA confirmed this in their statement, saying that its members are now left with the responsibility of addressing the repercussions of actions taken by an individual who is absent but who has, rather, left it to others to deal with the implications of his actions.
How does this incident impact how Malaysia is seen globally?
Even though Healy's disrespectful actions led to the cancellation of the festival, his rant called to attention Malaysia's anti-queer laws which has since resulted in a greater number of people calling the country out for its homophobia.
According to media intelligence company, CARMA, the social sentiments around GVF were largely negative at 75.2% particularly due to its association with The 1975, and due to the band's global fans calling Malaysia homophobic. However, regarding this, Gan said that she has noticed a constant pressure for Malaysia to conform to global norms when it comes to its laws and customs.
"While it's crucial to make progress in areas like human rights and equity, I strongly believe that Malaysia should have the freedom to maintain its unique values and customs," she said, adding:
Even though we are officially an Islamic country, believe it or not, many of us do adopt a live-and-let-live attitude, supporting the queer community. We simply don't feel the need to make loud proclamations about it.
What is the predicted aftermath?
Reginald said that now, organisers will have to do thorough screens of the acts they invite to perform in Malaysia. Moreover, he added that local and international acts, including fans will now take an interest in the entertainment law that exists in the country before opting to visit with the intent to perform.
Gan said that the entertainment industry operates with a code of ethics, and the guidelines of it are clear. "However, if these guidelines continue to be disregarded and breached, the consequences will be evident - we will witness fewer and fewer acts coming to perform here," she explained.
Wan Alman, the director of entertainment at Future Sound Asia said that the unfortunate actions of The 1975 have wide and far-reaching implications, that affect not only the festival organisers but also all of its vendors, merchants, suppliers, artists, fans and are bound to have ripple effects on the entertainment industry. He went on to add that it is sad that the 1975 are able to return to their home countries, absolved of responsibility or consequence, while the countless individuals and communities in Malaysia that are impacted by his actions are left to redress the massive and far reaching consequences of what they have done.
"This incident will also definitely have some impact on Malaysia being a concert destination for international artists as it made headlines in international media across the world. However, this incident was an isolated case, so we hope that Malaysia will remain a welcoming place for international performances," he explained.
Alman also stated that the team's immediate priority is to address its responsibilities as festival organisers. "We must cater to the needs of the authorities, our partners, stakeholders, and ticket holders. We have been dealt a severe financial blow and at the moment we are carefully reviewing our financial strategies and exploring all possible recovery avenues as well as legal options.
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