The hullabaloo that unfolded at The 1975's set at Good Vibes Festival (GVF) seems to have taken on a life of its own after the lead singer, Matt Healy, took to the stage to call out the Malaysian government on its conservative LGBTQ+ laws in July. The British band at the centre of the controversy has shown no sign of letting go of what transpired in Malaysia, and instead, has been adding fuel to the fire.
As the band made its return to stage at Lollapalooza in Chicago last Friday, Healy took the opportunity to poke fun at GVF and Malaysia. According to media reports, he told the crowd, “You want my travel tip? Don’t go to...” before being cut off mid-sentence by his bandmates with the introduction of their song, ‘It’s not living if it’s not with you’.
Later on in his set, he spotted American band Blink-182’s member, Tom DeLonge in the crowd and went over to give him a hug and kiss. Delonge later posted on Instagram with the caption, “I guess myself ‘and’ The 1975 won’t be going to Malaysia – just a couple dudes kissing during their phenomenal set.”
Undoubtedly, with the likes of international acts such as The 1975 and Blink-182 taking jabs at Malaysia’s conservative values at large scale events such as Lollapalooza, audience members who are ignorant about Malaysia are bound to have a less than favourable impression of the country.
With the news growing wings and now, with Future Sound Asia demanding reparations from the British band, how is this going to impact Malaysia’s brand positioning?
Impact on Malaysia’s economy
Negative publicity from unfortunate events such as this might deter those who value cultural openness. It is also bound to raises concerns among foreign investors about Malaysia’s social environment, according to Ashvin Anamalai, CEO of DNA Creative Communications. “It can also hurt the fabric of a country’s reputation as a whole,” he said, referring to the fact that progressive values such as the acceptance of minority communities is a crucial aspect of diversity and inclusivity.
This could set off a domino effect, where negative perceptions of Malaysia’s cultural and social climate may reduce investor confidence, especially among businesses that also value diversity and inclusivity.
Having said that, Anamalai added the government's response and efforts to promote inclusivity will play a role in shaping investor sentiment and FDI outcomes. “Countries with more open and inclusive reputations might gain a competitive advantage in attracting FDI over Malaysia,” he said.
This is particularly important to note as Malaysia opens itself up to more external investors such as Tesla, which recently launched in the country and Microsoft and Google which are in talks to set up shop in Malaysia themselves.
Joey Gan, market lead at Precious Communications agreed with Anamalai, stating that the spread of misconceptions about Malaysians’ tolerance will have an impact on the country’s brand positioning. For one, international sentiments may suffer as the incident may colour the opinions of people who are unaware of Malaysia, propagating an entirely biased idea of the country. However, she believes that it will not hinder the flow of investment. “The business communities value other aspects beyond diversity and inclusion, such as tax incentives and varied frameworks, so they would have to view Malaysia in totality before they judge it,” she said.
"Malaysia has our own set of values we stand by and cannot afford to be ‘wishy-washy’ about our stance on such matters. We have a responsibility to preserve our values and principles in accordance to the views of Malaysians and do not owe it to anyone to bend over backwards to accept their tyranny, bullying tactics and cheap publicity stunts," added Said Bani, the managing director at bzBee Consult. He explained that every country is unique and should be able to project its own values, brand of art, culture and hospitality. This whole episode does not deserve more headlines, and surely not airtime or anymore coverage.
"Our visitors come to Malaysia to find warmth and genuine friendship – this, is the Malaysian brand."
Does Malaysia need to set the record straight?
When news grows legs and becomes sensationalised, people can be very quick to jump to conclusions. Malaysia’s conservative values may be making negative rounds in the west, but domestically, the reality is rather different. “Healy's actions brought Malaysians together in unity against what they perceived as inappropriate behaviour. This shared sentiment showcased a collective stance on cultural values and highlighted the importance of respecting local customs and sensitivities,” Anamalai said.
This, he added, underscores Malaysia’s commitment to its cultural identity, and should become and invitation for cultural exchange, which would enhance the authenticity of Malaysia’s tourism. “Malaysia has this amazing thing with its conservative values. It's like holding onto the threads of its cultural tapestry while the world spins faster and faster. Holding onto values strengthens unity within diversity, and Malaysia can be a cultural ambassador,” Anamalai explained.
Gan added that it is paramount to take sensationalised news with a pinch of salt. Standing by the fact that Malaysia is tolerant and hospitable, she also stated that it has more pressing agendas to attend to. The 1975’s act of immaturity should not be a diversion of attention from other matters that Malaysia should pay attention to, such as the fight for gender equality and refugee and healthcare crises. She said:
“As a developing country, we do have different priorities and we need to focus on what is more pressing."
According to Bani, it is of paramount importance to first address a pertinent point about the tendency by certain quarters to undermine ‘conservative values’. "Usage and labelling people as either conservative or liberal are very subjective – an ultra-liberal group of people may label moderately liberal personalities as ‘conservative’ and the ‘ultra-conservative’ group may label moderate conservatives as ‘liberals’. Hence, whichever set of values that the majority of a society adopts, should not be judged by people external to the society, without full understanding of what ‘makes’ the society," he explained.
He believes that in the context of conservative values, there are many positive traits associated with it including, being in favour of ‘duties’, traditional values and social institutions, such as traditional family structures, gender roles, national patriotism, and religious traditions. "Although certain parties may label conservatives as being averse to innovation and creativity, these remain mere unsubstantiated claims."
The biggest conference is back! Experience the future of marketing with 500+ brilliant minds at Digital Marketing Asia on 28 - 30 November in Singapore. Uncover groundbreaking strategies that connect leading brands with their target audiences effectively.
Class action lawsuit to be filed against British band The 1975 following cancellation
British band The 1975 pulls out of tour in Indonesia following on-stage rant in MY
How The 1975's antics have 'threatened the stability' of Malaysia's live entertainment scene
Get the daily lowdown on Asia's top marketing stories.
We break down the big and messy topics of the day so you're updated on the most important developments in Asia's marketing development – for free.subscribe now open in new window