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A look into Malaysia's history of banning international artists from performing & why

By now, you’ve all probably heard of what went down during this year’s Good Vibes Festival in Sepang. No, not Sabrina Carpenter’s outro with a localised pronunciation of Kuala Lumpur.

We’re talking about the latest controversy that’s being discussed by netizens and news sites all around the globe—The 1975’s concert segment and how it led to the government’s banning of the band.

It was reported by concert-goers that after a supposed drunken and profanity-laden speech about the local LGBTQ+ laws, the band’s lead singer (Matt Healy) kissed the bassist (Ross MacDonald).

The band’s set was then cut short and they told the crowd of fans, “All right, we’ve got to go. We just got banned from Kuala Lumpur, I’ll see you later.”

Local news outlets then reported that the Communications and Digital Ministry had blacklisted The 1975 from performing in Malaysia. 

They’re certainly not the first foreign artists to have been banned from Malaysia, and with several notable artists skipping concerts in Malaysia (which is argued to be bad for the economy), we wondered, how frequently does Malaysia actually ban foreign artists, and who are they?

Based on our research, this is what we’ve managed to find so far.

International acts that have been banned from performing in Malaysia

1. Kesha

Singer of the popular “Tick Tock” song, Kesha was once scheduled to perform a concert in Malaysia. This was back in 2013 during her “Warrior” international tour.

But a day before she was due to be on stage, the concert organiser (Livescape) was notified that the pop star was banned from performing. The reason given was that it would hurt cultural and religious sensitivities.

Prior to this, Kesha had agreed to change some of her song’s lyrics and wardrobe to comply with rules for performers. For context, artists who wish to perform in Malaysia must adhere to the regulations and guidelines by PUSPAL.

The singer took to Twitter to clear the air and explained that she did not pull out of the show at the last minute. Instead, she was threatened with imprisonment should she proceed with the performance.

2. Erykah Badu

The Grammy-winning American rapper and singer is best known for her strong vocals and being dubbed “the godmother of neo-soul”. Malaysia was once included as part of the Asian leg of her tour back in 2012. 

However, following the emergence of publicity photographs of her body bearing temporary tattoos with the words “Allah”, the local authorities decided to ban the show.

It was reported that the then-Minister of Communications and Digital, Rais Yatim, said the controversy behind the photograph “could jeopardise national security and cause a negative impact to the government’s image.”

When the news was announced, the singer had already arrived in Malaysia. It was said that she was allowed to stay in the country as a tourist, but not allowed to go through with her performance.

3. MEGADETH

As part of their world tour, the American trash metal band, MEGADETH, was initially scheduled to perform in Malaysia back in 2001.

But then it was cancelled and the band was subsequently banned from performing in Malaysia. News sites reported that this was due to local authorities negatively perceiving the group’s image and music.

Fast forward to 2017, though, and the band was finally allowed to perform in Malaysia.

The band’s frontman later explained about the ban and said, “Some knobhead in a remote area had conducted a black metal séance of some sort and killed somebody. Then gave us the indubitable honour of spray painting MEGADETH and SLAYER on the wall.”

4. Lamb of God

The American heavy metal band, Lamb of God, was booked to perform at a concert hall in KL back in 2013.

But it was reported that the Communications and Digital Ministry would not issue a permit, citing the performance as potentially infringing on the local religious sensitivities and cultural values.

One of the core reasons being the band’s music itself, having been known to mix excerpts from the Quran with heavy metal music.

But it wasn’t a complete ban from the government that stopped their performance (though there were talks of it underway). Instead, the concert organisers cancelled it for security reasons as the band was receiving death threats.

International acts that were rumoured to be banned from performing in Malaysia

5. Beyonce

Known around the world for her strong voice and killer dance moves, Queen Bey was initially scheduled to have her first concert in Malaysia in 2007.

But shortly after the announcement, the American singer withdrew the Malaysian leg of her tour. It was reportedly in protest against the country’s strict dress code.

Malaysia was again added into her Asian tour dates in 2009 but it was later postponed. Reports explained that it followed public protests by some members of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS).

The concerns were that Beyonce’s concert would promote “Western sexy performances” and be considered “immoral”. While it’s not an outright ban from the ministry (as some media outlets have claimed), it is one less artist that has performed here.

6. Rihanna

Similar to Beyonce, the famed personality behind Fenty Beauty was also due to perform in Malaysia back in 2009. Yes, it was during her early days as an R&B singer and back when she rocked a pixie cut.

It was shared that instead of donning her usual stage wardrobes that err on the side of provocative, Rihanna was willing to comply with the guidelines set out by PUSPAL.

But then an indefinite postponement happened. It was reported that her representatives from Los Angeles told the local concert organiser (Pineapple Concerts) that it would have to be rescheduled to an unspecified date, “In light of recent events involving Rihanna,” the representative had said.

This was shortly after news of Chris Brown’s physical assault of her broke out.

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The names included in this list are just a few of the international acts that had plans to perform in Malaysia. And they don’t represent the entirety of the local landscape, as many global artists have received approval for their concerts here.

Malaysia is home to many cultures and religions, and we have our own set of cultural norms and rules that foreign artists should respect, even if they may disagree with them.

If foreign acts choose to forego the guidelines established by PUSPAL (which is set to be updated by the end of the 2023), they’d have to take accountability for it. 

Read articles we’ve written about Malaysian startupshere.

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Featured Image Credit: Kesha / MEGADETH / Erykah Badu

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