A concert in Malaysia with Lauryn Hill, the Backstreet Boys, Black Eyed Peas, Boys II Men and Hong Kong’s Nicholas Tse and Yumiko Cheng, Indonesia’s Ruth Sahanaya and Malaysia’s Sheila Majd drew 15,000 people and took in $2.6 million.

Student groups have objected to concerts by foreign performers including the Scorpions, Michael Jackson and Linkin Park. In 2006 Malaysian authorities fined a music promoter 10,000 ringgit (2,726 dollars) for organising a concert by U.S. girl group Pussycat Dolls that was considered too raunchy.

Foreign artists have to follow strict guidelines in their on-stage acts, the government said in 2009. "We have to have guidelines," said Siti Zaleha, a senior official at the Culture and Arts ministry. "We have enforcement officers that will check acts, and report to the relevant authorities for action." Local sponsors will have to sign a form accepting the guidelines, Siti said, and it will be their responsibility to inform performers of the rules.

According to to Associated Press: “Malaysia's government guidelines for public performances require a female artist to cover up from the top of her chest to her knees, including her shoulders. Performers may not hug or kiss, and their clothes must not have obscene or drug-related images or messages.”

There is also supposed to be no jumping, shouting or throwing of objects onstage. When Linkin Park performed in 2003, the Ministry of Culture and Arts told them not to wear shorts, scream or exhibit raunchy behavior. The following year, Mariah Carey was told to "dress accordingly" for her concert. “A Pussycat Dolls concert last year caused its Malaysian organizers to be fined ($2,857) after the group was accused of flouting decency regulations. A local city council fined organizers for allowing the group to wear skimpy costumes and perform "sexually suggestive" routines at a concert. Such concerns have made Malaysia less appealing to some stars. A concert promoter, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the hassle about clothes was one of the reasons that Christina Aguilera skipped Malaysia during a recent Asian tour that included neighboring Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines.” Beyonce scratched a planned concert in Malaysia, moving it to Indonesia.

The Malaysian government initially banned Muslim citizens from attending a Black Eyed Peas gig in Kuala Lumpur in September 2009 but lifted the ban, allowing anyone above 18 years old to attend as the band’s front-woman Fergie stuck to the dress code, covering up her body in jeans and a T-shirt. Gwen Stefani, Avril Lavigne and Mariah Carey dressed more conservatively than usual during their concerts in Malaysia. Carey wore a shirt and a pair of jeans throughout her “Charmbracelet” show at Stadium Merdeka in 2004 as a protest. The Danish soft rock band Michael Learns To Rock was banned from performing during Ramadan because it was a "grave insult" to Muslims observing the fasting month of Ramadan.

Michael Jackson and Malaysia

In Malaysia there is a soy drink named after Michael Jackson. On October 27, 1996, Jackson played at Merdeka Stadium in Kuala Lumpur. Performances of "Come Together/D.S", "Black Or White", "Earth Song", "Heal the World", and "HIStory" were not broadcast. The available broadcasts go up to "Dangerous". Snippets of the October 29 concert (including the aforementioned songs) were also released during a news report on TV1000. Because crotch grabbing is considered impure in Islam, Jackson altered his crotch-grabbing move in this concert. It was televised by ntv7, but so far, only poor quality VCD recordings are known to exist.

Playlist: 2) Medley; "Scream"; "They Don't Care About Us" featuring snippet of "HIStory"; "In the Closet" featuring snippet of "She Drives Me Wild"; 3) "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'"; 4) "Stranger in Moscow"; 5) "Smooth Criminal"; 6) "The Wind" Video Interlude; 7) "You Are Not Alone"; 8) "The Way You Make Me Feel"; 9) The Jackson 5 Medley; "I Want You Back"; "The Love You Save"; "I'll Be There"; 10) "Remember the Time" (Video Montage Interlude); 11) "Billie Jean"; 12) "Thriller"; 13) "Beat It"; 14) "Brace Yourself" Video Interlude; 15) "Dangerous" (samples an extract from "Owner of a Lonely Heart" by Yes, Ennio Morricone's "The Good, The Bad & The Ugly" theme, "Smooth Criminal", Janet Jackson's "You Want This" and "Let's Dance," Judy Garland's "Get Happy", Monty Norman's "James Bond Theme", and a guitar intro from Duran Duran's "A View to a Kill");

Western Pop Stars Forced to Tone Down Sexy Concert Routines in Malaysia

In August 2007, Sean Yoong of Associated Press wrote: “Some of the world's top pop stars are facing growing pressure to keep skimpy outfits and steamy dance moves off the stage during their concerts in Muslim-majority Malaysia, event organizers said Wednesday, citing protests by conservative Islamic critics who believe such Western performers can corrupt youths. [Source: Sean Yoong, Associated Press, August 24, 2007]

Gwen Stefani made what she called "a major sacrifice" by wearing clothes that revealed little at a Kuala Lumpur performance Tuesday. Muslim students and political activists had called for her concert to be scrapped because of her sexy reputation. Promoters have announced that Beyonce is scheduled to perform - but with caveats. "We've informed Beyonce's management about this issue of clothes, but it takes some of the fun out of it," said Razlan Ahmad Razali, chairman of Pineapple Concerts, which is organizing Beyonce's concert.

"Beyonce won't be able to do the kind of show here that she does elsewhere," Razlan told The Associated Press. "She's a fashion icon, and we know that she often wears miniskirts and clothes that expose her navel during her performances. It's a pity to restrict her, because her costumes are all tasteful and glamorous." Kanye West faced a different problem when he came to Kuala Lumpur in April because government officials said he should not perform one of his biggest hits, "Jesus Walks," because of religious sensitivities about the title, Razlan said.

The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, the country's biggest political opposition group, which opposed Stefani's appearance, says it will probably protest further if Beyonce or others like Justin Timberlake perform here. "Even with Gwen Stefani, we're not satisfied just because she covered up at the concert," said party official Kamarulzaman Mohamed. "Outside, she still wears sexy clothes and influences teenagers who idolize her. It's bad to have immoral artists visiting Malaysia."

Gwen Stefani Bows to Muslim Protest

In August 2007, The Telegraph reported: “Sexy singer Gwen Stefani has backed down and agreed to ditch her revealing stage costumes when she performs in Malaysia. The US pop diva has agreed to wear traditional Malaysian costumes during her concert after conservative Muslim youths protested her skin-baring act, sponsors of the show said. The 10,000-strong National Union of Malaysian Muslim Students has vehemently protested the August 21 show, which is part of Stefani's "Sweet Escape" tour, because of her "indecent dressing and obscenity." [Source: The Telegraph, August 17, 2007]

At first Stefani was defiant. But threats of further protests were averted, however, after the platinum blonde star agreed to cover up, said Maxis Communications, the parent company for the show's main sponsor Hotlink. "The objections were to her raunchy performances and outfits," Lai Shu Wei, a senior marketing manager with Maxis, said. "But Stefani's show here will be very special as she will wear Malaysian themed costumes and at the same time show all fans that she can perform a great show without the sexy outfits which she is famous for."

Stefani, whose music videos often show her in seductive outfits, had been briefed in advance on the proper dress code, Lai said. "All foreign artists need to understand our culture... as for Malaysians, we also need to have an open mind on such matters," he said. He said Stefani as well as promoters of the show "will abide by the rules and guidelines." Student union president Mohamed Hilmi Ramli said he was satisfied with the promise, but said he would send representatives to the show to "ensure she does not go out of line."

Malaysian Group Wants Avril Lavigne Banned

Avril Lavigne’s tour in 2008 faced slight controversy when the political group, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) protested the concert. The group felt that Lavigne's "punk" image were not suitable of children and was not appropriate during Merdeka (Independence Day). The concert was initially cancelled but resumed according to plan a few days later. She did another concert in Kuala Lumpur in February 2012. [Source: Wikipedia]

Julia Zappei of Associated Press wrote: “Malaysia's Islamic opposition party has urged the government to cancel a concert by Avril Lavigne, saying the Canadian singer's on-stage moves are "too sexy," an official said. The youth wing of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party said Lavigne's concert would promote wrong values ahead of Malaysia's Aug. 31 independence day. "It is considered too sexy for us. ... It's not good for viewers in Malaysia," said Kamarulzaman Mohamed, a party official. "We don't want our people, our teenagers, influenced by their performance. We want clean artists, artists that are good role models." Kamarulzaman said he sent a protest letter to the Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry and the Kuala Lumpur mayor last week, calling for the concert to be canceled. [Source: Julia Zappei, AP, August 18, 2008]

An official from the Culture Ministry's department that vets all foreign artists said the government has not given permission for the concert yet. The department is to meet to decide on the organizer's application, which was received last week. A spokesman for the concert's organizer, Galaxy Group, denied that Lavigne's show had any "negative elements." The spokesman, who declined to be named citing protocol, said his company was confident of receiving the permit as feedback from authorities so far had been "very positive." Still, members of PAS and other conservative Muslims often protest Western and even Malaysian music shows that they deem to be inappropriate.

Lavigne told MTV News on the eve of the 2008 concert, “"Well, I've actually been approved by the government to play a show. I've already sold 10,000 tickets there, so I will be going to put on a concert for the fans. They tend to, you know, sometimes not want Western artists in their country. I respect that, but at the same time, you know, there's people that listen to music there and want to see their idols and stuff, so it's all good: been approved by the government and [I'm] going to go put on a show and have fun." [Source: Gil Kaufman, with reporting by Yasmine Richard, MTV, August 21, 2008]

Beyonce Cancels Malaysia Concert Twice

In October 2009, Beyonce Knowles canceled her planned concert in Malaysia a second time after the nation’s conservative Muslims criticized the pop star for her raunchy stage clothes. “The postponement is solely the decision of the artiste and has nothing to do with external reasons,” said Marctensia Entertainment Sdn., an organizer of the axed concert in Kuala Lumpur, said in a statement. Marctensia didn’t say what the “external reasons” were. [Source: Barry Porter, Bloomberg, October 20, 2009]

Barry Porter of Bloomberg wrote: “The decision comes after Malaysia’s opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, or PAS, complained of her “inappropriate dressing.” The chief of PAS’s youth wing Nasrudin Tantawi said the attire and performance “lead to unclean behavior,” according to an Agence France Presse report. Information, Communications and Culture Minister Rais Yatim said, without giving specifics, there was no reason to stop Beyonce holding her Kuala Lumpur show if she adhered to the regulations.

Beyonce canceled her last planned Malaysia concert in 2007, adding an extra show in neighboring Indonesia instead. At the time, organizers cited a “scheduling conflict.” Associated Press reported: Beyonce Knowles has scrapped plans to stage her first concert in Malaysia and will instead perform in neighboring Indonesia, which has less stringent rules about how performers should dress and behave. The announcement followed recent speculation that Knowles -- who is famous for her sexy image and skimpy outfits -- was reluctant to fulfill the Malaysian government's demand for female performers to cover up from the top of their chests to their knees, including their shoulders. International Creative Management, her Los Angeles-based talent agency, said Knowles' Nov. 1 date in Kuala Lumpur was canceled "due to a scheduling conflict." "It is with regret that we announce the cancellation of The Beyonce Experience World Tour in Kuala Lumpur," said the statement, which was made available Monday by Malaysian entertainment organizers Pineapple Concerts. "It was to mark the very first time the performer would bring her show to Malaysia." [Source: AP, October 01, 2007]

Pineapple Concerts Chairman Razlan Ahmad Razali said his company, which has brought Western acts such as Kanye West and Earth, Wind and Fire to Malaysia, was "disappointed and frustrated." "Though Indonesia is also a Muslim country, it doesn't have all these issues that we have," Razlan told The Associated Press. "She can perform as she likes there."

Black Eyed Peas Allowed to Perform in Malaysia After Initially Being Banned

September 2009, Malaysia has reversed an earlier ban on Muslims attending a concert by U.S. hip-hop band the Black Eyed Peas, saying it had no right to keep people from entertainment events. The concert is sponsored by Guinness. Information Minister Rais Yatim said it was up to the individuals' "better judgment" to decide whether they should attend events organized by an alcoholic beverage company. "We have no legal powers actually to bar people from attending functions," The Star newspaper quoted Rais as saying. [Source: Reuters, September 3, 2009]

Julia Zappei of Associated Press wrote: “In the end, it was a "good, good night" for everyone – thousands of people of all faiths rocked to "Boom Boom Pow", "I Gotta Feeling" and other songs at a Black Eyed Peas concert after the Malaysian government lifted a ban on Muslims attending. Muslims were originally told to stay away from the night concert because it was sponsored by beer giant Guinness. The ban was lifted days later without explanation, but at the concert there were designated bar areas that had signs advising Muslims to stay out. [Source: Julia Zappei, Associated Press, September 25, 2009]

Fans cheered and applauded as the four hip-hop stars sang one hit after another including the 2009 chart-topping favorite "I Gotta Feeling" that goes: "I gotta feeling that tonight's gonna be a good night. ... That tonight's gonna be a good, good night." Muslims, dressed in black dresses and sleeveless tops, said they came to enjoy the show – not to drink. The ban controversy "makes us look like we are a bit of a backward country. But we are actually not," said Alia Zulkifli, a 27-year-old banker and Black Eyed Peas fan. "We came for the music." The Black Eyed Peas said they were glad that people who "feel good about music, enjoy life" could attend the show, which marked the 250th anniversary of Guinness' flagship brewery in Dublin. Malaysia's largest city was one of five places hosting Guinness' concerts. "I'm so thrilled," group leader Will.i.am told reporters before the show. He said when they performed in Dubai and the Philippines, "it's Muslims, Christians, everyone" who attended. Fergie wore tight black pants and a dark T-shirt with pink and white imprint throughout the 90-minute show. "Well, I have had to change my costume for tonight's show, but I mean the woman's silhouette is still there," she told reporters. Organizers said they sold more than 12,000 tickets to pack the venue in a theme park. The audience was mainly ethnic Chinese and Indians.

Erykah Badu Show Cancelled over 'Allah Tattoos'

February 2012, Malaysia cancelled a concert by US singer Erykah Badu after a publicity photo showed her with the Arabic word for "Allah" tattooed on her upper body. Officials say the photo of Ms Badu in The Star newspaper was "an insult to Islam". The paper has apologised. The BBC reported: “The Grammy-award winner was due to perform in Kuala Lumpur and is said to be dismayed at the news. Tattoos are forbidden in Islam and using the word "Allah" in a way deemed disrespectful offends many Muslims. [Source: BBC, February 26, 2012

The photo of Ms Badu with several words in Arabic and Hebrew written on her body features prominently on her official fan site. It is not clear whether Ms Badu's body art is permanent. The Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry says it was not aware of the tattoos when it initially approved the concert, the BBC's Jennifer Pak in Kuala Lumpur reports. Some Muslims began protesting after The Star published the photo. Now the culture ministry says it is justified in banning Ms Badu's concert because it breaches religious sensitivities and cultural values.

Information Minister Rais Yatim said a government committee had decided to cancel the show because Ms Badu's body art was "an insult to Islam and a very serious offence". According to the statement, the body art "triggered public criticism that could jeopardise national security and cause a negative impact to the government's image".

Ms Badu, 41, had already arrived in Malaysia. She is "worried and dismayed" over the incident, according to the concert organiser. The Home Ministry has asked The Star to explain why it published the photo. The Star has already apologised, saying its inclusion in Monday's edition was "inadvertent". "We deeply regret any offence caused to Muslims and sincerely apologise for the oversight," the paper said.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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