As Coldplay fever grips Indonesia, Malaysia, religious right calls to cancel band’s shows

Tria Dianti and Iman Muttaqin Yusof
Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur
As Coldplay fever grips Indonesia, Malaysia, religious right calls to cancel band’s shows Chris Martin of Coldplay performs at Wembley Stadium in London, Aug. 12, 2022.
[Maja Smiejkowska/Reuters]

The news that British rock band Coldplay will play concerts in Indonesia and Malaysia nearly six months from now has ignited a frenzy among fans and conservative groups alike – for starkly contrasting reasons. 

For music mavens, it’s a chance to see the chart-topping group play live in their countries for the first time. But for Indonesia’s semi-official Islamic authority and for the hardline PAS party in Malaysia, Coldplay is immoral because of its professed support for LGBTQ+ communities.

That the objection is coming from mainstream – and not fringe – groups is what gives observers pause in the two neighboring Muslim-majority countries. Malaysia recently emerged from a bitterly divisive general election, which saw PAS take the most seats among all parties in Parliament, while Indonesia will hold national polls next February.

As it is, intolerance has been on the rise in both countries for some years now, analysts have said. 

When Coldplay announced its tour dates, Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim took to Instagram with a short video to warmly greet the Grammy Award-winning band.

“Coldplay, selamat datang ke Malaysia [Welcome to Malaysia],” the 75-year-old leader said.

“Let us work together (to) protect our environment and keep the world safe. Terima kasih [Thank you],” he added in the video, referring to a river clean-up initiative of the band’s in Asia, including in Malaysia.

In Indonesia, music fan Yudhistira Amran Saleh, 32, spent hours online, using a desktop computer, a laptop and a phone to join the virtual queue for the pre-sale. He secured four tickets that set him back 20 million rupiah (U.S. $1,300) for Coldplay’s Nov. 15 concert in Jakarta. 

“This is the chance of a lifetime. It will be the first time I watch a concert with my wife. I usually go alone,” Yudhistira told BenarNews. 

His compatriot, Anwar Abbas, the deputy chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), begged to differ.

Coldplay, the council member said, should not be allowed to play in Indonesia.

“They have no place in this country to perform and hold a concert,” he told BenarNews, warning that the nation could “fall apart” if vices are tolerated.

“If all they are after is money, just open gambling and prostitution houses. But these things are not allowed. The same goes for LGBT practices.”

In Malaysia, Nasrudin Hassan, a central working committee member of the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), accused Coldplay of promoting a culture of “hedonism and deviance.”

“I advise canceling the performance of this group in Malaysia. It does not bring any benefits to religion, race, and the nation,” he said in a Facebook post on May 9.

‘Sorry, but we love you too’

Coldplay has sold more than 100 million records and won seven Grammys. Lead singer Chris Martin is also known for his social activism, and photographs of the band’s stage performances show him waving the LGBTQ Pride flag. 

In an interview with Martin, Malaysian national radio station HITZ asked the band’s frontman what message he had for fans in the country.

“Everybody is welcome to our show. We love all people, all kinds of people, all religions. All leaders, all followers – nobody is excluded,” he told the hosts.

“We really want you to come to our show and feel free to be yourself and feel free to let everybody be themselves. Anyone who is not happy we are coming, we’re sorry, but we love you too.”

The governments in Malaysia and Indonesia have defended Coldplay’s upcoming concerts, saying they have taken measures to ensure the security and safety of the events.

For his part, Indonesian Tourism Minister Sandiaga Uno said he had communicated with religious leaders and asked for their input and advice on Coldplay’s concert.

“This is part of our effort to ensure that the concert is within the legal corridor,” he said.

He expressed hope that Coldplay’s concert would boost Indonesia’s reputation as a destination for international artists and tourists.

While homosexuality is not explicitly criminalized under a new criminal code passed by the Indonesian legislature last year, sex outside of marriage is punishable by up to one year in prison.

Police can investigate such sexual acts only if a family member lodges a complaint.

Homosexuality is illegal, though, in Malaysia, with harsh penalties for those who are caught. Sodomy can be punished with up to 20 years in prison and caning. 

A Coldplay World Tour poster on the British band’s official social media account shows its concert dates for November. [Twitter via @coldplay]

Despite the religious furor, tickets for the Jakarta concert sold out within minutes on May 17. A day earlier in Malaysia, tickets were sold out within three hours, local news reports said.

For Nadia Yusof, 28, getting a ticket to see the Kuala Lumpur concert was a dream come true.

“I’m super excited about the Coldplay concert,” said Nadia, who had to compete with hundreds of thousands of other fans who tried to buy tickets online. 

“I was anxious as I was afraid I wouldn’t get a ticket.”

But many who queued online for hours left empty-handed.

Meanwhile, scalpers are offering tickets at exorbitant prices – some asking for as much as 50 million rupiah (about $3,500) for a single ticket – on various e-commerce platforms and social media in Indonesia.

Fans took to social media to express their anger, calling for action from the authorities and the promoter to crack down on the scalpers. 

Ticket sales in Malaysia were also marred by technical glitches, bots and scalpers, who bought tickets in bulk and re-sold them at exorbitant prices online. 

The chaos has led to calls in both countries for Coldplay to add another show.

Fahmi Fadzil, Malaysia’s communications and digital Minister, said at a press conference that concert promoter Live Nation had recorded approximately 700,000 attempts to purchase tickets during the online sales period.

But his ministry could not verify whether the buyers were genuine or automated bot programs, he said.

Despite the opposition from some quarters and frustration over the ticket sales, most fans remain unfazed.

“The majority of individuals opposing the concerts are conservative Malaysians and internet trolls seeking to exploit controversial subjects,” said Muhammad Syahmi, 27, a Malaysian concert goer. 

“Also, it is worth noting that their noise has not resulted in the actual cancellation of any concerts thus far.”

For Rosita Budi Suryaningsih, 35, an Indonesian mother of two, music and religion are apart.

“For me, music is universal,” she told BenarNews.

“It has nothing to do with religion.”


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