And so the debate has begun yet again. The young Selena Gomez has been labelled as being “too sexy” for us Malaysians. The youth wing of Parti Islam Malaysia (PAS) has said the concert to be held at Stadium Malawati, Shah Alam on July 25, with PAS Islamic Propagation Bureau Chairman Hafez Sabri quoted as saying that the American lass would “tarnish” the sanctity of Syawal, which follows the fasting month of Ramadan. Malaysia is of course not new to such declarations. Concerts and music festivals are frequently accused as being the hotbed of all things “immoral.” Politicians have now all jumped into the fray, arguing over Miss Gomez’s merits as a performer and as they do that, let us take a look at some of the performers who courted such controversy.
It was back in 1996 that Michael Jackson made Malaysia a stop as part of his History tour. There was much anticipation as the King of Pop was slated to perform at the then “new” Stadium Malawati. Tickets were already on sale as Malaysians braced themselves for the star. However, just two weeks before the concert, the Selangor state government made the decision to ban the artiste and withdraw the permit. Concert goers were outraged, to the extent that the government had to intervene, moving the concert to KL’s Stadium Merdeka. Then Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad leaving to the public to decide. A problem then arose as Stadium Malawati accommodates 60,000 whereas Stadium Merdeka can only hold 40,000. That led to Jackson adding another date, performing not just once, but twice in Malaysia.
It was announced with great glee that Mariah Carey would kick of the Southeast Asian leg of her Charmbracelet tour in 2004. But the excitement quickly turned anxious as authorities specified that certain criteria have to be met for the concert to proceed. PAS Youth leader at the time Ahmad Sabki Yusof said that the songstress “presents herself in a sexy, unacceptable and almost vulgar manner.” He added that, “allowing such concerts promote and condone values that are totally contrary to our way of life and our culture.” Furthermore, the concert was to be held on the Islamic holiday of Awal Muharam. Nonetheless, Carey was given to go-ahead to perform but subject to strict regulations requiring her to forego her usual stage attire. The singer complied but “protested” by wearing a t-shirt and a pair of jeans throughout the show. “Sorry I am being so boring,” she said, “but you got to play by the rules.”
Back in 2007, Gwen Stefani faced similar pressure but this time by the National Union of Malaysian Muslim Students, who claimed the singer’s outfits and performances clashed with our local values. “Her performance and her attire are not suitable for our culture. It promotes a certain degree of obscenity and will encourage youth to emulate the western lifestyle. The concert should be stopped,” the union’s vice president, Abdul Muntaqim said. Not one to disappoint her fans, Stefani said she would comply. Prior to her concert in Malaysia, Stefani performed in Singapore. Whilst there, her management briefed Malaysian journalist that she would abide by the guidelines and that would involve altering her costumes and wearing double pantyhose!
What gave rise to all these restrictions? Well, you can point your finger at The Pussycat Dolls. Back in 2006, they came and conquered but left the organisers with a RM10,000 fine to settle after “flouting decency regulations.” Then Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage, Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Utama Dr. Rais Yatim was quoted as saying that the concert featured, “scantily dressed performers” and “sensuous elements.” “I believe the way The Pussycat Dolls behaved on stage amounted to gross indecency,” he said to the The Malay Mail. Their skimpy costumes and “sexually suggestive” routines were said to be the reason requiring foreign artistes to follow guidelines in their on-stage acts.
Believe it or not, our Queen of Jazz courted similar controversy back in the day. In 1989, Dato’Sheila Majid performed at Universiti Malaya’s Dewan Tunku Canselor. The concert proceeded without much ado but unbeknownst to concert goers who were basking in the singer’s vocals on the inside, clashes between protesters and the police were taking place on the outside. A group of students apparently felt that the university was not the right place for a concert to be held. Fans walked out of the hall to the sight of damaged and news that 20 of the one thousand protestors had been arrested.