Malaysia Halts Music Festival after Same-Sex Kiss by UK Band the 1975

REUTERS/Hasnoor Hussain/File Photo
A view of Kuala Lumpur’s skyline in Malaysia May 30, 2023.

KUALA LUMPUR, July 22 (Reuters) – Malaysia’s government halted a music festival in the capital Kuala Lumpur on Saturday, a day after the frontman of British pop rock band The 1975 kissed a male bandmate onstage and criticized the country’s anti-LGBT laws.

“There will be no compromise against any party that challenges, disparages and violates Malaysian laws,” Communications Minister Fahmi Fadzil said in a Twitter post after meeting the organizers of the Good Vibes Festival, a three-day event set to run until Sunday.

The 1975 have also been banned from performing in Malaysia, said a government committee that oversees filming and performances by foreigners.

Homosexuality is a crime in Muslim-majority Malaysia. Rights groups have warned of growing intolerance against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

In videos posted on social media late on Friday, Healy was seen kissing bassist Ross MacDonald after criticizing Malaysia’s stance against homosexuality in a profanity-laden speech to the festival audience.

“I made a mistake. When we were booking shows, I wasn’t looking into it,” he said. “I don’t see the fucking point … of inviting The 1975 to a country and then telling us who we can have sex with.”

Healy later cut short the set, telling the crowd: “All right, we’ve got to go. We just got banned from Kuala Lumpur, I’ll see you later.”

The band could not immediately be reached for comment. In an Instagram story, Healy appeared to joke about the incident, posting the festival’s cancellation notice along with a caption: “Ok well why don’t you try and not make out with Ross for 20 years. Not as easy as it looks.”

Healy was criticized for kissing a male fan at a 2019 concert in the United Arab Emirates, which also has laws against homosexual acts, media reported.

Festival organizer Future Sound Asia (FSA) apologized for the cancellation of the show following Healy’s “controversial conduct and remarks.” It said The 1975’s management had promised the band would obey performance guidelines.

“Regrettably, Healy did not honor these assurances,” it said in a statement.

The festival had been scheduled to showcase 43 performances from local and international artists across the three-day weekend. The 1975 were the headlining act for Friday, with Australian singer The Kid Laroi and U.S. band The Strokes the main events on Saturday and Sunday. Performances on both days were called off.

FSA expressed concern that the incident could “erode the confidence of music promoters and various stakeholders … and threaten the stability of our burgeoning live arts scene.”

Communications Minister Fahmi said Malaysia was committed to supporting the development of creative industries and freedom of expression.

“However, never touch on the sensitivities of the community, especially those that are against the traditions and values ​​of the local culture,” he said.

The government in March introduced stricter guidelines, including on dress code and conduct, for foreign acts coming to Malaysia, citing the need to protect sensitivities, media reported.

Friday’s incident sparked uproar on Malaysian social media, including among some members of the LGBT community, who accused Healy of “performative activism” and said his action could expose the community to more stigma and discrimination.

“Matt Healy undoubtedly just made it worse for queer Malaysians who actually live here, and have to face the consequences because we all know our politicians are gonna use this to further their agenda,” Carmen Rose, a Malaysian drag queen and performer, said on Twitter.

The 1975 are on Sunday due to play at a festival in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, where a recent LGBT event was canceled amid security threats.

The Jakarta festival’s organizers did not immediately respond to requests for comment on whether the band would play.

The uproar comes at a politically sensitive time in multi-ethnic Malaysia where Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s progressive coalition government will face its first major test of public support in August, when six states hold elections.

An alliance of opposition parties, largely representing the majority ethnic Malay community, has accused the government of not doing enough to protect the rights of Muslims.

The premier has said his government would uphold principles of Islam and will not recognize LGBT rights.