Your browser is out of date. Some of the content on this site will not work properly as a result.
Upgrade your browser for a faster, better, and safer web experience.

Moment that mattered: Lady Gaga’s Jakarta gig is cancelled

Muslim men hold up banners during a rally against U.S. pop singer Lady Gaga's concert that is scheduled to be held on June 3, outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, Friday, May 25, 2012. Lady Gaga might have to cancel her sold-out show in Indonesia because police worry her sexy clothes and dance moves undermine Islamic values and will corrupt the country's youth. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

“Jakarta is where over-the-hill bands go on tour just before they retire and buy trout farms. This is a city soundtracked by a host of big in the ’80s/’90s/never bands, the sort of place where Roxette is still a major draw.

But the booming middle class has seen the fame level of performers rise over the last year. Justin Bieber and Katy Perry have both played Jakarta, and Lady Gaga, who had a concert set to take place here on 3rd June, would have been the biggest pop star ever to visit the archipelago. However, despite more than 52,000 tickets to her sold-out concert being snapped up by eager Little Monsters, as she dubs her fans, Gaga’s performance was cancelled at the last minute by the diva herself, citing security concerns.

The architect of the concert’s cancellation was the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a right-wing extremist group that is small in numbers but big in political clout. The group’s vitriolic protests against the Mother Monster led the National Police to revoke the concert promoter’s permit. There was talk of the show going on regardless, but the pop star decided to cancel the concert herself after FPI made sinister threats about sending members into the audience to create “havoc” amongst the crowd in order to stop the singer, whom one spokesman for the organisation called an “envoy of the devil’s child” who would “spread satanic teachings”. Gaga’s defenders claim that it’s not her saucy lyrics which are upsetting the FPI but the themes of tolerance and acceptance in her songs, which the arch conservatives see as dangerous.

While the developing Indonesian economy has created a middle class that has the money and inclination to do things like see Lady Gaga in concert, a large portion of the country’s population, around 100 million people according to the Economist, still live on less than two US dollars a day. They have seen few improvements in their hardscrabble lives as a result of the country’s recent prosperity, and they are bombarded with daily stories of corrupt government officials embezzling billions of rupiah. It is little wonder, then, that many still turn to religion as the only institution they can trust. As a consequence, one of the more dangerous things an Indonesian politician can do is support an individual or idea that could be construed as anti-Muslim.

It’s a dynamic that FPI and other hardline groups have learned to exploit successfully in recent years. Although most Indonesians do practise a moderate form of Islam, the government’s reluctance to punish extremist behaviour has led to a worrying increase in religious intolerance. In recent years, Christians have been barred from opening new churches and members of the Ahmadiyah community, a Muslim minority sect that does not believe Muhammad was the last prophet, have been attacked and even murdered by mobs with minimal repercussions. The hardliners’ intimidation tactics have also managed to keep the vast majority of moderate Muslims quiet about these human rights abuses.

As long as the government and the middle class remain reluctant to rein in this kind of behaviour, it seems likely that things will continue to get worse. But Indonesia is a dynamic country with a young population (more than 50 percent are under the age of 30) that has proved eager to embrace technologies such as social media, which has helped spark debate on this topic, if little in the way of counter protests. The fact that right-wing parties have never been able to gain much traction in general elections would seem to bear out the country’s moderate credentials.

The next five years or so will show whether the country is on the path towards insular Islamic state or true global player, and one of the battlegrounds will be the concert stage. Political analysts would do well to monitor the list of upcoming musical acts coming to Jakarta: if Nicki Minaj is on her way, Indonesia will be okay. If Michael Bolton is renewing his working visa, then this country is probably in trouble.”

A slower, more reflective type of journalism”
Creative Review

Jam-packed with information... a counterpoint to the speedy news feeds we've grown accustomed to”
Creative Review

A leisurely (and contrary) look backwards over the previous three months”
The Telegraph

Quality, intelligence and inspiration: the trilogy that drives the makers of Delayed Gratification”
El Mundo

Refreshing... parries the rush of 24-hour news with 'slow journalism'”
The Telegraph

A very cool magazine... It's like if Greenland Sharks made a newspaper”
Qi podcast

The UK's second-best magazine” Ian Hislop
Editor, Private Eye
Private Eye Magazine

Perhaps we could all get used to this Delayed idea...”
BBC Radio 4 - Today Programme