Matty Healy of The 1975 performs onstage

Did the 1975’s Onstage Kiss Actually Support LGBTQ+ People or Just Further Destabilize Queer Malaysians?

Matty Healy, lead vocalist and principal songwriter of indie rock band The 1975, is an international news item yet again. This time, it’s not for laughing at anti-Asian jokes or flippantly admitting to watching violently anti-Black porn. Now it’s for his mid-performance protest of the oppression of LGBTQ+ people in Malaysia, one of the host countries on the band’s Asian tour. The protest culminated in Healy grabbing and kissing his male bandmate Ross MacDonald onstage.

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The kiss took place on the first day of the planned three-day Good Vibes Festival in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by 20 years in prison. The same-sex kiss between non-Malaysian, ostensibly straight men has become an international conversation. And like any conversation with multiple cultural points of view, it’s complicated.

Healy interrupted the band’s performance to acknowledge that he had not known about Malaysia’s anti-LGBTQ laws before agreeing to perform at the Good Vibes Festival. “I don’t see the fucking point, right, I do not see the point of inviting The 1975 to a country and then telling us who we can have sex with,” he said from the stage. “Unfortunately you don’t get a set of loads of uplifting songs because I’m fucking furious. And that’s not fair on you, because you’re not representative of your government. Because you’re young people, and I’m sure a lot of you are gay and progressive and cool.”

Healy then kissed bass player Ross MacDonald as the band started their song “I Like America & America Likes Me.” Their set was cut short 30 minutes later. As the band was leaving the stage, Healy said: “All right, we just got banned from Kuala Lumpur, see you later.”

On Saturday, festival organizer Future Sound Asia released the statement that the remaining schedule “has been canceled following the controversial conduct and remarks made by U.K. artist Matt Healy from the band The 1975.” The decision was actually made by the Ministry of Communications and Digital, a function of the Malaysian government that “underlined its unwavering stance against any parties that challenge, ridicule, or contravene Malaysian laws.”

The festival apologized to ticket holders, vendors, sponsors, and partners on the government’s behalf, promising to update everyone on refund mechanics as soon as possible, and thanking everyone for their continued support during this challenging time. Following the edict of the Malaysian government, that was the only legal option available to the festival organizers. Even still, the statement transfers the onus from Malaysia’s discriminatory legislation entirely onto the antics of a single British rockstar.

This was not the first time Healy has kissed a man onstage. In 2019, he kissed a man from the audience in Dubai in open disobedience of anti-LGBTQ laws in the United Arab Emirates. In 2022, during the song “Robbers,” Healy brought a fan onstage, and after a slow dance, leaned into the fan for a deep kiss. As recently as last month, he kissed a security guard from a stage in Australia.

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Fallout after the protest

In an apparent reaction to their ban from Malaysia, The 1975 then canceled their next two performances, the first at We The Fest in Jakarta, and the second in Taipei. In a statement posted on the We The Fest Instagram page on Sunday, the band said they “regret to announce that their forthcoming shows in Jakarta and Taipei will no longer be going ahead as planned.”

“The band never take the decision to cancel a show lightly and had been eagerly looking forward to playing for fans in Jakarta and Taipei but unfortunately, due to current circumstances, it is impossible to proceed with the scheduled shows.”

The band hasn’t offered any more specificity about why these other Asian dates were canceled. It’s possible the shows are all included in the same contract because while Indonesia does have long-standing legislation that discriminates against LGBTQ+ people, it’s important to distinguish that homosexuality is not actually a crime in the Muslim-majority country. And in contrast to Indonesia, Taiwan has a vibrant and visible LGBTQ+ community. It’s the only nation in Asia that allows same-sex marriage, and in March of 2023, passed an amendment to allow same-sex couples to adopt children. Taiwan also prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression in schools—progressive legislation that more than a few states in the U.S. could learn from. 

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Disruption is the sharpest point of any protest, whether the protest is for human rights or climate justice. Street traffic might be blocked, performances might be canceled, supply chains might be broken. But some LGBTQ+ activists are concerned that Healy’s attempt at protest might just further destabilize queer Malaysians.

A “white savior complex”

London-based artist and musician bones tan jones wrote that however good Healy’s intentions might have been, “his apparent white savior complex and performative activism mirror the post-colonial guilt that many white Westerners seem to have when visiting countries once ruled by the British empire.” For jones, a first-generation immigrant of Chinese descent whose partner is a Malaysian-born Malay, Healy’s misjudgment was “to steam into this highly complex and historically fraught situation without due care, or seemingly enough research.”

Dhia Rezki Rohaizad, deputy president of the social support group Jejaka, criticized the Malaysian government for banning The 1975 and canceling Good Vibes Festival. He supports Healy’s right to freedom of expression. At the same time, he clarifies that Healy’s behavior was not how Malaysian activists would have done it: “Doing it at this scale, with a lot of people who are not aware of the discussions going around with regards to queer activism, that is what is harmful.”

In their piece, jones also points out that the cancellation of the festival “has robbed local musicians of the chance to perform on a major stage, and festival vendors of cashflow – and also taken from the LGBTQ+ community.”

Thilaga Sulathireh, founder of the LGBTQ advocacy group Justice for Sisters echoed Rohaizad’s sentiment: “We appreciate solidarity with the community and wanting to fight for the cause, but there needs to be some understanding of the context and issues. You may mean well, but … you can’t act in solidarity without communicating and consulting with other people.”

You don’t have to be a member of a marginalized group to be a public ally to that group. (A famous example is that in June 2020, K-Pop superstars BTS donated $1 million to Black Lives Matter.) You don’t have to be a morally flawless person to affect positive change in the world. But if the ultimate goal is to show support for oppressed people, the most productive thing an outsider can do is to take their cues from the people themselves.

If Healy is sincerely invested in allyship with the international queer community, he’ll find a way to use his platform to do more than center himself as he defies local laws. If he really wants to do the work, the work is there, ready to be done, on a global scale.

(featured image: Kristy Sparow/Getty Images)


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Aria Baci
Aria Baci (she/her/hers) is a writer and cultural critic who has been working in print and digital media since 2015, for the now-archived Design*Sponge, Geeks OUT, Flame Con, and The Mary Sue. She is passionate about literature and film, especially science fiction, especially science fiction created by women. She is currently based in Louisville.
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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.