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20 OCTOBER 2023

Welcome to this week’s edition of Culture Wire, a newsletter brought to you by Singapore-based pop culture and lifestyle marketing agency Culture Group.

In this week’s edition:

  • Innovation of the Week: Spotify steps further into artist merch
  • Fax, No Printer: Which movie is making waves at the Filipino box office? 
  • Regional Round-up: OPM makes history, award-winning games, cinematic nostalgia, and more…

Innovation of the Week


Earlier this week Spotify unveiled a new in-app Merch Hub that provides personalized merch recommendations based on the user’s listening history. Artist merch was previously available through artist profiles, the Now Playing view, and release pages but this update puts it all in one place. The timing is strategic: Spotify Wrapped is expected to launch at the end of November, and last year the brand saw its highest-grossing merch sales the week following it. 

While we applaud Spotify’s efforts to celebrate the artist-fan relationship, we think they could be doing much more to appeal to fans…


Fandom is rooted in creativity and a chance to celebrate a shared bond through autonomy and self-organization, under the common theme of an artist’s or IP’s mission. Today, this means that official band t-shirts just aren’t cutting it anymore 😴. Young fans are more interested in DIY creations that show off their personality while reinforcing their dedication to (and knowledge of) their chosen artist. 

For proof, see how enthusiastically fans responded to Beyoncé’s request that they wear silver to shows in September (her birthday month) or Swifties boosting beads sales to make friendship bracelets. In Southeast Asia, limited access to and availability of official merch had long made DIY a necessity, but global acts like Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and Harry Styles have helped raise the bar. 

Secondly, the rise of subtle or coded merch. These nondescript, often handmade, items allow fans to signal their fandom to other
like-minded individuals. Subtle merch is deliberately obscure, and functions like a secret language that can only be ‘read’ by other fans. Among K-pop fans, this is known as 일코 (‘ilco’), which loosely translates to ‘normal person cosplay.’ Among this fandom, we’ve also noticed a shift away from official merch and towards more everyday items

All brands – not just Spotify! – should consider ways to celebrate and facilitate these fandom-native movements. At its core, this is about understanding what inspires young fans (fandom-driven merch) and meeting them there. So if you’re still thinking about where fans were yesterday (official merch stores 👀) get in touch and we can help take you to where fans will be tomorrow

Fax, No Printer*

For those of you born before 1997, ‘fax, no printer‘ is Gen Z speak for ‘undeniable facts I agree with’

Which movie topped the box office in the Philippines last weekend?

A. The Exorcist: Believer 👻

B. Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour 💖

C. PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie 🐾

Scroll down to the end of the newsletter for the correct answer!

Regional Round-up

🎧 With 1.2M streams in 24 hours, Juan Karlos’ Ere debuted at #177 on Spotify’s global chart, becoming the first Filipino song to do so. Two days later, the song broke into the global 100, reaching #87. OPM is making history, and with part 2 of Karlos’ album slated for launch in early 2024, we’ll be watching to see what other records the artist can break.

🏆 Remember A Space for the Unbound? We covered the slice-of-life adventure game, developed by Indonesia-based Mojiken Studio, earlier this year. This week, it swept the board at the Indonesia Game Awards, winning the Best Visual Arts award, the Best PC/Console Game award, and overall Game of the Year. Proof, if it were needed, that SEA’s culture is resonating in the region and beyond.

⭐ Directed by Nonzee Nimibutr, Once Upon a Star is a love letter to the golden era of Thai open air cinema. Popular with audiences (it reached #1 on Netflix Thailand within its first week), it shows that the region is brimming with local stories just waiting to be (re)told. The film’s setting also ties into the resurgence of the collective cinema experiences – keep reading for more on that!

🍸 The award ceremony for the World’s 50 Best Bars took place in Singapore earlier this week, the first in the event’s history to be held in Asia (Bangkok’s BKK Social Club is the highest-ranking Asian bar on the list). Although Gen Zs are often labeled as sober curious, awards like this could help drive interest: just take note of their preferences for experiences that combine sustainability, craft, and authenticity

😫 Inspired by the insight that young people – particularly young women – are overwhelmed by the pressures of daily life, Nike Japan is encouraging escapism through sport. The campaign positions sport as a route to self-expression and confidence, set against the backdrop of Japanese women across various eras. What can your brand do to help Gen Z alleviate feelings of overwhelm and burnout?

⚠️ ICYMI: This week, Netflix announced plans for its first permanent physical locations. Set to open in the US in 2025, the Netflix Houses will allow fans to ‘play, shop and eat’ and are an extension of the brand’s pop-up fan experiences. A play for revenue or a genuine experience? Time will tell! 

This Week's Trivia Answer

B. Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour 💖

Another week, another record broken by Taylor Swift. Her concert film Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour premiered on Friday 13th (of course) and sold USD 123.5M worth of tickets around the world in its opening weekend, making it the highest-grossing concert film in history. 

The film gives fans another avenue to experience the concert magic. Filipino Swifties, in particular, decided to shake it off at the cinema after being left out of The Eras Tour. And the result? Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour opened at #1 at the Philippines box office, grossing nearly USD 1.7M over the weekend. This is not the first time fans have unofficially self-organized – they went viral earlier this year for rallying at the mall for Taylor Sheesh, a drag queen impersonating the artist.

Beyond Taylor Swift – whether it’s The Eras Tour concert film or Barbie, cinema is evolving from a passive experience into a social experience; with an emphasis on dressing up and participation. How will these emerging expectations shape your next IRL activation? 

🚀 Over and Out!

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Your Culture Mavens,

Acacia, Angela, Kiko, Teri, & Vicki