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28 JULY 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.

🎀💸 After all the hype, did movie-goers turn out to see Barbie? Yes, reader… they did! Greta Gerwing’s film raked in US$356m across the globe in its opening weekend, making it the biggest debut ever for a film directed by a woman. It resonated with young audiences: per PostTrak, 40% of ticket buyers were under 25. Keep reading for more Barbie news…


  • Innovation of the Week: Charting the expansion of TikTok Music 
  • Fax, No Printer: What’s the coolest street food in Vietnam right now?
  • Regional Round-up: Global success through localized collabs from Barbie, a music video shot on iPhone, and… X marks the spot?

Innovation of the Week


Two weeks after beta launching in Indonesia and Brazil, TikTok Music has been made available to select users in Singapore, Australia and Mexico. The subscription-only music streaming platform syncs to users’ existing TikTok accounts and allows them to listen to, download and share songs from all three major record labels (Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and Sony Music). Users can enjoy a three month free trial, after that it costs around S$9.90 per month in direct competition with Spotify (who just increased their monthly price by S$1 to S$10.90).

💡 Our take

TikTok has – and continues to – transform the way the music industry operates, and has changed how young people discover music. According to one report, 35% of Gen Z use TikTok to fuel their music discovery; the platform is the second-most common source of music discovery for 16-to-19 year olds (YouTube took the top spot). TikTok’s monetization of music consumption seems like an inevitable step in its evolution – it may not have been part of ByteDance’s original vision (otherwise they wouldn’t have launched the soon to be shuttered Resso), but as ever consumer behavior will dictate the purpose of every platform.

First generation music platforms like Spotify were built on access and convenience with algorithm-driven recommendations. But social platforms, TikTok in particular, changed the way people find new things (not just things they already liked) and helped unknown artists go viral overnight. It quickly evolved into a second generation music platform, one built on social experiences, discovery and participation. In response, Spotify has adopted more TikTok-like features such as personalized feeds and discovery tools. 

TikTok might be the platform others imitate, but it isn’t immune to what Wired has termed ‘social media’s quarter-life crisis’. Regulatory pressure in some markets, combined with stalling user growth and reduced advertising spend, means that social media companies are rolling out updates faster than you can say ‘X’ (keep reading for more on that!): there’s Threads from Meta, creator subscriptions from Instagram, TikTok’s new text-based posts, ByteDance’s Lemon8… 

These platforms are coming up with as many new ideas as possible to see what sticks with (especially younger) consumers, but this can be confusing for users and creators. TikTok Music is rooted in genuine user behavior, but it remains to be seen if it’s compelling enough to draw people away from more established platforms. We’ll be watching (and reporting back!) with interest… 

Fax, No Printer*

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

What’s the coolest street food in Vietnam right now?

Hủ tiếu

Gado Gado

Potong ice cream

Regional Round-up

💖 Let’s start with a Barbie update: in Malaysia, modest wear lifestyle label dUCk just unveiled its third Barbie collaboration with a collection that includes ready-to-wear garments alongside scarves and shopping bags. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the right local partnerships can bring globally-recognized IPs to a wider audience in a way that feels unique.

📱 Apple has collaborated with NewJeans, resulting in the video for the K-pop girl group’s new single ‘ETA’ being entirely shot on an iPhone 14 Pro. Unlike previous ‘Shot on iPhone’ collaborations, the device plays an integral role in the narrative, which is centered around a cheating boyfriend. Integrating a product into the creative process can result in a more authentic placement.

🎸 The Singapore Tourism Board, Warner Music Singapore and alt-pop duo Honne are celebrating the city state from a different perspective by spotlighting the often-overlooked local live music scene. The new ‘inside out’ video series was filmed using a camera placed inside a guitar. How can you (literally!) encourage people to view your brand in a new light?

🍗 To celebrate McNuggets’ 40th anniversary, McDonald’s Hong Kong partnered with Kevin Poon on an immersive art exhibition that covers the past, present and future of the popular menu item. For those unable to visit in-person, there’s a web3 experience developed with The Sandbox. Could a pop culture partnership put a new spin on your brand’s history (and future!), and can you find ways to bring your activation to consumers that are unable to come to you?

🥤 RPG Honkai: Star Rail has partnered with several beverage brands to celebrate the arrival of new game characters. During the campaign, which ran in Singapore (with CHAGEE), Malaysia (KOI) and the Philippines (Happy Lemon), fans could purchase exclusive beverages and get rewards such as cup sleeves. With fans in the Philippines waiting for more than two hours to get their drinks, it’s a reminder that gamers are keen to take their fandom into the real world.

⚠️ ICYMI: Twitter’s iconic blue bird logo has been replaced with an ‘X’ as part of a rebrand, reportedly part of a plan to turn the platform into an ‘everything app’. Our-not-so-hot take? This doesn’t end well. Twitter is a well-known brand, and the change feels unnecessary and ego-over-evidence based (the rollout has been pretty messy too). This isn’t the first time Musk pushed an ‘X’ rebrand – he tried something similar when he was still at PayPal, but it was rejected after focus groups said it sounded like a porn site. We rest our case!

This Week's Trivia Answer

🍦 C. Potong ice cream

In Singapore, nothing is more old school than a potong ice cream sandwich… but in Vietnam, there’s nothing cooler! The distinctly Singaporean ice cream has captured young people’s attention and it’s being sold across Vietnam, exported directly from Singapore. Everywhere you look in SEA, there’s a rich culture – and flavors! Can your brand identify a nostalgic tradition to reinvent and export?

It’s also worth noting that in Singapore, potong is typically associated with older generations. A cultural phenomenon like this could offer an opportunity to run a campaign that brings generations and/or cultures together over a simple, everyday treat. Is your brand considering ways to bring a new level of meaning through pop culture moments?

🚀 Over and Out!

Got thoughts on Barbie? We want to hear them!

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Your Culture Mavens,

Acacia, Aliya, Angela, Kiko, & Vicki