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Thai Singers & Their Fans

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One of the more interesting aspects of Thai music, and I am only referring to luktung, morlam and likay here, is the interaction between the artists and their fans, and while is not unique, it does have characteristics which make the relationship very Thai and demonstrates the patron/client relationship existing in Thai society, what we might call you scratch my back and Iíll scratch yours!

In the west when singers do have contact with fans, and especially when they are famous and successful, interaction with fans is often quite remote and when it does occur at a personal level is often under the eyes of bodyguards, or at least PR staff and might involve little more than a quick autograph or handshake.

There might well be household names in western countries that put time aside each day for fans to ring, those who invite fans to their house or to family celebrations, even the odd one who pays for concerts tickets or even for fans hotel bills, but if there is I have never heard of them.

In the world of Thai music this closeness is not that uncommon, although of course not all stars are this accommodating by any means.

One the fan side they can spend considerable amounts of time and money following their favorite stars just as they do in the west, but the rewards are often greater and at least the opportunity to get close up to the artist, in fact the phrase Ďclose upí to a singer is often used to show off the level of the fans relationship to the star.

This being Thailand the level of this Ďclose upí status is sometimes played up by both the artist and the fan for mutual face.


It can be difficult to get to singers at concerts like this

Regular fans of a certain singer, or even not so serious ones will very often be given the singers own phone number, something I would think quite rare in the west, can you imagine Beyonce for example standing behind the stage giving out her phone number?

But it happens all the time in Thailand.

As well as personal communication fans will expect the opportunity for photos with singers after performances as well as autographs and signing of photos and cdís.

Of course all singers are not the same with some far more accommodating than others, to some itís clearly an inconvenience at times, most see it as an obligation and part of the world they entered into.

I am often surprised at the patience of singers and musicians in some situations where fans continually ask for photos, but a clear and blunt refusal is almost never seen, even from the most difficult of stars.

While the giving on the part of the singer, if only with their time, can be considerable, the giving from the fans can also be generous to say the least.

Gifts to singers starts at the bottom with a single rose, the commonest type of Ďmalií, all the way up to the presenting of expensive items like cars.

Of course where cars are accepted the relationship is often a little more than singer/fan and it is a rarity, but does happen.




Several of the very best luktung singers ready to see fans for autographs at the Thai cultural centre, June 2009. From left, Urn the Star, Sunaree Rachesima, Cathaleya Marasri, Takkaden Cholada, Ajareeya Bussaba and Mangpor Chonticaha, Tai Orathai is just out of the frame. Looks like Cat has got a dog with her under the table!



At times the singing star is also in the position of the fan and when face comes into play here it can be an expensive business.
There is a story about Yodrak the famous luktung singer who died in 2008.
He liked to visit cafes to see other singers, often almost unknown ones.

At such venues the way of showing your appreciation of the singer is to present him or her with flowers, real or artificial, often with money attached.
Itís the same as at concerts.
Sometimes a competition evolves between two or more givers. Yodrak got into something like this with another fan of the singer, each trying to outdo the other with larger and larger gifts of cash.
In the end Yodrak Ďwoní but itís said to have cost him over 200.000 baht.

There may have been exaggeration of the amount over the years in the telling, but it does say something about how seriously face can be taken.
I wonder what the Mrs had to say when he got home! Nice payday for the singer anyway.


Nangfa kalasin recently signed with R-Siam label, forget which mali I gave him, not the money one thatís for sure! Nangfa is a very nice mannered singer.

The structure of the singer/fan relationship is in most ways very casual and where fan clubs do exist they are not something you usually sign up for but just groups that get together and organise things like having t shirts printed and signs made up themselves.

The only officially organised clubs seem to be those by the big Radio stations such as fm 95 and fm 94.5 who do at least issue member cards and organise club events, especially fm 95.

Unfortunately (I think) they have promoted the cult Dj idea which strangely does seem to appeal to some fans.
Kandy Raggen is one such Dj, she is the daughter of the famous morlam star Banyen Raggen.
Kandy even charges people to join her own fan club and has had t shirts made up, quite ridiculous I feel.

There are no charges to join any singer fan club that I have heard of.
I seem to be in three Ďfan clubsí if they can be called such as they are very informal.
Jintara Poonlaps as I have been following her for years, Job and Joy and lately Mangpor Chonticha.
Manpor asked us herself to go along to her fans day out which she has done for a couple of years.


Mangpor fan club at Thai cultural centre.

While the fan structure is often casual there are still cultural rules and customs governing fan and artist conduct and even though the fan relationship can be very close moral codes existing in Thai society at large are apparent in the world of music.

It sometimes comes as a surprise to foreigners only exposed to tourist areas like Sukhumvit to learn that itís actually not generally accepted to touch women you are not related to in public places.
Male fans would outrage everyone if they attempted to kiss a female singer on the cheek and even touching them where photos are taken is often seen as risquť.

Women on the other hand can get away with almost anything with male and female singers, sometimes life just ainít fair!

The female singer however will sometimes touch male fans for photoís, but it should be left to them to initiate.

Singers themselves are often at pains to maintain their moral reputation as well as keeping marriages and relationships secret.
This can sometimes famously backfire as was the case with Jintara Poonlap a couple of years ago.
Always maintaining in interviews over the years she was single, a reported snapped her ID card when she went to vote revealing her married name.
As it turned out she had been married to her manager for many years.

Homosexual status however does not seem to be such a problem, unless itís a women and one very famous lesbian singer is routinely in denial over this.

The male singers are luckier, as fans male or female do not seem to care about their sexuality, but they are just as likely to be secretive over relationships.

Singers can be so protective of their reputation that it has ended up in court cases.

In the 90ís new singer Appaporn Nokonsawan sued TV Pool magazine for defamation when they wrote she had a child, she had not and the editor and writer were sentenced two years in prison,!! later suspended with a large fine.
So you do have to tread carefully with people in the public eye and there is no way, for example, that I would suggest she is grossly overweight these days and has always been more of a comedienne than a singer!


The giving of maliís to singers by fans is an important contact point for both.

As has already been mentioned the mali, or puang mali is one main way the fan shows appreciation to the singer in Thai music.

As I have only been involved in this scene for 12 years or so I only have photoís and film from 20-30 years ago to judge how this has evolved.
Looking at older sources I have rarely noticed the giving of money with the mali at concerts and also in the past singers seemed more likely to wear the mali where as today they often pass them straight to a stage hand.

Fans consider maliís more seriously than do most singers today.
Many fans will actually judge a singer on whether they wear the mali or not at the performance, and in particular if they take them home or not.

The singer who just dumps them at the back of the stage is not appreciated as much as one who takes them away.
Most of the older singers did and still do take them away and as the cost of some is considerable -30-500 baht fans feel that in taking them home they are treating the fans with respect.

New singer Sasinan (Dr Donut) recently said this in an interview with writer on Thai music James Mitchell:

Q:What do you do with malai and roses? What is considered the right thing to do with them? Have you ever received malai with money or photos of the fans?

Donut: I keep as many of the flowers as I can. If I receive a puang malai I will present it to Pra Pikaneet [a shrine] to worship (but not the money).

I take the roses, dry them and keep them in a box. When I receive money malai Ė I write down who has given the money and how much.

The malai will always include the fanís telephone number and details about themselves. Then later I will call them back to have a conversation with them Ė to thank them and find out when their birthday is so I can sms later on. The fans appreciate what I have done so I want to make them feel special.



Dr Donut after a long day at an fm 95 party, I must have been the 20th in line for a photo.

Just as the fan base is more socially diverse today so are the singers, Sasinan is half Thai half Malay, has a Phd in education and speaks several languages.

Just as all fans are not working class Issan migrants, neither are all singers poor, rags to riches types with little education.

There are even a few falangs who sing in luktung/morlam, although I have never heard of a likay farang performer.

Ever heard of Johnny Olson an American perfomer? quite a good khaen player (reed mouth organ), if a little immodest.

There are also western, and even African comics performing in Thai music, many concerts having comic groups and morlam style clowns appearing, maybe I should give it a go.


Takes some skill to keep hold of a load like this, iím sure itís all genuine of course.

Surprisingly as they are after all just flowers, I have seen major stars providing fans with flowers to present them, usually where they are on TV, no doubt worried a loss of face might result in not enough, or poor ones being presented.

More often these Ďfake malisí are in the form of money that the singers (usually a third party) provide fans with to present to them.
This fake mali business seems to have come from likay, the central Thai folk theatre built around song and it is most noticeable in luktung where a likay singer is singing luktung.

Often great sheets of money are awarded and the same elaborate arrangements can be seen concert after concert, rather a giveaway.
Fake malis involving money are not so obvious in luktung where the singer is not also a likay artist, and even less so in morlam.
At luktung and morlam concerts fans are likely to present singer with 20-100 baht, sometimes 500-1000, but the great displays dished up to likay singers, and which can look ridiculously over the top are not so often seen in lukung and morlam.

In likay the fake mali and large amounts of genuine money gifts are almost routine.

One major likay star announced a few years ago he did not want fans to give him flowers any longer-he just wanted money maliís, while it did not do his reputation with the fans much good he is still as big a success, and he still takes flowers!

The organisation of fans in likay is more sophisticated then in luktung and morlam with the main fans often being women who compete at times for the singerís attention.

The hero in likay is always a small, youthful non threatening male, and yes they are often gay but this is irrelevant to the female fans who can spend very large amounts in presents and money gifts to the singer they follow.

The serious likay fan, or mae yok as they are sometimes called occasionally hit the front page in the newspapers as happened in 2009 involving the same singer who said he wanted no more flowers given.
The husband of a fan demanded a very large amount of money back that his wife had given the singer over a period of time as the family were in dire straits.
I believe it involved a crude attempt at blackmail in the end to try and get the money back.

This is a good argument for not giving all your wages to the Mrs.- you donít want her running off and wasting most of it on a pasty faced limp wristed youth in a spangled suit that looks like a clowns outfit do you?


Jintara besieged by fans, the girl donít look too pleased with the handout- kids!

Singers are often not just judged by their singing ability, but also by their conduct and mannerisms when performing.
In competitions judges often comment on the mood of the singer, arom dee is a welcomed comment.
The way the singer conducts themselves offstage is also important, somebody acting a like a big shot, even if they are, is widely frowned upon.

The singer who remains humble, close to their roots, often rural, and who is seemingly unchanged by their success is often most admired.
Different companies use varied approaches to shape the singers image.
Grammy for example, with few exceptions, turn out their acts looking very ordinary, jeans and tops are common place, in an effort to promote the idea that they are one of the people still and really like the guy or girl in the next village or soi.
This may seem a little transparent and I do think they take it too far as many of their stars donít really need any help with image- they really are genuine anyway.


Grammy star Mike Piromporn, the blue collar workers hero and genuinely nice guy who always has time for everyone. Here at a 7-4 concert on Saturday ch 7, my 50 baht mali, not bad are they for the money.

I once went to Mikeís restaurant in lad phrao soi 71, not only did he sing and come and sit with us, he even went out into the street to get us a taxi, even though he has the staff to do it.
Asking the driver to Ďtake my friends homeí the driver did, and then refused payment as Mike had asked him, I thought it said much for the way this singer is regarded by the working man, and it would not be so if Mike went around in fancy suits sporting flashy jewellery.


Mangpor does not often wear maliís in performance due to her dance routines, another one of mine. Some people depend for their livelihoods just on the sale of flowers at concerts.


The beautiful and talented sistersí Job and Joy being presented with a photo mali after the chung tang seang tong show in 2007, pleased to say their mum liked the photo so much she took it home.




The ultimate patron/client relationship, here the prime minster turns up at a concert, not for the maliís but to boost support among the rural poor and migrant workers from Issan who are the backbone of supporters of luktung and morlam.
In associating himself with the music on TV he attempts to do so with rural fans where his support has been weak. And yes he did forget the words!

This was rather like a posh Tory PM in the UK doing a bit of Reggae dancing at the Notting Hill carnival, while at the same time associating his policies with the achievements of the Queen of England, all rather unsophisticated from a falang point of view.

It is striking that the musical preferences of the two political adversaries PAD and UDD are poles apart.
I have yet to see any PAD gatherings where luktung or morlam were performed.
The mystery is in Thai music why it has not been used more as a political voice.

Article Written by Crazy Dog