KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – When Lady Gaga launches her hotly anticipated "Born This Way Ball" world tour Friday on what is expected to be an elaborate castle-like stage, fans in Asia will be the first to see it.
The singer leads off her travels with sold-out shows from South Korea to Singapore in a striking upgrade of her Asia itinerary over a previous tour that included only Japan. Western pop stars are increasingly criss-crossing the upwardly mobile region in search of new markets while financial malaise continues to afflict parts of the West — and Asian fans are ecstatic.
"We're getting so many concerts nowadays, it's hard to decide which ones to go for!" said Mindy Chew, an information technology consultant in Malaysia who snapped up $120 seats to watch Lady Gaga's show in neighboring Singapore within 30 minutes after tickets went on sale.
"Some of these shows are like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I'm expecting lots of drama at Lady Gaga's show, lots of costume changes," said Chew, who has caught performances by Gwen Stefani and Michael Buble in recent years in Malaysia's biggest city, Kuala Lumpur.
The long list of acts who've penned Asia into their tour plans this year include chart-toppers like Katy Perry, LMFAO, Maroon 5, Nicki Minaj, Jason Mraz, Avril Lavigne and Foster The People.
Next to Lady Gaga, rock band Radiohead has amassed the most buzz for its planned shows in Taiwan, Japan and South Korea this July.
But fans also are looking forward to artists as varied as Elton John, Morrissey, Christina Perri, Lifehouse, Death Cab for Cutie, Avenged Sevenfold, Backstreet Boys, The Flaming Lips and Manic Street Preachers.
For unbeatable star power, this August's two-day Summer Sonic Festival in Japan alone is supposed to feature Rihanna, Green Day, Ke$ha, Adam Lambert, Pitbull, Calvin Harris and Gym Class Heroes.
Japan has long been a hub for gigs by Western headliners, but touring activity has been building up in the rest of Asia over the past two years, Alan Ridgeway, president of international markets for Live Nation, the worldwide promoter for Lady Gaga's shows, told The Associated Press.
The reasons boil down to supply and demand. Asia makes economic sense now because rising disposable income among fans here has driven up demand for live entertainment across the region, Ridgeway said.
"Even though Japan may be able to support three or four shows, this often wasn't enough to justify the expense of bringing a tour to Asia," Ridgeway said. "Now as we see increasing demand from other markets such as South Korea, China and Indonesia, it becomes possible to route a financially viable multi-date tour through the region."
Last year was Live Nation's most successful in China since it began operating there in 2005, with more than 70 shows by regional and Western artists within a 12-month span, Ridgeway said.
Persistent economic troubles in the West have also propped up Asia's importance. Ridgeway said the touring business in Europe remains healthy, but other promoters believe there's been enough of a downturn there to trigger concerns.
"Some artists have found that ongoing economic problems in the United States and Europe have meant they are experiencing decreased demand for concerts, so Asia is a new market they want to develop to make up for the shortfall," said Mindy Coppin, the Singapore-based managing director for IMG Artists' Asia-Pacific operations.
As countries become accustomed to international tours, the logistics become smoother. Singapore for example has made it easier for concert organizers to secure visas and permits and lowered taxes on artists' fees, Coppin said.
Culture clashes are among the remaining challenges.
In South Korea, conservative groups complained that Lady Gaga's lyrics and costumes were too sexually provocative and authorities barred fans under the age of 18 from attending her gig at Seoul's Olympic Stadium.
Lady Gaga will also perform in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Taipei, Manila and Bangkok, but a senior official in Indonesia's top Islamic authority has reportedly urged fans in that country to shun Lady Gaga, saying her show is "intended to destroy the nation's morality."
Still, that hasn't stopped more than 30,000 "Little Monsters" — as Lady Gaga's fans call themselves — from purchasing tickets for her stop in the Indonesian capital Jakarta, including 25,000 in the first two hours of sales.
The controversies haven't dampened Lady Gaga's enthusiasm either. She flew into Seoul a week before her show and has immersed herself in rehearsals, tweeting her delight about receiving a "warm and exciting welcome" and whipping up fan anticipation for a stage that her publicity sketches depict as a medieval castle. Her only complaint so far: jet lag.
Elsewhere, Grammy-winning R&B star Erykah Badu ran afoul of Malaysian officials in February; after she arrived, the government banned her show on the eve of the performance, saying a photo of her body art offended Muslims. Badu nevertheless voiced hopes of returning for a concert someday, saying she has "faith in people's ability to evolve."