The exciting adventures of Filipino entertainer Luis Borromeo and the Javanese Miss Riboet, in vaudeville and Malay opera respectively, tell an important story of Southeast Asia’s 1920s Jazz Age. During a time of political turmoil, Borromeo and Riboet were leading figures in the development of a localised hybrid urban popular culture. Exemplary of the pioneering cultural brokers of the time, these two artists were among the first of the region's local pop culture celebrities. Audiences seized on this popular culture—situated somewhere between high art and banal entertainment—to engage with the modern, to channel emancipatory activities, to articulate social critique and to propagate an inclusive nationalism with a distinct cosmopolitan flavour, without being radically anti-colonial.
Leaning on cultural studies and fandom studies, popular culture is critically examined here as a social phenomenon of Southeast Asia’s emerging urban multi-ethnic middle-classes. This book opens up a critical history of a contradictory popular culture and the people and forces behind it, highlighting the profound societal transformations in early twentieth-century Southeast Asia.