As a singer, songwriter and national icon, Sudirman Arshad (1954-1992) was a prominent voice of Malaysian popular culture who articulated the complex intersectionalities of performance, ethnicity and gender in Malaysian popular music. As a young rising pop star in the mid-1970s he appealed to a majority Malay-Muslim public as an artiste well-adapted to modern musical trends. He also displayed an authentic Malayness in his ability to sing traditional asli songs. Over the years the energy and scale of his stage performances grew, culminating in a free concert held in Chow Kit Road, Kuala Lumpur, attended by 100,000 people in 1986. At the height of his career in 1989, he won the title of ‘Asia’s No. 1 Performer’ in the Asian Popular Music Awards held in London. His winning song, “1000 Million Smiles”, promotes Malaysia as a land of warmth and cultural diversity. This would be a prevailing theme in proceeding performances in Malaysia that emphasized strong messages about being inclusive of the nation’s ethnic and religious minorities to foster national unity. However, a survey of his performances, biography and press coverage on his untimely death reveal controversial and sensationalized suggestions about his sexuality. This paper argues for a culturally intimate analysis of how popular culture, performativity and gender intersect with Sudirman’s Malay(sian)-Muslim pop star persona. It suggests the subversive strategies employed – such as provocative performance and flamboyant showcasing of cultural diversity – to express unspoken issues related to ethnicity and gender in Malaysia.