Rapper Nicki Minaj pulled out of a music festival in Saudi Arabia following backlash over the Middle Eastern country’s human rights record. Minaj cited her support for women and LGBTQ rights as reasons for pulling out of Jeddah World Fest.
Minaj said in a statement to The New York Times that after “careful reflection” she had decided to pull out from her scheduled concert. The rapper said she wanted “nothing more than to bring my show to fans in Saudi Arabia” but she also wanted “to make clear my support for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community and freedom of expression.”
On July 2, Minaj was announced as the headline act for the Jeddah World Fest. The festival, which billed itself as “one of the biggest music events ever staged in the Middle East,” claims it is “inclusive for all people.”
Former One Direction member Liam Payne, celebrity DJ Steve Aoki, and musical group R3WIRE & VARSKI are slated to perform. The festival, which will be alcohol and drug-free, is available to people 16 or older. It will be held at the King Abdullah Sports Stadium in Jeddah.
Three days after Minaj was announced as a headliner, the Human Rights Foundation wrote the rapper an open letter pleading with her to withdraw from the festival slated for July 18. The US-based organization called on Minaj to “refuse the regime’s money” and to use her influence to demand the release of the 10 women’s rights activists placed on trial in March.
Other critics questioned how Minaj’s explicit lyrics, revealing outfits, and provocative performances would do in the ultra-conservative kingdom.
The Human Rights Foundation praised Minaj for her decision to pull out from the festival in a statement released on July 9.
“This is what leadership looks like. We are grateful to Nicki Minaj for her inspiring and thoughtful decision to reject the Saudi regime’s transparent attempt at using her for a public relations stunt,” Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation, told The Associated Press (AP).
“The July 18 festival in Saudi Arabia still shows Liam Payne as a performer. We hope that he follows Nicki Minaj’s lead. Minaj’s moral stance differs from celebrity performers like J-Lo and Mariah Carey who in the past have chosen to line their pockets with millions of dollars and stand with dictatorial governments as opposed to with oppressed communities and imprisoned human rights activists.”
The country has faced international condemnation for its human rights record. Scrutiny intensified against the Middle Eastern kingdom and its de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey in October 2018.
Khashoggi, a US resident who wrote for The Washington Post, was strangled and dismembered at the consulate. The CIA determined that the Crown Prince ordered the murder, which was likely a part of the ruler’s campaign to silent dissenters, The New York Times reported.
Saudi Arabia also has an abysmal record when it comes to women’s rights and LGBTQ rights. Gender segregation is also enforced at restaurants, public schools, and universities between men and women, the AP reported.
Women are legal dependents of men and require the consent of a husband, father, or other male relative to go to school, apply for a passport, and conduct other activities. A strict driving ban was lifted in 2018. Meanwhile, homosexuality is illegal and can be punished by flogging or death.
Saudi Arabia has attempted to lessen restrictions on entertainment in order to shore up the country’s tourism industry. Rules regarding women attending events in sports stadiums have loosened. The number of concerts in the country have increased, but not without some controversy.
According to the BBC, singer Mariah Carey ignored the calls of human rights activists to cancel her performance in the conservative country earlier this year. Rapper Nelly also faced backlash in December when he performed at a “men only” concert. Other performers who have held events in Saudi Arabia in recent years include Enrique Iglesias, the Black Eyed Peas, Sean Paul, David Guetta, and Tiesto.
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.