Nicki Minaj is not performing in Saudi Arabia. Following the controversy over the announcement of her participation in the Yeddah summer festival, the artist has decided to cancel the concert to show her support for the rights of women and the LGBTQ community. The news is a further blow to the plans of the kingdom's de facto crown prince and ruler, Mohamed Bin Salman, to open up the country to entertainment without allowing further changes, while quelling any dissent to his designs.
"I could make a mistake and go to jail in a difficult country where women don't have rights," Minaj admitted on Twitter on Wednesday, using the label #FreeAsap (free as soon as possible).
The announcement earlier this month that the artist would intervene at the Jeddah World Fest had raised more than one eyebrow. Many wondered whether the organizers of the concert, scheduled for July 18, the last day of the summer festival, had even searched Minaj's name on the Internet. The light image of the rapper's clothing clashes head-on with the reality of a country where, despite the opening of the last three years, most of its women continue to cover themselves with the traditional abaya, many still cover their faces and laws still am stop their control by the men of the family.
As usual in these cases, criticism turned to social media. Saudi users focused on the hypocrisy of the authorities. "He's going to go move his ass (...) and I'm told to put on an abaya. What the hell?" a woman questioned in a video. Others attacked on the conservative side recalling the inappropriateness of that show half a hundred miles from Mecca, where the holy places of Islam are located.
But what has undoubtedly influenced Minaj's decision has been the accusations directed at her by her fans. "Yes, queen (...) gays in Saudi Arabia can be executed... This isn't going to be a pride festival. Women can't even attend if they're not accompanied by their father, older brother or husband," one of them speculated on Twitter. As in every comment of that tenor, the artist answered by asking whether it was true or false. Activists and human rights organizations also showed their condemnation.
In the end, Minaj opted to cancel. "After careful reflection, I have decided not to go ahead with my planned concert at the Jeddah World Fest. While there is nothing I want more than to take my show to fans in Saudi Arabia, after better educating me on the issues, I think it is important to make clear my support for women's rights, the LGBTQ community and freedom of expression," he says in a statement that and advanced Tuesday night's Associated Press.
Hours after the rapper's decision was known, Saudi newspaper Okaz published in its online version that the concert had been cancelled because it "violated Saudi customs and values." Minaj is not the first artist to unleash controversy for agreeing to perform in the Desert Kingdom. Before her, rapper Nelly was in the eye of the hurricane for giving a men-only concert. Mariah Carey also loune criticism from human rights activists.
Before King Salman came to power, Saudi Arabia banned almost any form of entertainment, including cinemas and concerts. His son and heir, known as MBS by the initials of his name, has opted to lift those aacrotic restrictions and bet on leisure as part of his plan to diversify the kingdom's economy. The widespread applause for her project was however frozen from the detensions of women's rights activists, confinement of businessmen at the Ritz-Carlton and, above all, the ominous murder of journalist Jamal Khoghasgi at the Saudi Consulate Istanbul by Saudi agents.