On Wednesday, it was announced that Nicki Minaj will be performing in Saudi Arabia later this month, a decision that has been widely speculated given the kingdom's history of ultra-conservatism.
Minaj is set to headline the Jeddah World Fest music festival on July 18. As reported by the Saudi Gazette, Raed Abuzinadah, director general of the Jeddah festival, called the event the "largest musical festival of its kind in the region." In accordance with Saudi law, the event will be alcohol and drug-free, open to people 16 and older, and take place at the King Abdullah Sports Stadium in the Red Sea city.
Although Saudi Arabia has relaxed some restrictions as of late—lifting the 35-year movie-theater ban and finally giving women the right to drive—public spaces are mostly segregated by gender and women's rights remain restricted. The announcement of Minaj's performance, given the rapper's risqué lyrics and onstage persona, sparked heated debate.
In one particular video viewed over 37,000 times on Twitter, a Saudi woman wearing a loose headscarf criticizes the Saudi government's blatant display of hypocrisy, given the women who attend Nicki's concert will be required to wear a full-length robe known as the abaya. "You can't ask me to wear the abaya and dress conservative to a concert where you're bringing Nicki Minaj and all her vulgarity and her songs about shaking her ass," she says in Arabic. "She's going to go and shake her ass and all her songs are indecent and about sex and shaking ass and then you tell me to wear the abaya," she continues. "What the hell?"
In addition to Minaj, Steve Aoki and British musician Liam Payne will be performing at Jeddah. When the festival's official Twitter announced Aoki and Payne's placement on the lineup, they included photos of both artist. Nicki's announcement only included an animated image of her name.
News of Minaj's performance arrives after a wave of bad press implicated Saudi Arabia in the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in 2018 at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. U.S. intelligence officials believe his execution was ordered by Trump-ally Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Some have since taken to Twitter to criticize the kingdom's choice, pointing to the hollow freedoms the government is using to claim it's embracing modernization.