Middle East

Nicki Minaj to head music festival in Saudi Arabia, sparking confusion

Nicki Minaj performs on stage during the MTV EMAs 2018 at Bilbao Exhibition Centre on November 4. Source: WireImage

US rapper Nicki Minaj, best known for her explicit lyrics and risque music videos, is headlining a music festival in the famously conservative Saudi Arabia, and it's prompted some confusion online.

Nicki Minaj has announced she will headline a music festival in Saudi Arabia, in news that has confused many and divided public opinion on social media. 

The revelation of the US rapper's performance has prompted a storm on social media, with many querying the unusual move. 

Minaj is best known for her profanity-laced lyrics and raunchy music videos, so it's unclear how she secured an invite to a country where public spaces are still segregated by gender and women are required to wear the abaya - a loose robe used to cover their bodies in public. 

The concert is the latest move by Saudi to loosen decades-old restrictions on entertainment.

She will headline the Jeddah Season cultural festival to be held on 18 June.

Nicki Minaj on stage during the MTV Europe Music Awards 2018 held at the Bilbao Exhibition Centre, Spain.
Nicki Minaj on stage during the MTV Europe Music Awards 2018 held at the Bilbao Exhibition Centre, Spain
Doug Peters

The headline act, to be televised on MTV, will also feature British musician Liam Payne and American DJ Steve Aoki.

The performance in the kingdom, which forbids alcohol and has a strict social code, comes as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pursues a sweeping liberalisation drive that has led to new cinemas, concerts and sporting events.

But despite these reforms, news of Minaj's performance still caused a stir on social media.

One Twitter user posting a picture of Minaj and writing: "My dream has come true".

Others shared their surprise over the announcement.

It also triggered outrage, one woman on twitter posting this message in a video that has since been viewed more than 350,000 times. 

"She is going to go and shake her backside and all her songs are about sex... and then everyone tells me to wear the abaya. What the hell!" 

Some pointed to human rights concerns around the kingdom's treatment of women and its banning of homosexuality.

In Saudi Arabia, a male guardianship system remains in place for women, while homosexuality is punishable by death.

The murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi officials in the kingdom last year was also raised.

The kingdom is boosting entertainment that allows citizens to have fun, in what some see as an attempt to blunt public frustration over an economic downturn and high youth unemployment.

Saudi Arabia's granting of women the permission to drive last year was seen as another win for progress, under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohamad bin Salman. 

Nicki Minaj on stage during the MTV Europe Music Awards 2018 held at the Bilbao Exhibition Centre, Spain.
Nicki Minaj on stage during the MTV Europe Music Awards 2018 held at the Bilbao Exhibition Centre, Spain
Doug Peters

Saudi Arabia's General Entertainment Authority said it plans to pump $64 billion into the sector in the coming decade.

The reform also stems partly from an economic motive to boost domestic spending on entertainment as the kingdom has reeled from low oil prices.

Saudis currently splurge billions of dollars annually to see films and visit amusement parks in neighbouring tourist hubs like Dubai and Bahrain.

While Saudi Arabia is yet to offer tourist visas, the country has fast-tracked electronic permits for international visitors to attend such festivals to further boost revenue.

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