LOS ANGELES   -  Rap star Nicki Minaj will perform in Saudia Arabia later this month, organisers of the Jeddah Season cultural festival announced, as the ultraconservative kingdom tries to shed decades of restrictions on entertainment.

Saudi organisers said at a press conference Wednesday that Minaj, whose real name is Onika Tanya Maraj, will headline the festival on July 18.

Minaj is known for her outlandish performances and flamboyant, hyper-sexualised image. Her music videos often feature figure-hugging, skin-bearing outfits and provocative dancing.

Her lyrics are laced with profanities and Minaj’s songs mainly address sex, rumoured liaisons with other rappers and female empowerment.

The concert, in line with Saudi laws, will be alcohol and drug-free, open to people 16 and older and will take place at the King Abdullah Sports Stadium in the Red Sea city.

Saudi Arabia is promising quick electronic visas for international visitors who want to attend.

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

While the announcements for Payne and Aoki posted on the Jeddah Season Twitter account featured photos of the artists, Minaj’s announcement ran with only an animated image of her name.

The announcement triggered a storm on social media, ranging from joy to criticism and disappointment.

One fan posted a video of Minaj performing with the caption: “Am I dreaming or is this really happening?”, while several others posted doctored images of the rapper in traditional Saudi dress.

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In a profanity-filled video posted on Twitter that has been viewed more than 37,000 times, a Saudi woman wearing a loose headscarf accused the Saudi government of hypocrisy for inviting Minaj to perform but requiring women who attend the concert to wear the modest full-length robe known as the abaya.

“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,” the Saudi woman said. “What the hell?”


Minaj is yet to comment on her headline slot. This is not her first performance in the Middle East, having previously performed in the United Arab Emirates in 2013.

In 2015, Minaj performed at a Christmas event in Angola despite calls from a human rights group to abandon the concert. The Human Rights Foundation said the money to pay Minaj came from “government corruption and human rights violations”.

In April 2018, the capital, Riyadh, opened its first cinema after a 35-year ban on cinemas was lifted.

Over the past several months, the kingdom has seen performances by singers including Mariah Carey, Enrique Iglesias, the Black Eyed Peas and Sean Paul, as well as DJs David Guetta and Tiesto.

Such concerts are a stark change from when Saudi morality police would raid establishments that played loud music.

Reports in June revealed that the kingdom’s General Entertainment Authority was investigating the opening of an unauthorised nightclub in Jeddah, suggesting there may be some confusion around the implementation of new reforms.

Gender segregation between single men and women is still enforced in many restaurants, coffee shops, public schools and universities, but other rules have loosened in the last year, with women now allowed to drive and attend events in sports stadiums.