Nicki Minaj is set to headline a major music festival in Saudi Arabia this month as the kingdom attempts to soften its ultraconservative image and overcome bad publicity about the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The Jeddah World Fest announced Tuesday that the rap star would perform at the July 18 event at King Abdullah Sport City Stadium, along with Liam Payne and DJ Steve Aoki.
The Saudi show will be a first for Minaj, who is known for her provocative and sometimes profane lyrics, daring outfits and take-charge style. The video for her latest single, “Megatron,” features a bikini-clad Minaj getting cozy with boyfriend Kenneth Petty in a hot tub surrounded by a jungle.
Just two years ago, Saudi Arabia hosted its first public concert by a female artist, Lebanese singer Hiba Tawaji. In the past, public concerts were not allowed. However, in January the kingdom rolled out a series of planned events, from auto races to theatrical performances. The point, Reuters reported, is to generate tourist dollars while creating jobs in a growing entertainment sector.
The move follows a wave of bad press against the kingdom for the slaying of Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist who was killed last year in what U.S. intelligence officials believe was an execution ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Since then, the Black Eyed Peas, Mariah Carey, Enrique Iglesias, OneRepublic, David Guetta and others have performed in the country, and have been slammed by human rights activists demanding they cancel.
In a tweet responding to Minaj’s planned performance, Sarah Leah Whitson, the director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, urged the hip-hop star to use her visit to condemn injustices.
“PLEASE speak out against detention of women activists & the guardianship system that bars women from traveling & marrying without permission,” Whitson wrote. “And please don’t let yourself be used to whitewash Saudi war crimes in #Yemen.”