JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (CelebrityAccess) — Hip-hop icon Nicki Minaj is the latest western artist booked for a performance in the ultra-conservative nation of Saudi Arabia.
Organizers announced that Minaj will headline Jeddah World Fest on July 18, a one-day music fest that also features Liam Payne, Steve Aoki, and R3Wire & Varski.
The concert, which will take place at the King Abdullah Sports Stadium, will be open to people 16 and older and will be drug and alcohol-free, and according to organizers, will be broadcast live via MTV.
Minaj, who is known for her frank sexuality, outlandish fashion, and use of religious iconography in her music, seems like an unusual choice for to perform in Saudi Arabia, a country known for its marriage of fundamentalist religion with monarchical autocracy.
Concerts featuring artists such as Nicki Minaj mark a sea change for Saudi Arabia, a theocratic state where women in public (including this festival) are still required to wear an abaya, a heavy garment that leaves only the eyes, hands and feet exposed, and where religious police were known for raiding establishments that played music too loudly.
However, in recent months, Saudi Arabia’s government has been on a publicity offensive to encourage international tourism and burnish the middle eastern nation’s bleak image as it seeks to pivot away from a petroleum-based economy.
The public relations push also follows a change of power at the highest levels of the Saudi government, and several high profile scandals that have drawn widespread international criticism, including the alleged murder and dismembering of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident, and Washington Post contributor, and the ongoing war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
But that hasn’t stopped many international artists from accepting gigs in the kingdom, and in recent months artists including Mariah Carey, Sean Paul, the Black Eyed Peas and Enrique Iglesias have performed there.