JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia— Pop star Justin Bieber performed to a packed crowd within the Red Sea town of Jiddah in Saudi Arabia, singing a number of his most standard hits. The Sunday night concert took place as human rights campaigners and activists known as on Bieber to cancel his performance to protest the kingdom's arrests and crackdown of critics.
Bieber's model wife, Hailey Baldwin Bieber, posted a supportive video on Instagram of him on stage, with the words: “Go Baby.” Other videos on social media showed Bieber on stage solo, sporting a coordinated red outfit. Pop and R&B singer Jason Derulo performed before Bieber with backup feminine dancers in sweatpants and baggy tops.
Only some years ago, this could are an unthinkable scene in Saudi Arabia, where ultraconservative norms prevailed. Concerts were banned and unmarried men and girls were segregated in public spaces. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is behind the sweeping changes as he works to modernize society, attract foreign investment and produce jobs for youth.
Human Rights Watch and others, however, have referred to as on celebrities to boycott the kingdom, saying such events are geared toward diverting attention and deflecting scrutiny from Saudi Arabia's human rights record.
Bieber was the largest name performer to take the stage as part of Saudi Arabia's Grand Prix, which saw Lewis Hamilton win before the last race of the Formula One season.
The Canadian pop star has not commented on the public pressure surrounding his performance and imply him to cancel the show. Weeks before his show in Saudi Arabia, the fiancée of slain Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi joined a chorus of voices urging him not to perform at the kingdom's F1 race.
In an open letter printed by The Washington Post, Hatice Cengiz had urged the megastar to cancel his performance to “send a robust message to the world that your name and talent can not be used to restore the reputation of a regime that kills its critics.” She noted that the choice to host the F1 race and invite a star like Bieber “comes directly” from the crown prince.
But like alternative stars, like Mariah Carey in 2019, Bieber performed anyway to excited fans. It's unclear how a lot of celebrities are paid for his or her appearances in the kingdom. Saudi youth are the main attendees of these concerts, enjoying the country's newfound social changes.
Prince Mohammed attended the F1 race and social media showed him taking selfies with young Saudi men who lined up to meet the powerful heir to the throne. The F1 race marked the first time the kingdom hosts the premier sporting event, though it's hosted the lesser known Formula-E race and alternative sporting events in past years in a shot to raise the country's profile as a tourist destination.
At the time of Khashoggi's killing in late 2018, the crown prince was being lauded for remodeling life for many within the country. Khashoggi, meanwhile, was writing columns for The Washington Post drawing attention to the prince's brash foreign policy moves and simultaneous crackdown on activists and perceived critics, including girls's rights activists, writers, clerics and economists.
Khashoggi was killed by a team of Saudi agents who worked for the crown prince during a visit to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to obtain papers to marry his Turkish fiancée.
A U.S. intelligence assessment made public below President Joe Biden determined the crown prince approved the operation. Prince Mohammed has maintained he had no previous knowledge of the operation.
Bieber's concert in Saudi Arabia comes shortly before he opens a world tour next year. The tour is being promoted by Live Nation, the corporate that owns Ticketmaster. Saudi Arabia's state-owned sovereign wealth fund — steered by Prince Mohammed — is among the most important institutional holders in Live Nation, with a stake worth some $one.four billion.