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10 artists hit by human rights criticism over concerts

Singer and actress Mariah Carey [Twitter]
Singer and actress Mariah Carey [Twitter]

US rapper Nicki Minaj this week pulled out of a planned concert in Saudi Arabia, where same-sex acts attract the death penalty, after critics said it clashed with her support for LGBT+ rights, Reuters reports.

Minaj, known for her provocative stage performances and skin-baring attire, was due to headline the Jeddah World Fest music festival on July 18, the latest example of the conservative kingdom loosening restrictions on entertainment.

Minaj, who took part in Gay Pride festivities in New York in June, said on Tuesday that she would no longer perform to make clear her support for women and LGBT+ rights.

Here are 10 artists who have drawn flak for agreeing to play in countries that have been criticised over human rights.

1. Mariah Carey ignored calls to cancel a concert in Saudi Arabia in January. Women’s rights campaigners said the American singer’s participation would “artwash” a government that has detained women activists in the past year on charges related to human rights work.

READ: Rapper Nicki Minaj pulls out of controversial Saudi Arabia concert 

2. Madonna defied calls to pull out of an appearance at the Eurovision Song Contest in Israel in May over the country’s treatment of Palestinians, saying “I’ll never stop playing music to suit someone’s political agenda”.

3. British singer Robbie Williams was accused by critics of the Kremlin of “selling his soul” by performing at the opening ceremony of 2018 World Cup in Russia, which has cracked down on political critics and LGBT+ people. He went ahead with the gig.

4. Beyonce is among a number of stars who apologised for performing at private parties for former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The singer announced in 2011 she had donated the cash she earned from her 2009 show to charity.

5. Jennifer Lopez also backtracked after performing at a private concert in Turkmenistan in 2013, attended by its president, who Western states accuse of political repression. “Had there been knowledge of human-right issues of any kind, Jennifer would not have attended,” her publicist said.

6. John Legend was criticised for performing in 2015 in Bahrain, where authorities have detained activists and critics. The singer, who is known for speaking out on human rights issues, went ahead with the show.

READ: Madonna’s Fake Revolution: Eurovision, Cultural Hegemony and Resistance 

7. US singer Lana Del Rey and New Zealand’s Lorde have both pulled out of planned concerts in Israel in recent years following appeals from pro-Palestine activists.

8. However, indie rock giants Radiohead opted to go ahead with a 2017 gig in Tel Aviv despite criticism, saying “Playing in a country isn’t the same as endorsing the government”.

9. Spanish singer Julio Iglesias was urged by human rights groups to reconsider a 2012 show in Equatorial Guinea, which was reportedly organised by the president’s son.

10. Bob Dylan faced criticism after he did not perform some of his best-known protest songs at 2011 shows in China. The singer later said there had been no censorship of his setlist by the country’s authorities.

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