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K-Pop in the kingdom: BTS to perform in Saudi Arabia

Fans split over superband's announcement that it will play the kingdom given its dubious human rights record
BTS fans are divided over the band's decision to perform in Saudi Arabia later this year (Reuters)

Korean super band BTS have announced they will perform in Saudi Arabia, drawing criticism from fans and rights advocates who raised concerns about the kingdom's human rights record.

Their concert in Saudi Arabia, set to take place in October, would be BTS's first performance in the Middle East. The six-member boyband would be the first foreign group to play a solo stadium concert at the King Fahd stadium in Riyadh, which has a capacity of almost 70,000. 

Following their announcement, #BTSinRiyadh became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter. The band's plan to perform in the kingdom, however, was met with mixed reaction on social media.

Many users praised BTS for taking the decision to add Saudi Arabia on their "Love Yourself: Speak Yourself" world tour describing it as a progressive move.

Others, however, criticised the group for performing in Riyadh because of Saudi Arabia's human rights record. 

The group last year became the first Korean pop group to speak at the UN where they told young people to "find your voice". 

Adam Coogle, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Middle East Eye that Saudi Arabia was attempting to build an entertainment industry in a bid to improve its international reputation.  

"Saudi Arabia is attempting to change the country’s image in part by developing an entertainment industry and hosting concerts by well-known artists, but no public concert can paper over the dramatic decrease of space for free expression in Saudi Arabia since Mohammad bin Salman became crown prince," said Coogle. 

"International artists who perform in Saudi Arabia could play a positive role by doing what Saudi citizens cannot: speak out against the continuing detention of dozens of dissidents and activists languishing in Saudi prisons merely for criticizing government abuses."

Nicki Minaj scraps planned concert in Saudi Arabia
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Last week, US pop star Nikki Minaj, who features on one of BTS's songs, cancelled plans to perform in Saudi Arabia citing her concerns with the kingdom's treatment of women and LGBTQ+ people.

The US rapper told the Associated Press in a statement last Tuesday that she came to the decision "after careful reflection".

"While I want nothing more than to bring my show to fans in Saudi Arabia, after better educating myself on the issues, I believe it is important for me to make clear my support for the rights of women, the LGBT community and freedom of expression," Minaj said. 

The announcement of Minaj's performance at a music festival in the ultra-conservative Gulf country had left several observers bewildered because of the rapper's provocative lyrics and stage appearances.

Several advocates had called on Minaj to raise human rights issues, including the imprisonment of women's rights advocates if she performed in the kingdom.