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Saudi Arabia: Iggy Azalea triggers backlash for 'blasphemy' song in Riyadh

The rapper has been widely criticised for lyrics and a sexualised performance that many have called anti-Islamic
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea performs onstage at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas, on September 9, 2022. (AFP)
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea performs at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas, on 9 September 2022 (AFP)

Australian rapper Iggy Azalea has come under fire for controversial lyrics about prophets and asking people to “bow down to a goddess” during her performance in Saudi Arabia last week.

Many have condemned the lyrics as blasphemous, and have called out the kingdom for its double standards in allowing a performance to take place which has been decried as anti-Islamic. 

Azalea's set last Friday at the Gamers8 esports tournament in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, included the song Goddess, which she began by exclaiming to the audience, "Ladies, make some noise, it's a woman's world!"

Her lyrics were widely condemned for contradicting Islamic values, both inside and outside Saudi Arabia, with the lines "preaching about prophets, it ain't no one man can stop us, bow down to a goddess” generating the biggest backlash.

The performance comes as Saudi Arabia increasingly opens up to entertainment, as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030, an effort to diversify the kingdom away from oil and welcome more tourists.

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However, the performance shocked people due to the language used, particularly as Saudi Arabia has previously imprisoned people for promoting “apostasy, unbelief, and atheism”.

Many social media users voiced their opinions about the concert online. 

“Saudi Arabia just sentenced the user of an anonymous Twitter account with 10 followers to death for criticising Mohammed bin Salman. Meanwhile, Iggy Azalea performed a concert in Riyadh where she mocked Allah and his Prophets in front of thousands,” one social media user wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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“And no, no one is saying Iggy Azalea should be put to death, the point is it shows a ruler's priorities when he considers someone mocking him a crime more severe than blasphemy,” the post continued. 

One social media user even branded Azalea as a "prostitute" and an "OnlyFans pornstar", with critics arguing the lyrics were deemed a stark violation of Saudi Arabia's Islamic and cultural norms.

Saudi Arabia has long been seen as a conservative kingdom as well as custodian of the holiest sites in Islam. 

For several decades a committee, Commanding Right and Prohibiting Wrong, had a mandate to restrict frivolity and monitor morality, not only in the public sphere but in private lives. It is partly because of this legacy that the performance is the subject of much debate.

'Wardrobe malfunction’

Iggy Azalea's concert was also criticised for the rapper’s controversial choice of dress. After the start of her song, her trousers tore around her thigh in an apparent wardrobe malfunction, to which the audience were heard reacting with loud jeers. 

A member of the production staff promptly came to the stage to provide Azalea with a blanket to cover her legs. However, she was seen exiting the stage shortly after being ordered to change.

'This is kufr [disbelief], blatant shirk [idolatry] being said on stage, and the Muslims were repeating it in the audience'

- Twitter user

On X, Azalea revealed that despite the fact she changed her outfit, Saudi authorities halted the concert due to her lyrics, which, she said, sent them “over the edge”.

Social media users were quick to criticise not just the organisers of the concert, but those attending too.

One user stated “this is kufr [disbelief], blatant shirk [idolatry] being said on stage, and the Muslims were repeating it in the audience”. 

Users also noted that Azalea and her team should have known the extent and danger of the repercussions of performing in Saudi Arabia.

'Where are all the sheikhs?'

The incident has sparked online debate about the extent to which Azalea's performance was appropriate and cultural sensitivity within the Saudi entertainment industry.

Questioning how such a show that was contradictory to Islamic values was allowed to take place in the kingdom, one user mockingly asked, “Where are all the Saudi sheikhs who can address this? They are all in prison.”

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In recent years, Saudi Arabia has taken steps towards cultural liberalisation, including allowing western singers and rappers to perform in Riyadh and Jeddah, including the Black Eyed Peas, Sean Paul, Enrique Iglesias and David Guetta, among others. 

Efforts to modernise the kingdom have garnered criticism from human rights organisations, who have called out the crown prince over double standards, stating that Saudi citizens do not enjoy the same freedoms as tourists and that the kingdom is using entertainment to whitewash crimes.  

Meanwhile, authorities continue to exert stringent measures against religious leaders, human rights activists and political dissidents who voice criticism of the kingdom through their social media channels.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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