Saudi Arabia has been really putting its foot down when it comes to growing its entertainment sector. So when Nicki Minaj canceled her appearance at Jeddah World Fest, it was just unexpected. It may have been a bump along the long road ... but guess what? The kingdom found not one, but a number of replacements for Thursday's music festival.
On Wednesday, organizers of the festival announced that Janet Jackson, 50 Cent, Chris Brown, Future, and Tyga will take on the stage on July 18. The newly announced musicians are set to perform alongside British musician Liam Payne and American DJ Steve Aoki.
Minaj was scheduled to headline the festival but canceled less than 10 days before her appearance. In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, the U.S.-based rapper from Trinidad said she won't be performing in Saudi Arabia in a show of solidarity with women's rights, LGBTIQ+ rights, and freedom of expression.
Jeddah World Fest - part of Jeddah Season - is Saudi Arabia's biggest music festival to date, though it is not the only one to ever take place.
The Gulf nation has been trying to lure its residents into spending more money locally, even simplifying e-visas - which can be cleared in three minutes - for foreigners attending events. That was the case for Jeddah Season - which began on June 8 and is scheduled to end on July 18. All attendees from abroad were granted a visa online upon purchasing an event ticket.
In 2017, the kingdom announced a budget allocation for the sector worth $2.67 billion under its Vision 2030 plan. Just a year later, a three-day music festival took place with a mixed-gender crowd dancing to songs by David Guetta, Enrique Iglesias, Black Eyed Peas, and Jason Derulo.
It feels as though Saudi Arabia is attempting to outrank itself and other regional countries (Dubai, we're looking at you) when it comes to the entertainment sector.
Who knows if any of the confirmed artists will cancel their appearance last minute. After all, Chris Brown pulled out of RedFestDXB, an annual music festival in Dubai, about a month before his scheduled performance in 2017.
But, that's highly unlikely for Jeddah World Fest considering it's scheduled to take place in a few hours (at the time of writing this article).
That's not to say Jeddah Season has been void of problems and controversies. Back in June, it was announced that WHITE, a Dubai-based nightclub, is coming to Jeddah in the form of a pop-up lounge. The venue was shut down just an hour before its opening act Neyo was scheduled to appear on stage.
The lounge eventually reopened the night after and has operated normally since. At around the same time, rumors that Saudi Arabia will allow the sale and consumption of alcohol surfaced, despite the fact that it was explicitly stated that the "halal disco" would be an alcohol-free zone. Saudi Arabia then reassured the public that the news was "fake" and that the kingdom does not have plans to allow the sale of alcoholic drinks, a senior government source told Arab News.
Since Vision 2030 was initiated in 2016, the kingdom has opened its doors wide to a range of new cultural activities. Public concerts, international conferences, cinemas, and other entertainment options have come to the kingdom, with young Saudis expressing enthusiasm for the changes.
The launch of Jeddah Season this summer was another. The month-long event-packed festival aims at boosting people's idea of tourism in Saudi Arabia, which was practically non-existent 10 years ago.
International arrivals to Saudi Arabia are expected to increase 5.6 percent per year, reaching 23.3 million by 2023. The biggest contributor to the sector is, and will continue to be over the next decade, religious tourism. By 2030, Saudi Arabia is expected to host 30 million pilgrims. Previously, the numbers were at 19 million pilgrims, from both Hajj and Umrah, in 2017.