Saudi Arabia's era of entertainment has seen the kingdom host jam-packed concerts headlined by international celebs. But this interest in hosting and supporting art seems to dwindle when it comes to local artists.
Authorities recently called for the arrest of Saudi rapper Asayel Slay over her music video "Mecca Girl." In it, she raps about women in the kingdom's holy city of Mecca, Islam's most sacred site where millions go to perform the annual Islamic pilgrimage.
The music video was released on YouTube last week and seems to have upset some locals and Saudi authorities. Soon after its release, Mecca's governor Khaled al-Faisal ordered the arrest of the people behind the video, saying the song "insults the customs of Mecca." He also used the hashtag "they're not the girls of Mecca" to reiterate his stance.
Though some launched a hashtag in solidarity with the rapper, others subjected her to a scathing attack, accusing her of "misrepresenting Saudi women" and "going against Saudi values."
In their comment on the matter, Amnesty International criticized Saudi Arabia over the news of Asayel's arrest.
All the backlash and the fact that the Saudi rapper might now face jail time over her music led us to question the double standards applied to local vs. international artists in the kingdom.
In recent years, the conservative country hosted a Mariah Carey concert and other events featuring Janet Jackson, 50 Cent, and Chris Brown.
The first wants a man as a Christmas present, the second has an album cover while topless with hands covering her breasts, the third is named after money and sings about making women lick lollipops, and the last one is known for beating women.
But it's a bit inappropriate for a local artist who's born and raised in Mecca to sing about her city, show people what it's like there, and empower Saudi women in general.
The kingdom also invited the one and only queen of rap Nicki Minaj to perform a concert despite her background and regardless of the fact that Saudis were left polarized by the announcement of her performance. At the time, many felt this specific concert would violate Saudi rules and go against norms. At the end of the day, the star has her own alcoholic beverage, MYX, and uses profanity as well as sexual and drug innuendos in her songs. The queen and the kingdom couldn't stand any further from each other on the spectrum of morality.
Saudis' criticism did not lead to the cancelation of Minaj's concert though (she later backed out of the gig), so why would backlash over Asayel's music video lead to action being taken against her?
The message sent by such double standards only serves to confuse local artists and female talent over their role in the country. The latter appears to be embracing change and leaping into the future while still clinging on to extreme censorship.
Saudi Arabia has made major decisions to reintroduce music and entertainment to the kingdom after decades of them being banned. But those won't be enough until local talent of all backgrounds and genders are given the freedom to create music and perform in their own country.
A country that only imports is a bankrupt country; look at Lebanon for example. The only good thing going on for the tiny Middle Eastern nation is its endless eclectic repertoire of musicians and singers. The land of legends like Fairouz, Al Rahabina, and Wadih El Safi is also the home of modern stars like Nancy Ajram, Najwa Karam, and Wael Kfoury.
It's time Saudi Arabia considers young artists as viable assets to invest in and be proud of; their names will live on and the kingdom's flag will flutter on every stage they take.
Despite setbacks, the kingdom continues to make strides in entertainment
The setbacks taking place don't erase the fact that the country is trying hard to rebuild an entertainment sector that was practically non-existent between the late 1970s and early 2000s.
In just a few years, the country launched an Entertainment Authority, lifted bans on concerts and cinemas, and hosted musical events of every kind.
The kingdom's Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan just appointed Saudi musician Jihad Al-Khalidi as CEO, the first woman to head the country's first-ever Music Commission which will be tasked with developing the Saudi music sector.
It's true that all these changes might've been overwhelming and too quick for some who are finding it hard to adjust to the modern Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, their criticism of singers (especially local talent) taking part in these changes shouldn't lead to legal action being taken against any artist.