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Saudi’s live success divides international opinion

Live Nation Middle East boss urges industry to "come and see" Saudi Arabia’s live entertainment scene firsthand, as BTS concert attracts 40,000 fans

By Anna Grace on 14 Oct 2019

Saudi's live success divides international opinion

The 70,000-capacity King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh

image © Fox

K-pop stars BTS became the first international band to play a solo stadium concert in Saudi Arabia on Friday (11 October), in what has been lauded as the start of a “new story” for live entertainment in the kingdom by some, and accused of “whitewashing” an authoritarian regime by others.

The BTS show, which drew an audience of around 40,000 at Riyadh’s 70,000-capacity King Fahd stadium, marked the first day of Saudi Arabia’s eight-week Riyadh Season, the biggest of eleven region-specific seasons aiming to boost live entertainment offerings and touristic activities across the country.

“Getting BTS is a huge win, because they are the most in demand,” James Craven, president of Live Nation Middle East, told Arab News.

“Two years ago, no one would have ever expected us to bring in international touring artists into Saudi,” says Craven. “I want the people in the industry to come and see the changes, come and see what’s happening and meet the people.”

More shows by international artists are yet to be announced for Riyadh. Craven explains that demand for concerts is high, resulting in a sales cycle of only a few days. “In Saudi, you can actually put [tickets] out on sale three days before a show and have it sold out,” says Craven.

“I want the people in the industry to come and see the changes, come and see what’s happening and meet the people”

Other successful live events to have taken place in the kingdom this year include Roqu Media-promoted Jeddah World Fest and performances from Mariah Carey, Jason Derulo and Marshmello.

Criticisms have been levelled at international artists who play in Saudi Arabia. Non-profit organisation Human Rights Foundation (HRF) has been especially vocal on the subject.

“Rather than using their platform to denounce the Saudi regime’s abuses, BTS chose to whitewash the regime’s human rights violations by performing in Riyadh today,” reads a HRF twitter post.

“HRF calls on celebrities to think twice before endorsing authoritarian regimes.”

Rapper Nicki Minaj pulled out of Jeddah World Fest following pressure from the human rights organisation in July.

Fans took to social media with the hashtag BTSDontGo to show their discontent with the Saudi concert. The band had previously defended their decision to play in the country, admitting it was not an “easy” one to make, but explaining that “if there’s a place where people want to see us, we’ll go there.”


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