Beyoncé’s controversial Dubai payday

Singer criticised by human rights campaigners for lucrative appearance

The singer was paid $24m to sing in a state where homosexuality is illegal
(Image credit: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)

Beyoncé has come in for criticism after she was reportedly paid $24m (£19.4m) for a one-off concert in Dubai to celebrate the opening of a new hotel.

The 41-year-old was applauded by the 1,500-strong crowd as she emerged in a “yellow sequinned gown with a sculptural feathered cape”, said Sky News, opening with a cover of Etta James’s At Last.

It was Beyoncé’s first live stage performance since 2018, but her decision to sing in Dubai – where homosexuality is illegal and considered a crime, technically punishable by death – has been widely condemned.

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A ‘huge mistake’

Peter Tatchell, the LGBT rights campaigner, said Beyoncé’s performance in a “dictatorship like Dubai” was a “huge mistake”.

He said she had abandoned “her own progressive values” and “put a money-grabbing pay cheque” before human rights. “Like many of her LGBT fans, I feel betrayed and angry,” he said, adding that “her liberal reputation has taken a hard knock”.

The performance did not contain any material from Beyoncé’s highly acclaimed 2022 album Renaissance, which “purports to be a love letter to Black and queer dance-music pioneers”, said Stereogum. Commenting on the reported omission, Tatchell said: “It looks like she did this to appease Dubai’s homophobic regime.”

Bev Jackson, co-founder of the LGB Alliance, said the Grammy-winning star’s performance in Dubai “casts a shadow over her support for lesbians and gay people”.

“Beyoncé is a huge icon for many gay people,” Jackson told The Telegraph. “LGB Alliance is deeply therefore disappointed that Beyoncé has agreed to give a lucrative concert in Dubai, where same-sex sex acts are a criminal offence, potentially punishable by death.”

‘Inspiring’ and ‘hopeful’

However, said The Times, there was also support from some members of the gay community, who argued that it was “inspiring” and “hopeful” to see a gay icon perform in a country where homosexuality is illegal.

Beyoncé is not the first artist to face criticism over a decision to perform in the Middle East. Campaigners have “long lobbied” artists to cancel concerts in the UAE and Saudi Arabia over the countries’ “respective serious human rights violations”, said The Guardian.

These campaigns have had mixed results: in 2019, Nicki Minaj pulled out of playing Jeddah World Fest in Saudi Arabia but in 2021, Justin Bieber performed in Saudi Arabia despite pressure to cancel.

In November, Robbie Williams defended his decision to perform in Qatar during the World Cup. He was criticised for agreeing to sing during the tournament, due to the country’s human rights record, stance on homosexuality and treatment of migrant workers.

“Of course, I don’t condone any abuses of human rights anywhere,” he told Italian newspaper la Repubblica.

“But, that being said, if we’re not condoning human rights abuses anywhere, then it would be the shortest tour the world has ever known: I wouldn’t even be able to perform in my own kitchen.”

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Chas Newkey-Burden has been part of The Week Digital team for more than a decade and a journalist for 25 years, starting out on the irreverent football weekly 90 Minutes, before moving to lifestyle magazines Loaded and Attitude. He was a columnist for The Big Issue and landed a world exclusive with David Beckham that became the weekly magazine’s bestselling issue. He now writes regularly for The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent, Metro, FourFourTwo and the i new site. He is also the author of a number of non-fiction books.