Beyoncé's Dubai Gig Prompts Controversy

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday January 25, 2023
Originally published on January 24, 2023

Beyoncé  (Source:Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

Beyoncé's latest album, "Renaissance," is iconically queer. So why did she accept a gig in Dubai, where strict laws are in place against LGBTQ+ people and anti-gay oppression is only getting worse? That's the question some fans are asking.

"Over the weekend (Jan 21), Beyoncé gave her first concert in over four years," Popbuzz reported.

"Performing to a crowd of press and influencers at the Atlantis The Royal hotel in Dubai, Beyoncé sang some of her biggest hits," the article added, before noting: "According to Forbes, Beyoncé was paid over $24 million for the private event."

The contrast of a queer-affirming artist and the venue is a head scratcher; as the BBC noted, "Renaissance" "has been celebrated for 'honoring black queer culture' and taking inspiration from LGBT icons."

"It pays tribute to dance music that emerged out of the gay community and also references drag ballrooms in Harlem, New York," the BBC added.

An obvious answer to the question would be the money the global superstar was paid, but, as music journalist Abigail Firth said, "She's obviously a multimillionaire anyway, she didn't really need to do this, she didn't really need the money."

Similarly, Popbuzz noted, "journalist Douglas Greenwood tweeted: 'No beef but I'm struggling to understand why Beyoncé, who has half a billion dollars, would accept 20 million dollars to make her debut performance of the Renaissance album, a record which lifts heavily from queer culture, in Dubai, a country where LGBT rights aren't recognized.'"

Popbuzz pointed out that Dubai has been played by other artists who are LGBTQ+ or allies of the community, including Lady Gaga, Elton John, and Dua Lipa.

Still, after the recent World Cup in another anti-LGBTQ+ country in the region, Qatar, there's been more awareness around the issue of popular events or stars with global reach taking place in, or working with, such homophobic nations.

Reports noted that soccer great David Beckham drew similar criticism for his well-paid role as an ambassador to Qatar in advance of the World Cup, despite years of allyship to the LGBTQ+ community.

Some defended Beyoncé, noting that nations in the United Arab Emirates are hardly alone when it comes to harsh anti-LGBTQ+ laws. Indeed, anti-gay sentiment is rising even in relatively accepting nations, including the U.S., where GOP-led state legislatures are expected to break records for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation for the third year in a row.

"'We can't be pointing the finger at other countries before we look at ourselves,' says Aaron Carty, a drag queen from the Beyoncé Experience," Popbuzz reported.

Carty told the outlet: "Beyoncé performing in Dubai is a statement in itself."

It's unclear to what degree the controversy will stick in this case. "People feel a little bit reluctant to give Beyoncé any kind of backlash because of how appreciated she is by the LGBT community," Firth told the BBC. "But she doesn't necessarily get a free pass."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.