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JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Pop star Justin Bieber performed to a packed crowd in the Red Sea city of Jiddah in Saudi Arabia, singing some of his most popular hits. The Sunday night concert took place even as human rights campaigners and activists called on Bieber to cancel his performance to protest the kingdom’s arrests and crackdown of critics.
Bieber’s model wife, Hailey Baldwin Bieber, posted a supportive video on Instagram of him on stage, with the words: “Go Baby.” Other videos on social media showed Bieber on stage solo, wearing a coordinated red outfit. Pop and R&B singer Jason Derulo performed before Bieber with backup female dancers in sweatpants and baggy tops.
Only a few years ago, this would have been an unthinkable scene in Saudi Arabia, where ultraconservative norms prevailed. Concerts were banned and unmarried men and women were segregated in public spaces. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is behind the sweeping changes as he works to modernize society, attract foreign investment and create jobs for youth.
Human Rights Watch and others, however, have called on celebrities to boycott the kingdom, saying such events are aimed at diverting attention and deflecting scrutiny from Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.
Bieber was the biggest name performer to take the stage as part of Saudi Arabia’s Grand Prix, which saw Lewis Hamilton win ahead of the last race of the Formula One season.
Bieber performed to excited fans. It’s unclear how much celebrities have been paid for their appearances in the kingdom. Saudi youth are the main attendees of these concerts, enjoying the country’s newfound social changes.
Bieber’s concert in Saudi Arabia comes shortly before he opens a world tour next year. The tour is being promoted by Live Nation, the company that owns Ticketmaster. Saudi Arabia’s state-owned sovereign wealth fund — steered by Prince Mohammed — is among the largest institutional holders in Live Nation, with a stake worth some $1.4 billion.