Unpacking the most significant criticisms Beyoncé faces following controversial Dubai performance

By Charlie Sawyer

Published Jan 23, 2023 at 01:52 PM

Reading time: 3 minutes

Championed for her work ethic, dedication to music, iconic style and sheer talent, Beyoncé is one of this generation’s most esteemed performers. From running strict #MeToo checks on all of her employees to encapsulating gen Zers’ love of house music with her latest album Renaissance, Queen Bey has made a name for herself in the industry as a loyal protector of all things good and an extreme purveyor of compassion. However, considering her recent homecoming to live performance was at an exclusive event held in Dubai for industry insiders and celebrities, some of the Beyhive are beginning to question everything.

While there are many facets in regard to why netizens are criticising Beyoncé’s recent performance, the primary argument revolves around the artist’s decision to perform in a country where being gay is illegal—the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was voted the ninth most dangerous place for a gay individual to travel in 2021 by Forbes.

Secondary to this is the fact that some fans have noticed a sharp increase in global musicians prioritising private performances wherein there’s a serious financial or commercial incentive over supporter-orientated concerts.

Of course, it’s pretty plain to see that these two points are inherently connected. Why would Beyoncé perform in Dubai when she has an overwhelming queer fanbase? Perhaps it was the alleged $24 million in fees she was paid for her appearance?

How did Beyoncé’s performance in Dubai come about?

According to The Guardian, the concert—which took place on 21 January 2023 and marked the singer’s return to live performance after four years—was due to mark the unofficial opening of the new exclusive luxury Atlantis The Royal hotel. “Select guests” had been invited to spend a weekend where “your dreams become your destination,” and witness a “once-in-a-lifetime performance.”

Those “select guests” ended up including supermodel Kendall Jenner, professional boxer Amir Khan, One Direction alum Liam Payne, along with countless other high budget celebrities and a cohort of industry professionals.

The performance itself practically broke the internet. While a number of internet users focused on the fact that Beyoncé’s daughter Blue Ivy joined her mother on stage to perform ‘Brown Skin Girls’ others pointed out the apparent lack of any Renaissance tracks on the set list. Either way, it wasn’t long before the leaked footage had flooded the media multiverse.

But almost as quickly as the clips spread, so did the criticism and commentary surrounding Queen Bey’s venue of choice. One user tweeted: “This [is] great. Wealthy and privileged people get to go watch Beyonce perform in the UAE. With no fear because the UAE would never harm them. Meanwhile it’s one of the worst places to be gay. You’re not an ally if you do this shit.”

It was only last year, during the summer of 2022, that publications and supporters alike praised the artist for honouring black queer culture within the Renaissance album. And even far before that, Beyoncé’s been known to be a proponent of the LGBTQIA+ community.

As noted by Billboard, she’s been a fierce advocate for trans individuals, highlighted queer representation in her music videos, and has practically cited the community as her direct musical inspiration. You’d have to travel pretty far to find a gay club or drag queen event where ‘Partition’ didn’t feature heavily. Now, however, that loyalty is being called into question.

Some theorists have even considered the possibility that Beyoncé purposefully omitted songs from her latest album due to its close association with queer identity. This of course is pure speculation, still it’s powerful to consider the way in which fans have genuinely regarded the musical omission as a statement of erasure.

Posts prompting and upholding this sentiment include one user stating: “Beyoncé doing a paid for press tour in Dubai doesn’t sit well with me especially with the influences for Renaissance being queer ballroom culture and it’s illegal and a death sentence to be gay in Dubai, like?”

Another individual wrote, “Y’all know Beyoncé can’t perform any of those gay ass songs from Renaissance in DUBAI.”

While the online reactions to Beyoncé’s performance make a lot of sense, it should also be noted that there have been a number of white musicians whose fan bases are largely made up on queer individuals who’ve also performed in Dubai and who’ve not received such an explosive backlash.

https://twitter.com/kingbeyshive/status/1617405684919988224

Either way, it’s clear that the Beyhive have been officially rattled following the performance. Beyoncé has not yet made a statement in relation to the criticism, and it’s unclear whether or not she will.

How does the Dubai concert reflect an emerging trend among global artists?

On top of all this backlash lies another, slightly subtler, criticism. This conversation pertains to the uprise in global celebrities—predominantly musicians—prioritising, or even accepting, private exclusive gigs for the ultra-rich.

These super-private concerts aren’t distinctively new, however, they are evolving and they’re directly changing and impacting the ways in which artists make their money. As reported by Rolling Stone, it’s now become commonplace that the top one-percenters worldwide are cherry picking A-list popstars for private weddings, birthday parties and corporate events. Whoever said money can’t buy you happiness, eh?

And it seems as though this isn’t Beyoncé’s first rodeo when it comes to indulging the desires of the ultra-rich. In 2018, the BBC reported that the artist had performed as part of the festivities at one of India’s most extravagant weddings. The singer was flown in by Mukesh Dhirubhai Ambani, whose estimated personal fortune sits at approximately $47 billion.

While private gigs are in no way illegal or immoral, they can result in a disenfranchised fan base. And while I can’t imagine the Beyhive will be disbanding anytime soon, Beyoncé’s decision to take part in such an event has definitely ruffled the feathers of those supporters who are much more interested in ethos and equality than a paycheck.

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