Why is Beyoncé’s concert in Dubai so controversial?

Beyoncé performed in Dubai over the weekend for an estimated £20 million, in her first show in more than four years. In other words, a very rich artist performed at a luxury event for a ridiculous sum. Why all the hullabaloo? 


It takes quite a lot for Queen Bey to come under scrutiny. The cultural icon is not only one of the most significant 21st century artists, but has built a reputation on both her immense talent and self-empowering image, which stretches well beyond her legion of ‘Beyhive’ fans.

But after headlining a private concert to mark the opening of the uber luxury Atlantis The Royal hotel, where guests dined on blue lobster and sipped supreme 818 tequila, the singer has come under fire.


Of course, a huge number of fans have been euphoric following such a spectacle; not just those lucky (and, more importantly, wealthy) enough to obtain a ticket, but those watching from afar on social media, soaking up any recorded morsel of the show they can, even if recordings were strictly prohibited at the concert. So…

Why are people upset with Beyoncé over her Dubai show?

The first and most obvious point – as it is with most things in our cruel, capitalist world – is the money. All £20 million ($24 million) of it, to be precise. Given the reported 85 minute runtime of her show, that’s more than £235,000 per minute. That’s seven times an NHS nurses’ annual salary… in 60 seconds. 

Obviously it’s a one-off performance, with a one-off fee, but for an artist whose fortune is already estimated to be half a billion dollars, you have to wonder whether she really needed the extra bucks.

Then again, as she professes on the penultimate track of her latest album Renaissance, ‘PURE/HONEY’, “it should cost a billion to look this good”; and as such, Bey has some way to go to cover her wardrobe expenses. I digress.

On a more serious note, there is a much more pressing matter relating to Renaissance. Beyoncé has long been deemed a supporter of LGBT+ rights, but her seventh studio album promoted this most explicitly to date. 

Drawing on inspiration from the culture that emerged from the early drag ballrooms of New York, the album was even dedicated to Beyoncé’s ‘Uncle Johnny’, a gay man who died of an AIDs-related illness, who the singer wrote was “my Godmother and the first person to expose me to a lot of the music and culture that serve as inspiration for this album”. 

“Thank you to all of the pioneers who originated the culture and the fallen angels whose contributions have gone unrecognized for far too long,” Beyoncé further wrote for the record’s liner notes. “This is a celebration for you.”


Such attributes could definitely be heard upon the album’s release, with smatterings of house, disco and bounce music, all of which hark back to underground ballroom culture from the 1970s that was popular among queer communities.

Entertainment Weekly’s staff writer Lester Fabian Brathwaite even described the album as “the history of dance music from the past 50 years, through the lens of the Black queer community”.


It’s hardly gone unnoticed, therefore, that Beyoncé’s first performance in almost five years took place in a country where homosexuality is illegal, and where same-sex sexual activity is even punishable by death. 

Prominent LGBT activist Peter Tatchell, for instance, publicly condemned Beyoncé for performing in the “homophobic dictatorship”. 


“Ditching her own progressive values, she put a money-grabbing pay cheque before human rights,” he wrote, before also mentioning the fact Beyoncé didn’t sing any songs from Renaissance during her Dubai concert. 

Whether she was asked to omit some of her latest work by organisers or not is almost beside the point; it’s an acknowledgement of the clash of worlds, dare I say the hypocrisy, between the inspirations she drew on for her latest album and the values of the country she chose to perform in.

And, as drag artist and former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Kitty Scott-Thomas has outlined, everyone was recently decrying David Beckham for his £12 million ambassadorial role in Qatar, surely we must hold the same standards. (Beckham too was previously celebrated among the LGBT community for posing on the best-selling cover of Attitude in 2002).

“One rule for one and one for another?” Scott-Thomas has asked.

Indeed, that may be so. And in the age of the haves and the have-nots, Beyoncé’s decision is certainly a rich person’s problem to have, and her decision has ultimately earned her a hearty few million quid.

1 Comment

  • gaynauk6261179 says:

    Beyonce has a few extra quid but at what cost on the bigger picture? Heaven forbid that one of her children is LGBT+ and ever goes to Dubai, Qatar etc. Goes to show everyone has their price and can be bought

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