Yesterday, Lainey wrote about Beyoncé’s live performance in Dubai over this past weekend. And at this point, I’ve probably seen her show from every possible angle.
The amount of times Iâ€™ve watched BeyoncÃ© go up on that platform today pic.twitter.com/WAfW1Uu48o— G-$tackz (@Gershforthewin) January 22, 2023
While Beyoncé’s first live performance in four years is getting the Beyhive antsy for her upcoming tour, it’s also generated some debate among some of Bey’s most loyal fans.
To many, Renaissance was seen as a love letter to Beyoncé’s LGBTQ+ fans. It honors queer culture and its style is heavily influenced by queer music and ball culture. It’s even dedicated to her queer uncle who she once referred to as “the most fabulous gay man I have ever known.”
At the same time, Dubai and the UAE have some of the most restrictive and anti-gay policies in the world. So even though Bey didn’t perform any of the songs from the album during her concert, getting paid $24 million to perform in a city where homosexuality is a crime, possibly punishable by death, well, some people think this is tone deaf. As a result, many fans have called Beyoncé out for “selling out” and betraying fans who have supported her throughout her career.
No beef but Iâ€™m struggling to understand why BeyoncÃ©, 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 arenâ€™t recognised.— douglas greenwood (@douglasgrnwd) January 22, 2023
#Beyonce performs in #Dubai's homophobic dictatorship. Ditching her own progressive values, she put a money-grabbing pay cheque before human rights. And sang no songs from Renaissance album, to appease anti-LGBT+ regime that has death penalty for gay sex? https://t.co/djttv4eoDH— Peter Tatchell (@PeterTatchell) January 23, 2023
But let’s examine this with a bit more context. For starters, it comes in the wake of the 2022 FIFA World Cup held in neighbouring Qatar. Although many criticized and boycotted the event in protest against Qatar’s abysmal track record with LGBTQ+ issues, the criticism was largely drowned out by the spectacle itself. But even that didn’t stop celebrities from being called out for their support and brand deals with the event, including David Beckham.
Hi I have a question.. can someone explain why everyone was cancelling David Beckham the other month but now celebrating BeyoncÃ© for performing in Dubai? One rule for one and one for another?— Kitty Scott-Claus (@kittyscottclaus) January 22, 2023
Beyoncé wasn’t the only celebrity there either. Rebel Wilson received criticism for attending the event with her girlfriend and posting about the trip on social media. It showcased two worlds - one where rich, foreign, queer couples experience a different side of Dubai. And when Beyoncé is making $280,000 per minute with all of that considered, it only adds to the controversy.
“I'm not disappointed that she performed in Dubai. I'm disappointed it didn't feature anything to do with her album. If you're an ally: do something, say something.”
(PS. That article is a great read of how the UAE uses celebrities to whitewash its international image).
At the same time, many have pointed out that Dubai and Qatar are far from the only countries in the world to have regressive policies against the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, one could argue that there are states in the US that could make that list. Everything from access to gender affirming medical care and drag shows to LGBTQ+ books in libraries and schools has been attacked by recent legislation in states like Texas, Florida, and North Dakota. Yet, criticism only tends to be the loudest when it fits a white, Western-centric worldview that paints these countries as “backward” and “barbaric.”
Although there have been specific instances of persecution in the country, anecdotal stories also indicate that legislation may not show the entire picture. For instance, in a Financial Post report of the event, the author noted that the “crowd gave some indication of how much Dubai has changed in recent years. There were men holding hands — and they weren’t [just] friends.” Of course, a couple holding hands doesn’t mitigate the real danger that many LGTBQ+ people face in the UAE, but it does show that there may be spaces and places where a relative tolerance exists.
In fact, a lot of the criticism leveled against Beyoncé seems to be coming from white gays. Other gay icons have performed in the UAE before including Lady Gaga, Elton John, and Madonna. But the outrage is much louder when it’s a Black woman performing in a country in the Middle East. And when we listen to queer Black voices, like that of T.S. Madison, there’s support for Beyoncé. Madison, who is sampled on “Cozy”, says, “everybody that loves Beyoncé and everybody that knows Beyoncé knows that Beyoncé loves the community.”
Several of the so called â€œqueer iconsâ€ have performed in Dubai but yet your smoke is for BeyoncÃ© who didnâ€™t perform any song from Renaissanceâ€¦ And I guarantee you wouldnâ€™t say shit to artist who perform in Floridaâ€¦ â€œwhere LGBT rights arenâ€™t recognizedâ€â€¦ pic.twitter.com/d33gMwvFcE— Queen Jay (@QueenJay2017) January 22, 2023
Plus, while a parallel can be drawn between Qatar and the UAE, the events themselves are representative of different priorities. The World Cup is largely a spotlight on the country as a whole. Beyoncé’s performance was for a private hotel chain operating in Dubai. They’re both a celebration of their destination, but on two very different scales.
I’m neither here to exonerate nor condemn Beyoncé. That’s something that you can decide. But, I am curious about the optics of this. Because the question with this situation is: Why?
It’s easy to chalk this decision up to a mistake or even an ignorance on the part of Beyoncé and her team. But for someone who has built a career on the details, the work, and the intention, I find it hard to believe that this possible angle was never considered. Take for instance Beyoncé’s final outfit of the night. The pink dress was from a Ukrainian designer who reportedly made the dress “during war and massive blackouts.”
You’re telling me that the same woman who meticulously chose to make a political statement with one of her outfits never thought to consider how this concert would be perceived to some of her fans?
So why then would she choose to kick off her return in such a controversial way? One might argue that the $24 million paycheque could explain it. I mean there are a lot of things that people might compromise on for $24 million dollars. But in Beyoncé dollars, that’s a drop in the bucket. Don’t forget, she’s got a tour coming up, and the Formation World Tour grossed $256 million. Beyoncé doesn’t need the money.
We also can’t chalk this up to Beyoncé hoping no one would notice. This was already a no phone event and we’ve seen just about every millisecond of this performance all over Instagram (some even at least 7 or 8 miles away from the venue). And I have no doubt that Beyoncé knew that. Even though the Beygency is swift, I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that the event happened right before her purported tour announcement.
So what’s left is that either Beyoncé decided that performing in the UAE at a private event didn’t make the statement that people think it did, or she decided that the pros outweighed the cons. Perhaps she felt that her performance would create a space safe for people to express themselves. Perhaps she felt that boycotts don’t facilitate change. Maybe she had a personal favour to pay back. But at this point, we don’t know.
What I have learned to expect from Beyoncé is perfection. A hair out of place or a single mistake is not tolerated. I’m reminded of the work she showed us in Netflix’s Homecoming, where she even specified the height and angle of the stage’s pyramid. I’m puzzled by how that Beyoncé made this decision. But the one thing I know for sure is that she made it and that she would have made it knowing, because she’s the all-knowing, what the potential reaction would be. We’ll just have to wait to see if the Queen will explain herself and her strategy. Beyoncé had her own cameras filming the performance but only she knows when she’ll pull the footage out of the archive to show us the meaning behind her plans the way she’s done with her other shows. She has a three-project deal with Netflix and so far only Homecoming has been released. We may get more insight if she decides that her Dubai concert will be part of her Netflix commitment. Eventually.