Mimi Sells Out: Thoughts on Mariah Carey performing in Saudi Arabia

It’s been a while since I’ve written an opinion post on my blog. Sometimes I like to write these when I hear about a controversy that is kinda music related. Mariah Carey isn’t a classic rock musician, but we’re getting awfully close to the 90s being considered “classic rock”. I guess at some point, I’m going to have to write about the 90s, the decade I was born in. Also, I cover social justice issues to an extent. My site motto is “Rock and Roll With Inclusion”.

What happened?

I’ve been spending a lot of time on Twitter and I saw this: Mariah Carey is (rightfully) under fire for her plans to perform her first concert in Saudi Arabia. The performance is supposed to happen at an international golf tournament. Other musicians who are set to perform there are Sean Paul and DJ Tiesto. Supposedly, these concerts are part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s reforms for the country. What reforms?

Why is this bad?

Saudi Arabia’s (lack of) Human Rights

Everyone knows that Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is horrible. There is institutionalised sexism and homophobia in the country. Women are not treated as human beings there, but as property. The country isn’t even in the 20th century when it comes to women’s rights. In 2018, women just got the right to drive. When people wrongly say “we don’t need feminism”, I point to countries like Saudi Arabia where women don’t have basic fundamental human rights.

The oppressive mandatory male guardianship system is still in place. Women can’t be independent. They have to get their male guardian’s permission to travel, get married, get a divorce, go to school, or get a job (not in the law per se, but still a custom).

In the legal system, women’s witness statements are not equal to men’s. There are no female judges. If a woman disobeys her guardian, she can go to jail.

And then, there’s clothing. Women are required to wear an abaya, which is a baggy, black cloak that covers everything from her shoulders to her ankles. Religious police enforce this dress code. Face veils aren’t required, but women wear them because of social conditioning and social norms. If women do not cover their bodies or their faces, they may be beaten, killed, abused, or they might even get arrested.

There is a whole movement called #FreeFromHijab, which amplifies the voices of women who are forced into covering up, raises awareness of the issue, and fights for women’s right to wear what they want.

Very recently, an 18 year old woman named Rahaf Mohammed was detained by Thai authorities in Bangkok airport en route to Australia, where she was supposed to seek asylum. Almost a week later, she was granted asylum in Canada.

As for LGBT rights, Saudi Arabia is among the worst countries in the world to be gay, bi, or trans. If someone is caught crossdressing or having sex with someone of the same sex, they might face fines, floggings, life imprisonment, or the death penalty. In the education system, homosexuality is condemned. Drag is condemned, being trans is condemned. Discrimination is encouraged.

Mariah Carey sells out

Mariah Carey is considered a gay icon. She has a lot of fans who identify as gay, bi, or trans. She’s known for her diva public persona and poppy music. A lot of drag queens like to impersonate her or even take inspiration from her to create their own character. She hasn’t been impersonated on RuPaul’s Drag Race Snatch Game yet, but Shangela’s assigned musician for VH1 Divas Live was Mariah Carey. Shangela did an amazing job impersonating her less than stellar New Years Eve performance. That was an Ashlee Simpson moment. On the first episode of All Stars 4, Mariah Carey’s “Emotions” was the Lip Sync For Your Legacy song.

If Mariah Carey decides to go forward with the performance in Saudi Arabia, she’ll probably be “cancelled” by a lot of her LGBT fans, which means they may not call themselves fans anymore.

It’s pretty clear Mariah Carey is doing this performance for money. It’s probably a lucrative gig. As a celebrity, she will probably be treated much better than the average woman there.

Doing this performance shows a lack of principles. It’s selling out, enough said. She should do the right thing and cancel the show. She isn’t helping women by performing there. This concert is just window dressing, not actual change.

Should musicians perform in XYZ?

Well, looking at musicians I like, I’m sure a lot of them have performed in Israel, which is controversial. On the one hand, should music fans in Israel who didn’t do anything wrong be deprived of their favourite music? Should boycotts be focused towards governments? On the other hand, if you go to a country, you are spending money there and taxes go to the government, so you’re inevitably supporting them.

Specific example: Queen went against performed at Sun City in 1984. Bad call. I don’t think they should have done it. The band have rationalised this by saying that they aren’t political and they want fans all over the world to be able to have the chance to see them. Queen weren’t the only musicians who played there. Elton John, Frank Sinatra, Black Sabbath, Boney M, Rod Stewart, Dionne Warwick, and Tina Turner played there too.

That reasoning for playing in Sun City reminds me of how cosmetics companies who sell in Mainland China will justify the required animal testing the government perform on any imported cosmetics. They think by selling their cosmetics in China they can do work on the inside to effect change. I’m sure progress has been made, but those poor animals shouldn’t be tested on. There are alternative methods. Cosmetics companies shouldn’t sell in China until they abolish the animal testing requirement.

MAC Cosmetics say on their website: “M·A·C does not test on animals. We do not own any animal testing facilities and we never ask others to test on animals for us. While some governments conduct animal testing to prove safety before they will allow us to sell our products, M·A·C has never tested on animals and we continue to be a leader in the movement to end animal testing globally.”

L’Oreal say on their website: “In 1989, L’Oréal completely ceased testing its products on animals, thus 14 years before the regulation required so. Today, L’Oréal no longer tests its ingredients on animals and no longer tolerates any exception to this rule. Certain health authorities may nevertheless decide to conduct animal tests themselves for certain cosmetic products, as it is still the case in China. L’Oréal has been the most active company working alongside the Chinese authorities and scientists for over 10 years to have alternative testing methods recognised, and permit the cosmetic regulation to evolve towards a total and definite elimination of animal testing. Thanks to this, since 2014, certain products manufactured and sold in China like shampoo, body wash or certain make-up are no longer tested on animals.”

Now this gets me thinking. Is Boycott Divestment Sanctions a good movement? There’s a debate to be had there. Should we only boycott companies that work with the Israeli government? Only corporations that profit from the occupation of Palestine or any corporation that does business in Israel? What about Israeli corporations? What about Israeli small businesses? Israeli artists and musicians? Academics? What if the artists and musicians are Pro Palestine? Should an innocent Israel-based Etsy seller or independent musician be treated the same as a corporation? It’s hard to make up my mind completely because there are good arguments on both sides here.

The way to pressure change is to boycott. It gets attention. Citizens will feel motivated to pressure their governments to change.

Shout out to my good friend and Topaz level Patron, Patrick.

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