If you’re from the West, you’ve likely heard of Nicki Minaj. The Trinidadian-American rapper is known for her provocative outfits, brash lyrics, and dance moves that can’t even be aired on basic cable. She also has a loyal international fan base and a net worth of at least $45 million USD. Above, American rapper, Nicki Minaj dressed more modestly than usual at a recent Abu Dhabi performance.
Given her outlandish reputation, it might surprise you to learn that Ms. Minaj is one of the most culturally agile Western entertainers in the predominately Muslim Gulf States. According to his article by Al Jazeera online, she drastically changed her image for a recent performance in Dubai – swapping her lingerie-inspired attire for a modest wardrobe and omitting profanity from her songs. The concert was open to all ages and was generally well received by Emiratis.
But despite her best intentions, Nicki Minaj still has a lot to learn about UAE culture. Unaware of the laws prohibiting unmarried males and females from touching, she tried to hug a male police officer and was subsequently threatened with arrest. “I almost got into so much trouble,” Minaj told an American talk show host, “One of the rules is that you can’t hug a man if you’re not married to the man.”
Nicki Minaj isn’t alone in her struggle to navigate the cultures of the Arab Gulf states. Western celebrities have often been reprimanded for being out of synch with local norms and expectations. As recently as October 2013, pop singer, Rihanna was asked to leave an Abu Dhabi mosque while posing for photos. While she did cover her head and donned the requisite head-to-toe modest garb, many Emiratis found her behavior distasteful because Rihanna is not Muslim and therefore, her intentions seemed questionable at best.
While many entertainers are revered in the West for their anti-authoritarian antics and uncensored performances, their inability to adapt to local customs can make them personae non gratae in Arab cultures. “Some Western celebrities don’t have any knowledge of our culture or Islamic laws,” said Suhaila Al Mansoori, an Emirati national, “since they come for business which is to sing or do whatever and get money.”
Unsurprisingly, some more conservative Emiratis view these entertainers as unwelcome Western influence. Regardless, pop and hip-hop continue to captivate UAE youth. As one of the wealthiest regions in the world, it’s no wonder celebrities want to capitalize on these lucrative audiences. In order to do so, they must be aware that some of the attitudes and behaviors that make them popular in the West may alienate and offend Middle Eastern fans, or worse, get them jailed, deported, or banned.
What do you think of celebrities who adjust their performances and image for different cultural audiences? Are they still authentically portraying their image? Have you ever had to change your behavior to avoid offending someone from a different culture?