Nelly will be the second major American entertainer to play a concert in Saudi Arabia this year. Until recently, public music performances were very restricted within the country. But Nelly’s invitation is part of Saudi Arabia’s reforms set in motion by 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. His coalition instituted the new General Authority for Entertainment, which has about $2.7 billion in funds to revitalize leisure activities in the country.
Nelly will be following in Toby Keith’s footsteps, who earlier this year performed the first public concert held within the country since the early 1990s. All this might be seen as a positive step toward the country’s transition to a more lenient, open society, but Keith was posed some restrictions.
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First off, concert tickets would only be sold to males. Second, Keith couldn’t perform any songs regarding sex, drinking, or marijuana. So no “Wacky Tobacky” or “Red Solo Cup.” Also no “Beer For My Horses” or “I Love This Bar.” As Keith remarked to the Atlantic following the concert, it seemed odd to book an artist whose most famous music prominently includes women, drinking, and marijuana.
“It kind of knocked me down,” he told The Atlantic. “There were only four or five things that I could play that were famous.”
Now Nelly will be faced with the same dilemma.
When we say Nelly will encounter the same problems, what we really mean to say is we’re not sure if Nelly can perform anything. At least, no songs Saudis will recognize. “Hot in Herre,” if you’ll remember, literally asks women to take off their clothes, a big no-no. And no “Ride Wit Me” and definitely no “Pimp Juice.” He can’t even play those saccharine pop hits of his later career like “Just A Dream.”
In addition, Nelly recently pled guilty to possession of marijuana charges leveled against him and was accused of sexual assault in 2015, though he was never convicted.
It all renders as an odd choice at best. Considering this selection represents a tacit endorsement of the artist by the Saudi government, why in the world would you pick Nelly? Maybe they relate to “Hot in Herre” on a literal level and don’t think it’s about women whatsoever? Maybe “Pimp Juice” is about oil? Maybe “Tip Drill” is also about…nah that ain’t it, y’all.
Literally anyone else would’ve been more appropriate for you, Saudi Arabia. But clearly you don’t see that.