Beyoncé has given her first full concert in more than four years, at a luxury resort in Dubai, for an audience of invited influencers and journalists.
The US music website Pitchfork originally reported that the musician would perform for the unofficial opening of the Atlantis the Royal hotel on 21 January, and had invited select guests to “a weekend where your dreams become your destination”.
The invitation mentioned a “once-in-a-lifetime performance” but did not specify by which artist.
That turned out to be Beyoncé, who played a 19-song set, including a collaboration with her oldest daughter, 11-year-old Blue Ivy, on the live debut of Brown Skin Girl, from Beyoncé’s soundtrack to Disney’s 2019 photorealistic remake of The Lion King.
While the performance included similar live debuts for songs from that album, Stereogum reported, it did not contain any material from Beyoncé’s highly acclaimed 2022 album Renaissance. That album purported to be a love letter to Black and queer dance music pioneers and communities.
As many fans have noted, homosexuality is illegal in the United Arab Emirates and considered a crime punishable by death. It is not always enforced: researchers at the London School of Economics have found that western gay men in the UAE are able to “use their economic, social and cultural privileges to create communities where they can meet and socialise”.
Fans have long lobbied artists to cancel concerts in the UAE and Saudi Arabia over the countries’ respective serious human rights violations.
In 2019, Nicki Minaj pulled out of playing Jeddah World Fest in Saudi Arabia after the Human Rights Foundation asked that she withdraw. In 2021, Justin Bieber performed at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix despite campaigners and activists calling on him to cancel.
The Guardian has contacted representatives of Beyoncé about her decision to perform in the country.
People at the concert were asked to put their phones in locked pouches to prevent footage from the event circulating. Nevertheless, footage is appearing online and shows the musician backed by the Lebanese dance all-female troupe the Mayyas.
Following the show, a publicist for Beyoncé circulated professional footage of the show. A press release said there was “more to come”.
General access live dates for Renaissance are yet to be announced. Billed as Act 1, the album is expected to be the first in a duo or trilogy.
• This article was amended on 22 January 2023 to make it clear that the Nicki Minaj and Justin Bieber performances mentioned were in Saudi Arabia.