South Korean pop group sensation BTS is not backing down from an upcoming concert in Saudi Arabia, despite facing criticism about performing in a country with a questionable human rights record.
Despite the backlash, the boy band spoke out on the decision to perform in the capital, Riyadh, on October 11, saying it was not an easy one to make.
“I wouldn’t say it was easy,” rapper RM – whose real name is Kim Nam-joon – told The Hollywood Reporter last week. “But we were officially invited. It’s been a while since we’ve performed in the Middle East.”
Fellow band member Park Ji-min, who goes by the stage name Jimin, added: “If there’s a place where people want to see us, we’ll go there. That’s really how we feel.”
Under the oversight of de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), the ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia is attempting to paint itself as a tourist destination, in conjunction with adopting reformist policies and loosening restrictions on entertainment.
Over the past several months, the kingdom has seen performances by singers including Mariah Carey, Enrique Iglesias, the Black Eyed Peas and Sean Paul, as well as DJs David Guetta and Tiesto.
Last month, the government announced it would give visas on arrival to tourists from 49 countries, and has paid social influencers to visit Saudi Arabia and promote the country.
However, Saudi Arabia maintains a strong hold on opposition and dissident voices by imprisoning them, and rights groups have criticised the social reforms as cosmetic changes.
Executions, which include beheading, are still routinely carried out in the kingdom as part of its criminal justice system. In 2018, 139 people were executed, including 54 convicted of non-violent crimes.