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Janet Jackson performs at the Jeddah World Fest. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

JEDDAH: The first edition of Jeddah Season is arriving at its grand finale this evening (July 18), and Gulf News has journeyed into the port city for the final event of the month — the Jeddah World Fest.

The one-night-only music festival is the first and biggest of its kind in Jeddah. Pop singer Liam Payne and DJ Steve Aoki were the only two acts confirmed, after rapper Nicki Minaj’s cancellation. However, on the morning of the concert, a second wave of artist names were revealed, including Janet Jackson, Future, 50 Cent, Chris Brown and Tyga.

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Saudi Arabian student Anwar Saleh bought his tickets for Jeddah World Fest “in the first 10 seconds” of the event going on sale – without even knowing who would be performing.

Saleh is one of thousands of attendees who bought tickets to the historic event before the full line-up of pop and hip-hop acts was even announced. Regardless of who would take the stage, the concert sold out within hours.

“It’s a sign that the country is changing for the better,” said the 24-year-old Saleh, who traveled about 80km from Mecca to attend the star-studded event, and said he was excited “about all the artists, especially Chris Brown and Janet Jackson – my dream artist would be John Mayer.”

Nada Hariri, a 25-year-old employee at a dental clinic and a big fan of artists such as Post Malone and The Weeknd, said she was “very, very, very excited” when Jeddah World Fest was first announced as part of the larger Jeddah Season – a period of summer programming that had been ongoing since June 8.

“[There’s] too much activities,” said Hariri. “It’s new for people. It’s very good to try something new.”

Meanwhile, 19-year-old university student Yousef Ezayah, who was most eager to see Tyga and Payne – but also hoped to see rappers such as Drake and 21 Savage perform in the near future – bought his tickets two weeks ago. The Jeddah-based teen said he was “so excited” to see events such as this happen in his city.

“It sold out in like, 45 minutes, I think,” said Ezayah. “It’s all coming out of nowhere. And inshallah, more artists will come.”


Jeddah World Fest is a music festival that hosted a roster of international acts on July 18. Held outside, the event opened its doors around 7pm to a mixed crowd and went on until the early hours of Friday morning.

While pop star Liam Payne and DJ Steve Aoki had been announced as the first wave of acts, and rapper Nicki Minaj cancelled her appearance, Janet Jackson, 50 cent, Chris Brown, Tyga and Future were all announced on the day of the event.

The single-night music festival marked the first and biggest of its kind in Jeddah. It took place at a purpose-built outdoor arena near the King Abdullah Sports City stadium and was surrounded by food trucks and F&B options. As the event was outdoors, organisers put up periodic reminders to the crowd to stay hydrated and drink plenty of water.

Janet Jackson on stage in Jeddah
Janet Jackson on stage in Jeddah Image Credit: Marwa Hamad/Gulf news




Jeddah fest stage
Image Credit: Gulf News/Clint Egbert


Stage set up Jeddah
Jeddah's stage is getting ready for historic concert in Saudi Arabia Image Credit: Marwa Hamad/Gulf News


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Janet Jackson performs at the Jeddah World Fest. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Producer duo R3wire & Varski hyped the crowd with songs such as Queen’s We Will Rock You and the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army to start the night. Then, Janet Jackson arrived onto the runway stage prepared to perform all her biggest hits.

Dressed in a loose all-black ensemble and surrounded by an entourage of musicians and dancers, the 53-year-old singer built up a quick and heavy sweat as she performed a fully choreographed routine thanks to her hands-free headset.

Known for her elaborate stage shows, she opened with her ‘90s track If, before she cycled through hits such as What Have You Done for Me Lately, That’s The Way Love Goes and Black Cat.

Jackson gave a shout-out to her famous brothers at one point, and ended her set with a burst of confetti and an Arabic thank-you: “Shokran. Shokran jazeelan.”

Liam Payne at Jeddah World Fest.
Liam Payne at Jeddah World Fest. Image Credit: AP

Pop star Payne, formerly of One Direction, took the stage shortly afterwards and opened with his hit Bedroom Floor, followed by his single Get Low and his Rita Ora collaboration, For You. He also performed an Ed Sheeran cover and One Direction songs History, Little Things and Drag Me Down, before ending his set with an encore performance of his debut solo single, Strip That Down.

“I want to say something really important. Music unites us and it’s good to be here with you tonight,” 25-year-old Payne told the crowd.

Rapper Tyga was up next, kicking off his set with the single Lightskin Lil Wayne and giving a shout out to anyone in the crowd who had been a fan of his “from the start”, before launching into a live rendition of his 2011 break-out hit Rack City. Though the song was from Tyga’s second album, it was his first single to enter the top 10 in America.

Rapper Future, arriving on stage with his signature shades and bleached hair, kicked off his set with Mask Off, before performing his A$AP Ferg collaboration New Level and his track with the Weeknd, Low Life. He also performed his all-star Black Panther collaboration King’s Dead, whose studio version also includes Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar and James Blake.


50 Cent was next up, engaging the crowd in conversation between performing tracks such as Candy Shop.

“Wait a minute, wait a minute, I changed my name,” said Cent. “My name is 50 Halala. So, when I say 50, I need you to say Halala. Can y’all do that?” He later tweeted: “When I say God is good, you say all the time. I had a ball at Jeddah fest, kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Chris Brown was the final singer of the night, performing songs such as Five More Hours and one of his most recent singles, Freaky Friday.

Finishing off the evening was DJ Steve Aoki, mixing K-Pop, EDM and Arabic into his set. He surprised the crowd by bringing onto stage the Saudi Arabian singer Dalia Mubarak to perform in Arabic with him. Apparently, the duo had collaborated on a track together just before the festival.

Jeddah Season, part of the larger Saudi Season, launched on June 8 and ended on July 18. The month-and-a-half of summer programming included regional and international events, ranging from concerts by US boy band Backstreet Boys, Egyptian superstar Amr Diab and K-Pop group Super Junior, to stage productions such as Circus 1903 and the Blue Man Group.