If you happen to follow a bunch of models and influencers on Instagram and noticed that they were literally all in same freakin’ place a few days ago, then good for you—you have an incredibly keen sense of observation. But what looked like the most envy-inducing vacation overseas actually turned out to be the MDL Beast festival in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia—and here’s why that’s extremely controversial.
Saudi Arabia has a long and troubled history of denying their citizens basic human rights. The country has a terrible track record on several important issues: sexual harassment and crimes against women, using capital punishment against members of the LGBTQ community, and consistently silencing free speech.
Sadly, that list barely scratches the surface, which is why when Diet Prada called out celebrities, including Irina Shayk and Scott Disick, for attending the MDL Beast Festival this past weekend, people online were understandably upset. Here’s everything you need to know about the drama surrounding the festival and why it’s such a controversial place for influencers to visit in 2019.
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What’s worse than an all white @revolve influencer trip? Cashing big fat checks in exchange for #content creation (aka propaganda) to rehabilitate the image of Saudi Arabia, a country said to be causing “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis”, according to the United Nations. According to anonymous sources, six-figure sums were offered for attendance and geo-tagged posts. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Following the government’s pre-meditated murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi in October 2018 , the arrest of women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul in May 2018, the outing of a gay Saudi journalist and his partner who began receiving death threats from their families (homosexuality is a crime in Saudi Arabia and punishable by death), and countless other human rights abuses, a bevy of supermodels, influencers, celebrities, and musicians convened in Riyadh for the inaugural @mdlbeast . According to @hypebeast , the electronic music festival is “one of the most significant musical events the region has ever seen”. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Saudi Arabia has been spending billions to change its image in the west, but this is sure to be the most expensive campaign yet. In a series of Instagram stories posted by transgender model @teddy_quinlivan , it was revealed that fellow model @emrata had turned down the trip, evidently aware of the country’s human rights crisis. “It is very important to me to make clear my support for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community, freedom of expression and the right to a free press. I hope coming forward on this brings more attention to the injustices happening there”, said Ratajkowski in a statement to Diet Prada. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Unfortunately, not all shared the same sentiments. There are simply too many attendees to name. Dieters, feel free to tag any attendees you know of… just in case they haven’t been reading the news. • #propoganda #jamalkashoggi #humanrights #humanrightsabuse #lgbtq #lgbtqrights #freespeech #journalism #independent #womensrights #mdlbeast #edm #electronicmusic #supermodel #influencer #content #riyadh #emrata #emilyratajkowski #teddyquinlivan #model #celebrity #dj #electronicmusic #musicfestival #wtf #smh #government #corruption #dietprada
WHAT IS THE MDL BEAST FESTIVAL?
According to the festival’s official website, ‘MDL Beast is a three-day festival bringing together the best in electronic music, performing arts and culinary craft—just outside of Riyadh.’ The festival showcased a mixture of Saudi and international talent, and treated its attendees to immersive performances and visual spectaculars; it also offered onsite luxury boutiques so attendees could shop in between performances.
WHAT CELEBRITIES AND INFLUENCERS ATTENDED MDL BEAST FESTIVAL?
Literally everyone, and that’s not even an exaggeration—Joan Smalls, Elsa Hosk, Armie Hammer, Ryan Philippe, Ed Westwick, Luka Sabbat, Olivia Culpo, Winnie Harlow, Wilmer Valderrama, Alessandra Ambrosio, Sofia Richie, Scott Disick, and Irina Shayk, to name a few.
HOW MUCH WERE CELEBS AND INFLUENCERS OFFERED TO ATTEND THE FESTIVAL?
According to Diet Prada’s exposé, anonymous sources revealed that influencers were offered six-figures to attend the festival and provide geo-tagged posts. This likely explains why almost none of the stars who attended the festival used any of the usual hallmarks of a partnership deal, like the handshake tool on Instagram or #ad hashtags.
WHY WERE ALL OF THESE CELEBRITIES INVITED TO THE FESTIVAL?
In October, British news outlet The Guardian published an article that claimed Saudi Arabia is in the middle of a rehabilitation campaign focused on the country’s image. Part of that rehabilitation includes inviting influencers out to Saudi Arabia to paint a more fun and exciting image for potential tourists (particularly those in Western countries) who may see the country in a negative light.
‘The Saudi government is investing so much in trying to reconstruct its image, particularly after the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist who was killed in the Saudi consulate in Turkey,’ said Dr Raihan Ismail, a lecturer at Arab and Islamic studies at the Australian Nationality University.
‘If someone goes to Saudi Arabia and sees all the changes that are taking place in Saudi Arabia and how some Saudis particularly younger Saudis are enjoying themselves, of course, they’re going to say that ‘this is great the Saudi state is changing its liberalizing.’ But on the other hand, we’re dealing with a very repressive state,’ she added.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CONTROVERSIAL EVENTS THAT HAVE HAPPENED IN SAUDI ARABIA?
Sadly, there are too many to list here, but here are a few examples:
- Last year, Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was brutally killed. Khashoggi was a Saudi dissent (a person who challenges established policies and/or doctrines) who was last seen visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey; it’s believed he was assassinated by the Saudi royal family. As the festival was happening, decisions were being made about the five men who were ultimately sentenced to death for Khashoggi’s killing.
- In August, Loujain al-Hathloul, an imprisoned women’s rights activist in Saudi Arabia, was offered the chance of freedom after serving a year of jail time for advocating for women’s rights, but only if she recorded a video statement saying that she hadn’t been tortured while she was in jail. She refused.
- Three days ago, Twitter had to suspend and remove a whopping 88 000 accounts from their platform because the accounts were all tied to a Saudi Arabian government disinformation campaign. The accounts, according to Twitter, were ‘aggressively liking, retweeting, and replying to amplify messages that were favourable to the Saudi government’s interests.’
HOW ARE PEOPLE REACTING TO THE CELEBRITIES THAT ATTENDED THE MDL BEAST FESTIVAL?
Not good, to put it simply.
I’ve been too busy working to realize that a raft of influencers were just paid (again) to fly to Saudi to brighten MBS’s image. Seeing the caption “Saudi girls” is especially grating when I think of Saudi women’s rights activists jailed or exiled for pushing for basic freedoms. pic.twitter.com/lPd8YjrQVN
— Gissou Nia/ گیسو نیا (@GissouNia) December 21, 2019
Would love to know which PR firm/s kingdom of Saudi Arabia hired to do its image rehab.
Sick to see celebs and influencers shamelessly promoting this nonsense. pic.twitter.com/jiGTbGB3wD
— Aminatou Sow (@aminatou) December 22, 2019
Hope it was worth it @armiehammer
Did you find Jamal Khashoggi’s body while you were there? pic.twitter.com/flmkSEYSuJ
— Yashar Ali ? (@yashar) December 22, 2019
I don’t really have the words. pic.twitter.com/2DqLYGVmwL
— Karen Attiah (@KarenAttiah) December 22, 2019
Can we cancel influencer culture?
Celebrities & influencers being paid to clean & rehabilitate the image of Saudi Arabia, one of worst human rights abusers & one of the least free countries in the world. You choose what to do with your platform. And you choose this? pic.twitter.com/nL35PV75co
— Noura Berrouba (@NouraBerrouba) December 22, 2019
— Georgina Diaz (@dgeorgina) December 22, 2019
elsa hosk, winnie harlow, irina shayk, stella maxwell, imaan hamaam, alessandra ambrosio, jourdan dunn, hamidah brinkley, chiara sampaio diwald, and halima aden are all sell outs to the saudi arabian government !!!! do not support them !!!
— chloë iris (@LeoInLaurent) December 22, 2019
Might have just left an angry comment on Sofia Richie's Instagram when she will never read it nor care what I have to say but regardless, captioning a photo 'Saudi girls' when Saudi girls and women are not afforded the same basic freedoms as you is beyond tone-deaf.
— Megan (@mormegs) December 22, 2019
If you’re wondering why every fucking celeb/influencer you have on ig is in saudi arabia rn, it’s bc they were invited there. They’re getting paid to post about how much fun they’re having to redeem the country’s reputation. Similar to what israel did with demi.
— ikram (@Thenerdsdiary) December 23, 2019
Shame on every single influencer/celeb that did PR for Saudi Arabia this is just unacceptable behavior to rehabilitate the image of a country that is ROOTED in vile oppression and injustice and quite literally has blood on its hands the fuck is wrong with these clowns seriously
— م (@bintelqamar) December 23, 2019
Any ‘celeb’ or ‘influencer’ that goes to that damn MDL Beast Festival in Saudi Arabia is fucking pathetic. Pure greed. They already have millions, but they still want that corrupt money from a murderous government. No morals no sense no integrity.
— Shema (@shemasaffron) December 22, 2019
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan US
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