Influencers Sell Out for Saudi Arabian Music Festival

The influencers were reportedly offered six-figure sums to post sponcon

Model Elsa Hosk posts from Saudi Arabia with the hashtag #mdlbeastbrandambassador
Model Elsa Hosk posts from Saudi Arabia with the hashtag #mdlbeastbrandambassador
Elsa Hosk / Instagram

A number of Instagram influencers and models are receiving criticism and accusations of “selling out” after posting sponsored content promoting the Saudi Arabian music festival MDL Beast. The backlash comes after the Instagram account known as Diet Prada made a post explicitly calling out by name the models and influencers who were seen promoting the festival. According to The Verge, well known models such as Elsa Hosk and Nadine Leopold were among those endorsing the event.

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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

A post shared by Diet Prada ™ (@diet_prada) on

According to anonymous sources, Diet Prada was told that influencers were offered six-figure sums in exchange for posts that geo-tagged Saudi Arabia, in addition to attending the festival. Many of the posts made by models and influencers in attendance are accompanied by the hashtags #mdlbeastambassador and #mdlbeastpartner, indicating it was sponsored content for which they received payment.

The festival is the latest effort by the Saudi government to rehabilitate the country’s image. Diet Prada mentions the “human rights crisis” the country faces, naming incidents such as the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi ordered by the Saudi crown prince and the arrest of women’s right activist Loujain al-Hathloul. The post also notes the country’s nonexistent LGBTQ rights and the criminalization of same-sex relations, which can be punishable by death.

It appears the country is turning to entertainment as a way to repair its image: in 2017, Vision 2030 was introduced, an attempt to diversify the country’s economy with an estimated $2.7 billion set aside for entertainment purposes. In an attempt to attract more tourists, the country changed its visa program, which now allows visas for non-religious tourists and doesn’t require female tourists to wear the traditional abaya robe, although “modest clothing” is still a requirement.

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