MDL Beast, a large electronic music festival, took place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and attracted a lot of celebrities. Apart from musicians, the guest list included famous supermodels and actors like Armie Hammer and Ed Westwick, the Guardian reported.
The festival was promoted as a “the region’s biggest music event” and was part of a big image rehabilitation campaign for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The government has enacted policy changes to make the country more attractive to foreign tourists. Thus, the Kingdom now allows unmarried foreign couples to live together in one hotel room.
However, despite some progress, grave human rights violations are still persistent in this oil-rich Middle East country.
Meanwhile, a lot of social media influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers and subscribers accepted paid-for-press trips to the MDLBeast festival and posted rave reviews following the event.
Actor Armie Hammer said that the festival was “felt like a cultural shift.”
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What I just witnessed was truly special. I saw Saudi men and women ecstatic about an event that they never thought they would ever see in their lifetimes… it felt like a cultural shift. A change. Like Woodstock in the 1960’s. Social evolution is slow and takes time but what I was able to be a part of felt like one giant seed of growth. The people there throwing themselves into the experience will lead a cultural revolution that we all need to get behind and support. #mdlbeast
But many people found such comments “shameless” and irresponsible as influencers portray Saudi Arabia as changed and accepting, but keep silent about numerous human rights violations that are still taking place in the country.
Writer and editor Phillip Picardi said he was disappointed to see posts in his Instagram feed from people who traveled to Saudi Arabia as part of the government’s image rehabilitation campaign. He later posted:
“A lot of the messaging of the captions is about portraying SA as changed and accepting, and the trips appear to be coordinated with the government or tourism board. You can’t really ‘buy’ that kind of messaging, and how was your experience there tainted by who organized your trip and what you can or cannot say?” he said.
Over a year ago, a journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered on the territory of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Notably, some Instagram celebrities turned down paid invitations to the festival as they did not feel it was right.
Models Theodora Quinlivan and Emily Ratajkowski said they were uncomfortable with Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations, especially for LGBTIQ+ people.
“It’s 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 Emily in a statement for Diet Prada, an Instagram account for criticizing the fashion industry on plagiarism and cultural appropriation.