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Influencers Face Backlash for Promoting a Saudi Arabian Music Festival

Several Instagram influencers are facing backlash after attending and promoting the Saudi Arabian music festival, MDL Beast. The anger comes after Diet Prada — a prominent Instagram account that calls out fashion copycats — pointed out that models and online personalities made posts advertising the festival. Commenters said they were “disappointed” and say the influencers are “quietly ignoring the Saudi Arabian humanitarian crisis” by endorsing the country.

Citing anonymous sources, Diet Prada claims influencers were offered six-figure sums for attendance and geo-tagged posts. Many models and influencers included hashtags in their Instagram posts like #mdlbeastambassador and #mdlbeastpartner, indicating they were paid to promote the festival.

These hashtags were used by Alessandra Ambrosio, Teyana Taylor, Rose Bertram, Romee Strijd, and others. Some influencers have since made their accounts private, such as Jazzelle Zanaughtti, Kristen Noel Crawley, and Simi Haze. Many of the posts endorsing the festival are still live and have gained thousands of likes.

Two years ago, Saudi Arabia set into action a plan called Vision 2030 to diversify its economy, with $2.7 billion set aside for entertainment, according to Billboard. These government-subsidized events pay artists up to six times their normal booking fees to perform. Saudi Arabia has been trying to use entertainment and influencers to market the kingdom and boost tourism.

A few months ago, the country revamped its visa program to make it more attractive for tourists, which is around the time sponsored Instagram posts started increasing in frequency. The new changes allow visas for non-religious tourists and exempt female tourists from wearing a traditional abaya robe.

Instagram influencers aren’t the only ones paid to promote the festival. Glamour UK has an entire hub on its website dedicated to the festival and promoted it extensively on Instagram Stories. EDM.com was also paid to promote the fest and Vogue Arabia wrote three pieces on the festival. Vogue’s main American site featured a story on Dutch model Imaan Hammam’s festival style at MDL Beast.