Human Rights Watch (HRW), a non-governmental human rights research and advocacy organization, is urging artists booked on Saudi Arabia’s MDLBeast to “speak out” or not participate.
The festival, funded by the Saudi Arabian government, is no stranger to criticism. Back in November, many of the artists announced in the first two phases faced significant backlash. The Saudi government has a long track record of human rights abuses, and many questioned why headliners would accept money from them.
On December 15th, HRW published an article written under the pseudonym Arwa Youssef. In it, the writer calls the festival a Saudi “reputation-launder scheme” and encourages artists to speak out about human rights abuses or not participate. “MDL Beast Soundstorm performers and promoters should use their microphones, stages, and screen time to speak out,” he writes.
Launched in 2019, the festival has attracted influencers, producers, and musical artists in an attempt to rehabilitate the country’s image. To draw these people, organizers offered them many times their usual rates, partially funded by the Saudi Public Investment Fund. In exchange, they are asked to write social media posts about their experiences. These posts were “guided” by state-sponsored PS firms and follow strict guidelines. Numerous celebrities, including Emily Ratajkowski, have turned down the offer due to human rights concerns.