DIRIYAH, Saudi Arabia — Supermodels and social media mavens, their makeup artists and hair stylists in tow, posed at a concert in leather pants, chunky sweaters and trendy black combat boots. What was unusual about these Instagram posts was that they were all deliberately tagged in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
The bevy of Instagram stars, former Victoria's Secret models, including Alessandra Ambrosio, and Hollywood actors like Ryan Phillipe were invited to Saudi Arabia over the weekend to promote the kingdom's most eye-popping effort yet at showcasing the dramatic changes taking hold in this country, where more than half of its 20 million citizens are under 25 years old.
The changes spearheaded by the crown prince are a staggering pivot from just three years ago, when religious police would storm restaurants playing music and harass women in malls for showing their face or wearing red nail polish.
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Female visitors are not required to wear the conservative black-flowing robe known as the abaya and headscarves in public, but are asked to dress "modestly" and to avoid tight fitting clothing.
The blast of glossy social media posts helped draw attention to the visit's purpose — to promote MDL Beast, a three-day musical extravaganza in Riyadh that drew more than 130,000 visitors on its first day alone, according to the General Entertainment Authority.
The Diriyah festival, which opened a month ago, has included sporting events like the world’s heavyweight boxing championship.
A popular social media account, Diet Prada, named and shamed some of the celebrities present, accusing them of allegedly accepting six-figure sums for attendance and geo-tagged posts to “rehabilitate the image of Saudi Arabia."
When asked by The Associated Press, the entertainment authority that licensed MDL Beast said some people had been compensated for promoting the event, but denied such high sums were paid to individuals.