MDL Beast Music Festival: Shaping Saudi Arabia’s Cultural Transformation in Line with Vision 2030
Saudi Arabia’s culture has been undergoing major cultural shifts as part of Vision 2030, the government’s ambitious plan to reduce economic reliance on oil and transform the society. Entertainment and tourism are key pillars of Vision 2030, which aims to promote local spending and attract international visitors. In this context, the 3-day MDL Beast music festival held in Riyadh in December 2019 marked a cultural milestone for the Kingdom. With over 400,000 attendees and high-profile international performers, the event garnered significant local and global media attention. This article is based on research that analyzes how MDL Beast was utilized to project Saudi Arabia’s new image in line with Vision 2030 goals.
MDL Beast Festival and Vision 2030
MDL Beast was organized by Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA), which was established in 2016 to develop the entertainment sector under Vision 2030. According to GEA, MDL Beast aimed to provide “a global creative platform for culture, arts and music” and introduce Saudi youth to “an entertainment and lifestyle experience they had never seen before in the Kingdom.”
The festival aligns with central aims of Vision 2030 to increase household spending on entertainment from 2.9% to 6%, boost cultural participation, and grow international tourist visits. MDL Beast exemplified the government’s effort to open up culturally and shift away from conservative restrictions on music and gender mixing. Hosting a major music festival catering to Saudi youth illustrates official efforts to gain support for reforms by propagating nationalism and identity.
Framing Analysis of Social Media Coverage
This research analyzed Instagram posts related to MDL Beast to understand the frames used to portray its significance. The most prominent themes were national pride, positive change, and historic progress. Frequent references to “incredible” and “epic” highlighted the grand scale, while phrases like “new Saudi” and “making history” emphasized transformation.
Many posts by Saudi influencers conveyed nationalistic pride in the Kingdom’s achievements. Some defended reforms against skeptics, stressing visible change through the festival. Similarly, international celebrity posts called MDL Beast a milestone for cultural openness. Visually, photos depicted unrestrained dancing, mixing, and fashion contrary to stereotypes about Saudi society. Images of massive crowds and stages conveyed scale and lavish production values.
Interviews with organizers corroborated that the strategic aims were increasing tourism, improving Saudi Arabia’s image, and catalyzing cultural change. The social media strategy targeted Saudi youth and focused on inviting celebrities to gain global attention. While recognizing some backlash, officials felt MDL Beast successfully conveyed a progressive, updated national image.
The MDL Beast music festival played a significant role in Saudi Arabia’s rebranding and reform efforts under Vision 2030. Social media coverage framed the event as historic and culturally revolutionary. Although some critics saw it as a public relations stunt, MDL Beast undeniably signaled a dramatic shift in official attitudes on entertainment and gender mixing. More broadly, the narrative promoted national pride in a rapidly modernizing Saudi Arabia open to the world. While genuine liberalization remains gradual and contested, state-sponsored spectacles like MDL Beast aim to nurture youth engagement and project global soft power. The festival set a precedent likely to inspire more mass entertainment serving Vision 2030’s economic and social goals.