No, you’re not imagining things. A lot of A-listers and influencers were in the United Arab Emirates over the weekend.
Part of the contingent was a brand trip hosted by the cosmetic company Tarte, produced in collaboration with Sephora Middle East. On Jan 18., 29 influencers boarded a business class flight for what would become a controversial adventure, dissected on social media nearly as quickly as videos spread.
The group of influencers, which included rising star Alix Earle, Meredith Duxbury and Monet McMichael, stayed in luxury villas at the Ritz Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, and went on adventure excursions like driving Jeeps and riding camels.
Though the five star hotel is located an hour from the city Dubai, the trip was dubbed #TarteDubai by influencers, who documented their adventures in real time on TikTok where, as of the writing of this article, the trip has over 130 million views.
The same weekend, Beyoncé headlined a show for an invitation-only crowd at Dubai’s Atlantis the Royal Resort. The concert was attended by celebrities like Rebel Wilson, Nia Long and Chloë and Halle Bailey. Kendall Jenner hosted an after-party launch for her 818 tequila brand.
Given the content, was even some confusion about who was in the United Arab Emirates for what.
Then, there were the people not in Dubai, watching the people in Dubai. As one meme summed up, “There are two types of people in the world. The people that are in Dubai right now. And us."
Here’s what to know about why everyone was in the UAE (or seemed to be).
The Tarte influencer trip drew eyes and controversy
For many, Tarte Dubai was practically the headline of TikTok this week. A Twitter user commented on how Tarte-related influencer content had taken over her feed: ”tarte influencer dubai brand trip was definitely a smart move, that’s majority of the content i seen on my fyp today,” one user wrote on Twitter.
All-expense-paid influencer trips are nothing new, especially for Tarte. Since 2015, the brand has hosted 20 trips under the "Trippin With Tarte" series, jetting beauty influencers off for luxury vacations in places like Bora-Bora.
“This isn’t our first trip, but I can, of course, understand how people may have a knee-jerk reaction to seeing content overload like this,” Maureen Kelly, the founder of Tarte, told Glossy in an interview after conversation about the trip seemed to be, well, everywhere.
It’s not the first of Tarte’s trips — but it is one of the most saturated, thanks to the immediacy of TikTok. Influencers posting their adventures as they unfolded, leading to a kind of overexposure. Remezcla EIC Thatiana Diaz went as far as to call it a “new era in influencer trips” in a TikTok.
Among the topics? People questioned the amount of money Tarte poured into the trip, tabulating the cost of business class Emirates tickets, separate villa stays and more. TikTok creator and Barstool Sports journalist Jack "Mac" McGuire tried to add up the cost in a viral video: “The economics of this trip do not make sense,” McGuire said.
The trip was called "tone-deaf" and "unrelatable" for all of its lavishness, creator Lindsay Borow said in a TikTok video. She began, “Am I the only one who thinks this is a really weird marketing move from Tarte?”
Kelly, speaking to Glossy, didn't specify how much money the company put into the trip, calling it an "investment."
“Every day, brands make decisions about how to spend their marketing budgets. For some companies, that means a huge Super Bowl commercial or a multi-million-dollar contract with a famous athlete or celeb. We’ve never done traditional advertising, and instead we invest in building relationships and building up communities,” Kelly said.
Kelly also said that influencers were not paid to attend the trip.
Kahlea Nicole Wade, a brand collaboration coach and content creator, explains the purpose of influencer trips to TODAY.com. This particular trip was critiqued for its lavishness — but Wade says lavishness is the point.
“People are like ‘Oh this isn’t relatable,’ but what makes influencers, influencers are that they influence and inspire you to live a certain lifestyle,” she says.
Wade says that part of that aspirational lifestyle is rooted in the destination. “It wasn't relatable because not everyone can afford this Dubai trip, but people were seeing them go to Dubai and were like, ‘Oh man, I would love to go to Dubai sometime,” she says.
People were also upset about the lack of diversity at the event, Wade adds. She says that brands, especially in the beauty industry, have a long way to go when it comes to inclusion.
Joe Gagliese, co-founder and co-CEO of the marketing company Viral Nation, trip posits that the trip served a dual purpose: Giving Tarte exposure in the Middle East and bringing attention to Dubai.
Kelly, speaking to Glossy, said that the company “didn’t have help from any tourism boards.” The Department of Economy and Tourism in Dubai and Tarte didn’t respond to a request for comment from TODAY.com.
But the shared setting is why people were talking about these two events — and, as reaction to Beyoncé's concert proved, it's part of why there was controversy.
Beyoncé's fans were divided over her exclusive Dubai concert
On Jan 21, Beyonce took the stage for her first live performance since 2020. The event was hosted at Atlantis The Royal, an "ultra luxury" hotel in Dubai.
Beyoncé was staying in a room that cost $100,000 a night and was over 11,000 square feet, Atlantis Resorts Managing Director and Vice President Timothy Kelly told Arabian Business.
An array of celebrities attended, from Kendall Jenner to "Emily in Paris" cast member Ashley Park.
Much of the concert remains a mystery since guests were not allowed to record it (or even have their phones out.) But ... Variety reported that Beyonce's oldest daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, made a guest appearance during the song "Brown Skin Girl."
Although some fans were excited about Beyonce's return to the stage, others criticized her decision to perform in the UAE, a country where homosexuality is criminalized.
Beyoncé dedicated "Renaissance" to her uncle, who was gay, and the album was embraced by the queer community — and so the juxtaposition between that sentiment and the setting of the album's first live performance was apparent to some fans.
One Beyoncé fan said in a tweet that the country "actively excludes the community that inspired her latest album." Another wrote they were "struggling to understand" why Beyoncé would make her "Renaissance debut ... in a country where LBGTQ rights aren't recognized," give that the record "lifts heavily from queer culture."
The show "The Real Housewives of Dubai" was similarly criticized. Ahead of the premiere, 12 human rights groups sent an open letter to Bravo and NBCUniversal, which is TODAY's parent company.
Beyoncé has yet to comment on her decision to perform in the UAE.
Clearly, this has people talking. Maybe that was the intention.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com