BEIRUT

People

Haifa Wehbe goes online, stomps the competition

Haifa has nearly twice the number of followers as the most popular Lebanese politician. (The Daily Star)

BEIRUT: While Lebanese politicians have recently taken their battles for influence online with Twitter, they still languish in the shadow of one celebrity’s very high heels.

With her devoted following of “Haifaholics,” as she refers to them, Haifa Wehbe wields enormous cultural influence as a singer, model and actress. More recently, her smoldering sex appeal and catchy Arabic pop songs have been augmented by a smart and sassy Twitter personality. The result is an enthusiastic and loyal following among a diverse group of people drawn to different aspects of her persona.

Wehbe’s responses to tweets complimenting her music or looks are widely appreciated by her fans, but her ripostes to criticism have piqued interest in her online activity on the part of many others. While Haifa’s beauty might be termed angelic, she sports a devil on her (often bare) shoulder hitting back at the haters.

In response to a tweet in which one person remarks to his friend, “Forget it, the [expletive]’s not answering. I guess she’s too good for us after all,” Haifa retorted, “I AM too good to give you a good answer. I’ll tell you both to #KissMyHighHeels after all, you are “poof” dust! #waste.”

To a Twitter user expressing the opinion that “Haifa isn’t hot,” the woman voted one of People Magazine’s 50 most beautiful people of 2006 quipped, “I’m not. I’m chilling.” Such zingers have bolstered Haifa’s substantial following.

Haifa, known for being an exemplar of Arab beauty, first rose to fame as a model gracing the covers of over 100 magazines. In 2002, she made the transition to singer with her album “Houwa al-Zaman.” She became a triple-threat in 2008 by starring in a Pepsi-produced film, “Sea of Stars,” that featured other well-known Lebanese celebrities, including Carole Samaha, Ahmad Sherif and Wael Kfoury. Having celebrated what may have been her 36th birthday (her age remains a topic of online debate and speculation) this past March, Wehbe has just released her latest album: MJK – which stands for “Malikat Jamal al-Kaun,” or “Miss Universe.”

While Haifa’s following ranks second to fellow pop idol and bombshell Elissa (223,000 to 236,000 followers at the time of writing), many would argue that Haifa’s charismatic online presence is more charming and engaging. When challenged on Twitter to name her biggest rival, Haifa chose to mix coyness and arrogance, answering, “Haifa Wehbe.”

Several Lebanese politicians have taken to Twitter in the past year to interact with constituents, yet the influence of leaders such as former Prime Minister Saad Hariri (134,000), Prime Minister Najib Mikati (42,000) and President Michel Sleiman (29,000) cannot approach Haifa’s sway.

In an email exchange, Haifa told The Daily Star why her Twitter influence trumps that of politicians: “An artist is usually more grounded and approachable so people can relate and identify with her quicker and more effectively.”

In fact, Haifa shows just how grounded she is by joking with fans in a manner that celebrities in a similar position would avoid. For example, when a follower tweeted her “@HaifaWehbe you only RT [retweet] the tweets u like! Like no one ever tweeted how bad is ur album haha,” she countered with a lighthearted “Coz nothing’s bad about it u bum haha x.”

While Haifa clearly understands the subtle nuances of twitter humor, the Lebanese diva is also aware of the risks associated with having a large online following.

“With any platform comes a certain level of responsibility that has to be taken into consideration,” Haifa explains. “I am careful [about] how I come across, like on Twitter, and stay true to [my] image. But that doesn’t hinder me from being myself ... and that has been one of the reasons why my social media experience has been such a hit.”

Being such a success “comes with the territory of being Haifa and setting trends,” the singer maintains.

Hitting back at naysayers is a practice at which Haifa excels. When one follower expressed his admiration of Haifa’s ability to strike back, she replied simply, “They throw heat, I throw fireballs.”

“It’s my style of communicating with the fans and people in general that made it an instant hit,” Haifa says of her approach to Twitter. “I never calculate what I’ll say or stage it like a lot of others do. I just really tweet like the normal person.”

Upon reflection, she adds, “I must admit, I’m a Twitter girl.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 08, 2012, on page 2.

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