The pop diva on the Islamic State’s most wanted list

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Not even war can keep a good pop star down. In northern Iraq, where soldiers are battling the self-declared Islamic State, or ISIS, one fiery singer is on a mission to stir up patriotic sentiment. Crimson-haired Iraqi performer Helly Luv has a recording contract in the U.S., but she didn’t want to shoot her latest video in Hollywood. Her track, called “Revolution,” is a tribute to the ethnically Kurdish soldiers known as peshmerga who are fighting against ISIS. So she took a video team to a front-line village, as bullets flew and battles raged. The video plays all the time on TV in Iraq’s Kurdistan region.

Her real name is Helan Abdulla. She was born in 1988 in Iran, as her family was escaping Saddam Hussein’s attacks on Kurds. They fled through Turkey, eventually settling in Finland. As a teenager there, she saved up cash and moved to Los Angeles, seeking stardom. She took the name Helly Luv from her first name, Helan.

Published: September 19, 2016
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