Pop Culture

Entertaining the Tyrants (Hey Must Be the Money!)

Artists from Jennifer Lopez to Queen B have performed for some shady people. Should they be accepting undemocratic tyrants' blood money?

Lucy Mannion

Naked Politics Blogger

Last year protesters called on writhing Barbie with attitude, Nicki Minaj, to abandon a planned concert in Angola for a mobile phone company part-owned by the country’s president Eduardo Dos Santos, citing concerns that the money to pay her came from government corruption and human rights violations.  Minaj went ahead with the gig…Nicki apparently got a six figure pay day for the show in a nation where most live below the poverty line.  As she says herself: “I’m in this b***h, I’m getting money, one minute they hate me then they love me”. Quite so Nicki.

Ms Minaj isn’t the only one doin’ it for the despots either, warbler and J-Lo disser, Mariah Carey was also criticised for performing for the Dos Santos family and the Gaddafis.  Back in the day the Gadaffi clan seemed to have quite the #squadgoals, throwing lavish New Year’s Eve bashes and other ridiculous sounding parties with the following paid to attend, Jay-Z, Lindsay Lohan, Usher, Nelly Furtado, Timbaland, 50 Cent and Queen Bey.  Even Lionel Richie has been in on it, though he did at least go to Libya, so I feel like he earnt his $5m a bit more.

Central Asian dictators are also up for a sing-a-long, as Kanye put on a show at the wedding of the grandson of the Kazakh president, a big time civil liberties abuser (though the real mystery here is who wants Kanye as a wedding singer?). Jennifer Lopez has also been at it, doing a Marilyn and singing Happy Birthday for the president of Turkmenistan, another man generally viewed as evil.  Even the worthiest pop star of them all, Sting, apparently can’t resist the allure of all that cash, singing for the Uzbek president, a callous authoritarian.

The question for me is why, when you are already worth more than the GDP of a small state, do you agree to shake your booty for some of the most abhorrent and wicked individuals in the biosphere?

Some I guess, just don’t care, a dollar is a dollar and for the work it’s damn easy money.  Sting openly admitted he knew how debauched the chap paying him was but stated that cultural boycotts are pointless and that it’s unhelpful to deny such repressed countries the arts.  Others may have been manipulated by their managers wanting a slice of the pie and some (including Mariah and Beyonce) have pronounced they didn’t know who they were playing for when they did the Gaddafi engagements.  Considering the reputations of these divas I find it hard to imagine they are booked for such things without personally signing off on them, but hey I’m not in the music biz so what do I know.

beyonce-money

 

My feeling is these claims of ignorance don’t really pass the smell test and though I don’t expect our celebs to have a top notch grasp of international relations, are we really supposed to assume they are so oblivious they don’t know a dictatorship from a democracy?  Of course events like the Gaddafi concerts were located St Barts, a bit more glamorous than Libya I dare say.  So it could be argued that these VIPs for hire didn’t observe what it was like on the ground in these countries.   But still the fact that some of them have seen fit to apologise publicaly and donate their fee to charity when news of their private dictator shows got out, does seem to demonstrate some awareness of the sour taste these deals leave in people’s mouths.

For the Americans especially, those normally so forceful about promoting freedom, democracy and all that, it just seems odd for them to razzle dazzle those ruling states so firmly opposed to these ideals.  Though I suppose it does mean the dream of capitalism is thriving and, as their fans are so devoted, they can afford to tarnish their brand a bit.  Nonetheless, it is damaging for these beloved personalities to rock up to these events and schmooze with tyrants.  However fleetingly, it gives the impression they are endorsing them and leaves these despicable despots with a sheen of legitimacy on the global stage that they don’t warrant.

A few earnest organisations do take it upon themselves to finger wag stars for these grubby exchanges, but it would be better in the future if their admirers demonstrated some displeasure.  The slimebuckets that are bankrolling these concerts have vast mountains of dosh that they don’t bother to spend on their citizens, so demand for performances is unlikely to wane.  But perhaps if singers thought their fans might walk with their wallets maybe they would think twice about accepting blood money.

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