Kanye West recently caught some heat for performing for the oppressive dictator of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, at his grandson’s wedding. It is rumored that West was paid around $3 million for the performance, courtesy of a man who heads a regime known for murdering and imprisoning people for speaking out. But Kanye probably isn’t too worried about it. He’s just the latest addition to the long list of top-tier musicians who have raked in some quick cash from some really awful dictators. Take a look at a few pop stars who were exposed bending their morals for an infamous audience.
There is something poetic about a star who touts himself as a champion of human rights performing for the family of a tyrannical leader.
The legendary pop superstar performed at a festival held by the daughter of Uzbek president Islam Karimov in 2010. Karimov’s reign has seen the usual repression and human rights abuses that are the hallmark of governments labeled “dictatorships” by most of the world. In Uzbekistan women are forced to prove their virginity in order to be married, journalists and protesters are imprisoned and sometimes shot in the street, and there are even reports that political enemies of the regime have been boiled alive.
Sting justified his actions, stating that cultural boycotts are “counterproductive,” and basically that he was doing it for “the people.” Yeah, not the $2 million+ he was paid for the gig. Also, the tickets to the event cost some 45 times the average monthly salary in the country. So he was doing it for the people — the people who make all the rest of the country miserable.
Just when you think you can trust someone to sleep in a bed with your kids, you find out they’re on the payroll of a Bahraini tyrant…how typical. And with MJ, it went way beyond just a simple performance.
Sometime after Jackson’s 2005 trial for child molestation, the King of Pop decided to leave the United States for a while. He accepted an invitation from Sheikh Abdullah bin Hamad bin Isa Khalifa, who is the second son of the king of Bahrain. The sheikh’s family, who are Sunni Muslims, have ruled the predominantly Shia island nation with an iron fist since the 18th Century. The family has historically discriminated against those of the Shia faith, a practice that still continues. They have also implemented torture, imprisonment and execution of political rivals and dissenters.
But this didn’t bother Michael. He was accepted into the country with open arms and the sheikh lavished him with money, even paying his multimillion-dollar legal bill. At some point the two must have had a falling out because Khalifa brought a lawsuit against the singer claiming that the money was actually an advance for a record deal. Jackson denied this, stating that the money was a gift, because you know how generous despots usually are. The suit was settled in 2008, a year before Jackson’s death. I guess when you spend time in a literal bed with children, figuratively being in bed with the privileged son of a tyrant tends to fly under the radar.
Oh J-Lo, of course you did. Only a few months before Kanye pulled the same move in Kazakhstan, Jenny from the Block performed for the equally oppressive president of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov (yes, that’s his actual name and not the product of mashing the keyboard). Apparently it was a function put together by the China National Petroleum Corporation (which I’m assuming is probably not the most people-friendly company, but at least not a dictatorship), but it still took place in the extremely restrictive former Soviet state and the president was there.
In fact, it was the oppressive leader’s 56th birthday and Lopez serenaded him with a rendition of “Happy Birthday.” The level of sultriness involved has not been established publicly, but I’m picturing it went down Marilyn Monroe to JFK style.
Her representatives (not her) have since apologized and pled ignorance, releasing a statement saying, “…had there been knowledge of human rights issues of any kind, Jennifer would not have attended.” They also reminded people that it was not a government event or a political event of any kind. I’m sure the people of Turkmenistan are relieved.
Well, I guess Seal is still relevant in Chechnya. In 2011, the leader of the long-disputed Russian region, Ramzan Kadyrov, treated himself to a performance by the singer during his birthday celebration, and like a good dictator, it was all on the taxpayer’s dime.
Kadyrov is a very scary character. His father, who was assassinated in 2004, gained power at the head of a Chechen separatist militia during the struggle for independence from Russia during the ’90s. They eventually defected and effectively ended the decade-long conflict. Kadyrov became president of the region shortly after he reached the minimum age requirement of 30 back in 2007.
The young, brutal leader has a long list of enemies and a tendency to act more like a warlord than a president. He has been personally implicated in several murders and instances of torture. Kadyrov is said to have a “Murder List” reaching into the hundreds and he punishes dissent with extreme violence, even burning down the homes of the families of suspected insurgents.
He wasn’t alone either. Apparently Hilary Swank and Jean-Claude Van Damme were also there for some reason, but they only made an appearance. Seal used the same defense as Sting, stating that he did it for the people and asking to be “left out of the politics.” I bet there are a whole lot of dead Chechens that wished they could have been left out of the politics too. And I don’t know about you, but as a part of “the people,” I can’t say I’ve had many invites to a president’s birthday party. But hey, whatever helps you sleep at night, Seal.
A Bunch of Very Famous People For the Gaddafi Family
Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi is probably one of the most infamous dictators of recent memory. He amassed a fortune in the tens of billions while terrorizing his people and the rest of the world alike. He was even implicated in the 1988 airliner bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland. But as much as he liked being an incredibly wealthy and brutal dictator, his family liked paying celebs to perform for them.
But then the family was deposed and the fun was over. During the Libyan revolt, WikiLeaks released documents detailing these performances and many of these celebrities were put under public scrutiny. They were pressured into donating the fees paid for the performances, and most of them did so. I’m sure it was out of the goodness of their hearts; that’s why they waited until everyone found out before they did it.