Performing for dictators: J.Lo keeps the tradition alive
She recently apologized for her concert in Turkmenistan, but celebrities have long traded hefty paychecks to appear in questionable venues.
Singer and celebrity Jennifer Lopez apologized after her performance last weekend for Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, a dictator who has been condemned internationally for leading one of world's most repressive regimes.
In a statement from a representative for the singer and actress, obtained by E! News, Lopez's performance was to be part of a concert sponsored by "China National Petroleum Corporation that was presented to their local executives in Turkmenistan. (It) was not a government-sponsored event or political in nature."
But the event, which included Lopez singing "Happy Birthday" for Berdimuhamedow, is just the latest example of celebrities getting paid very well to perform for non-PC world figures.
US Weekly reports Lopez was paid $1.5 million for her performance as part of an apparent attempt by CNPC to ingratiate itself with officials in Turkmenistan, which has the world's fourth-largest reserves of natural gas, according to the International Energy Agency. For some perspective on what it's like there, an Asian scholar recently described North Korea as "Turkmenistan without the oil."
Other world-class entertainers have gone this route before. Beyonce was reportedly paid $1 million to sing at a 2010 New Year's party hosted by one of Col. Muammar Gaddafi's sons. A year later, Mariah Carey received a similar payment for another New Year's party for the Libyan leader's family.
British rock star Sting was paid very well in 2009 to appear at an arts festival in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, an event organized by the daughter of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, another Central Asian strongman with a brutal human rights record.
Observers say appearances at private or semiprivate functions given by governments, corporations and very rich individuals are just another way many celebrities generate income.
According to Canada's National Post, a Russian businessman shelled out several million dollars for a 75-minute concert in 2006 by pop star George Michael, "while actor Robin Williams apparently commands $1 million per private show."
"There are a lot of very wealthy people out there that want to demonstrate their wealth by being somewhat ostentatious," Sam Craig, the head of the entertainment media and technology program at New York University's business school, told the newspaper. "If you're an entertainer, you don't necessarily have to play to a packed house in Madison Square Garden."
But there's also the issue of celebrities as brands and whether a well-paid appearance in front of a morally dubious dictator or organization is worth the potential reputational damage it could bring later.
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Reports say the generous benefactor behind the huge gratuities is a former PayPal executive.
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