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.

By Bruce Kennedy Jul 2, 2013 9:46AM

Jennifer Lopez performs at Avaza, near the city of Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan on June 29, 2013 (© Igor Sasin/AFP/Getty Images)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.

And the list goes on. It includes musicians like Elton John and the rock band Queen, who ignored international sanctions against apartheid-era South Africa to perform at the nation's Sun City resort.

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.

More on moneyNOW

Jul 2, 2013 11:20AM
Thank God we still have people like J.Lo to remind us how stupid and classless some people are.
Jul 2, 2013 11:38AM
Well, at least the background dancers were not black-hooded guys whacking off the heads of political prisoners in time to the music.  So, give her some credit, would you?
Jul 2, 2013 1:22PM
So Microsoft, the parent company of MSN, refuses to sell ANY of its products to all "non-PC" countries? Or do you talk the talk but not walk the walk?
Jul 2, 2013 12:52PM
"Celebrities know up front exactly who they are performing for. They also know that an apology to this country is just a cheap way of pocketing millions.  We  already know they are sociopaths to some degree or other. Performing for the "EVIL" in this world is no different than the "OOP"s porn tapes or the OOPs there's my nipple shot or the OOP's there's my crotch shot"  All of it is "premeditated" to the tune of millions of dollars. 
Jul 3, 2013 12:24PM
Sure, they perform for dictators but would never perform for our troops, firefighters etc.  Worthless scum is what they are. That includes J lo.
Jul 3, 2013 4:34AM
How could J Lo know of this dictatorship, the poor girl can't read.  So don't blame her.
Jul 2, 2013 4:02PM
This is better than corporations exporting jobs.  She is bringing in the dollars for the tax with her labor.
Jul 2, 2013 10:07PM
The worst was Elton John performing for one of Rush Limbaugh's weddings.
Jul 2, 2013 10:08PM
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