Was J. Lo channeling Marilyn Monroe? With her voluptuous curves draped in an audacious nude-coloured, beaded evening gown, Monroe sang a sultry rendition of “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to John F. Kennedy in 1962. Fast-forward to 2013 and J.Lo’s belting out the same tune, only with a twist: the gentleman in question is Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the despot-in-chief of Turkmenistan, a tiny hermetic nation in Central Asia.
Awash in billions from its oil and gas reserves, Turkmenistan is ranked by Human Rights Watch as one of the world’s most repressive regimes. Berdymukhamedov is real nut bar—even by Central Asian standards. He has renamed the days of the week after himself and various family members and regularly initiates mass killings of his enemies.
“Turkmenistan!” shouted J. Lo to the crowd of diplomats, oil and gas executives, and government officials, before she and her half-naked back-up dancers launched into a hip-grinding medley of her pop hits for the Muslim audience. Then she flew home, the wire transfer of her estimated $1.4 million payment having safely gone through. When news of her private performance leaked out, her publicist issued a statement saying that the singer was unaware of any human rights problems in the area.
Hey, J.Lo, there’s this thing called “Google”. If you’re too busy, just ask one of your minions to check it out. You’d be amazed.
There’s nothing wrong with shaking your booty for a despot for a juicy fee. (Well, actually there’s a lot wrong with it, but let’s be honest, getting paid millions of bucks for a night’s work would turn anyone’s head.) So why not be straight and just say, “Yes, damn it, I did it for the money because enough is never enough and I don’t care if he boils people alive. He was very sweet to me.”
Each era gets the sex symbols it deserves. Unlike Monroe, who despite her persona, was an intellectual who lived rather simply, J. Lo is strictly a show-me-the-money kinda gal. Readers may recall that her avaricious behavior caused a scandal in 2003, when she shot an ad campaign for Louis Vuitton and then proceeded to hoover every single thing in the studio on her way out. Her assistant even returned later to pick up a pair of stray socks and some beach towels. (Vuitton did not renew her contract.)
To her credit, J.Lo has never set herself up as a humanitarian. Other performers are in a far more dubious position of wanting it both ways. Sting and his wife Trudie recently received a Humanitarian Award from We Are Family Foundation. He’s done work for Amnesty International, Live-Aid and has created the Rainforest Foundation. A frog, stingi, was named in his honour. Yet, despite an estimated net worth of over 150 million pounds, he took a reported fee of 2 million pounds to perform for Uzbekistan dictator Islam Karimova. Issy, as he is known to his friends, conscripts armies of child slaves and uses the nation’s resources for his pet projects. (He has drained 80% of the Aral Sea to irrigate his remote cotton fields.) When Sting was caught red-handed, he prevaricated, telling reporters that he visited the country on behalf of Unicef. (Unicef denied the claim.)
Like the despots who hire them, celebrities like J. Lo and Sting appear to live in their own hermetic bubbles believing they can get away with just about anything. And, you know what? Maybe they’re right.