Jennifer Lopez took her show on the road to Turkmenistan this weekend, performing at an event organized by the China National Petroleum Corp. In the audience: Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, the leader of the former Soviet country. And, what do you know?! It was his birthday. So JLo did her best Marilyn Monroe and busted out her rendition of “Happy Birthday.” Unfortunately, Berdimuhamedow is the leader of a government that Human Rights Watch calls “among the most repressive in the world.” Whoopsie!
JLo’s rep told the Associated Press that if she’d known about the human rights violations the government is accused of, she never would’ve performed.
And remind us again why she didn’t know about them?
The UN said, after a recent visit to the country, that although things have gotten better “a lot more work is needed to complete this process and to ensure practice is in line with international standards.” That assessment indicates that the issues are longstanding ones. In fact, Human Rights Watch has a story on its site from April titled, “Turkmenistan/Uzbekistan: Abuses in International Spotlight” that says the country hasn’t done anything to address recommendations made in 2008. We found that after a quick search.
Lopez’s spokesperson said in a statement that she “graciously obliged” when the last-minute request for the birthday song was made. Gracious indeed. The AP adds that the star has no other scheduled performances in that country.
Lopez’s rep was clear that it wasn’t a political event, but her fee is undisclosed. The commenting PR rep’s name doesn’t appear in media reports about the incident. (The Guardian says a tweet from one of JLo’s dancers about the event has since been deleted.)
The AP points out that JLo isn’t alone in her negligence. Hilary Swank, Beyonce, and Mariah Carey have all been stung by this same sort of controversy. All claimed they didn’t know about the history of the places in which they were performing.
But in this day and age with this kind of history, you should. Stories like this make it seem to fans that these celebrities will do anything for a paycheck, even perform for some of the worst people on the planet. Dancing and singing and praising these horrible dictators for cash that they don’t really need.
Part of the celebrity publicist’s job nowadays is assessing all of the risks and benefits, the positives and the negatives, of participating in an event. That doesn’t only mean the positives for their pockets. Beyond the damage to an entertainer’s reputation, it’s disgusting to stand on stage and celebrate someone who makes it their job to be cruel to people. It’s a negative for everyone.
Stick to performing with Pitbull, JLo.