Turkmenistan: J.Lo Shakes it for Berdymukhamedov
UPDATE: The publicist for J.Lo (or J-Low, as she's being called on Twitter) has effectively admitted not knowing how to use Google: "Had there been knowledge of human rights issues [of] any kind, Jennifer would not have attended," the Associated Press quoted her representative as saying.
Pop star Jennifer Lopez performed at a glitzy birthday bash for the dictator of totalitarian, gas-rich Turkmenistan on Saturday, AFP reported, prompting fury from human rights activists.
Held at President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s multi-billion-dollar Avaza resort on the Caspian Sea, the party was a gift from the China National Petroleum Corporation, a company representative told AFP. In 2009 CNPC opened a pipeline carrying Turkmen natural gas to China.
Dressed in a clingy outfit, the singer danced with half-naked backing dancers and shook her famous behind in a rare performance for the Muslim country, watched by ministers, ambassadors and chief executives of state-owned companies, all of whom applauded enthusiastically.
She later appeared in a traditional Turkmen dress to sing "Happy birthday, Mr President" along with stars from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and China.
Berdymukhamedov's 56th birthday bash at the glitzy resort in Avaza, which means "land of singing waves", is officially tied to Turkmen cultural week, which culminated on Saturday with the opening of a yacht club at the resort and a firework display which lasted 20 minutes.
Members of J.Lo’s entourage helped draw attention – and fire – on social networks. Shortly before the concert her choreographer, J.R. Taylor, tweeted (and has since deleted):
The Turkmenistan Breeze feels amazing at night Kidz! I wonder were [sic] all my Turkmenistan followers are!? Hit me up!”
But as Gawker helpfully pointed out, Taylor’s followers “probably weren't at the $2 billion Caspian Sea resort where Berdymukhamedov will celebrate his 56th birthday. Most social media is blocked in the country.”
Taylor didn’t seem to notice, later tweeting:
Great show @JLo and @JLodancers Forever raising that bar!!! Thank You #Turkmenistan your hospitality is unparalleled! #LifeOfAChoreographer
Human Rights Watch calls Turkmenistan “one of the world’s most repressive countries,” where “President Berdymukhamedov, his relatives, and associates enjoy unlimited power and total control over all aspects of public life.”
“Lopez obviously has the right to earn a living performing for the dictator of her choice and his circle of cronies, but her actions utterly destroy the carefully-crafted message she has cultivated with her prior involvement with Amnesty International’s programs in Mexico aimed at curbing violence against women,” said Human Rights Foundation president Thor Halvorssen in a statement cited by The Hollywood Reporter.
Human rights activists still haven’t forgotten the last major Western star to perform in a Central Asian dictatorship. Former Police front man Sting was reportedly paid over $1 million to play at a concert arranged by the daughter of Uzbekistan’s tyrant, Islam Karimov, in October 2009. He defended the performance and dismissed the idea of boycotting such brutal regimes: “I seriously doubt whether the President of Uzbekistan cares in the slightest whether artists like myself come to play in his country, he is hermetically sealed in his own medieval, tyrannical mindset.”
To stave off criticism, there’s one thing Lopez can do (besides firing her agent, of course), tweeted New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof:
How about if JLo donates the fee Turkmenistan paid her to a human rights or anti-torture group? Pass it on!”
So, how ’bout it, J?