Entertainment & Arts

The stars who courted global controversy

US singer and actress Jennifer Lopez has been criticised for singing Happy Birthday to the leader of Turkmenistan, who is accused of human rights violations. But she is not the first global star to stray into controversy on the global stage.

'Happy birthday Mr President'

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Media captionHilary Swank wishes Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov a happy birthday

In 2011, Hollywood actors Hilary Swank and Jean-Claude Van Damme and violinist Vanessa Mae attended a star-studded party thrown by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov on his 35th birthday in Grozny.

Van Damme ended his speech by yelling: "I love you Mr Kadyrov!" while Swank said: "Happy birthday Mr President."

Human rights groups accuse the Chechen warlord of persecuting critics and committing abuses in his fight against insurgents.

"Shame on me," Swank later said. "The bottom line is that I should know where I'm going, and do better research."

Partying with Gaddafi

Image caption Beyonce later donated her fee to earthquake relief efforts in Haiti

The Gaddafi clan enjoyed throwing lavish star-studded parties when they ruled Libya.

US rapper 50 Cent performed for them at a private concert during the 2005 Venice Film Festival, while Canadian pop star Nelly Furtado gave an intimate performance at an Italian hotel in 2007.

Mariah Carey appeared at a New Year's party they paid for on the Caribbean island of Saint Barthelemy at the end of 2008 and Beyonce sang at the same event the following year.

Perhaps they were following the lead of statesmen like British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who welcomed Col Gaddafi back into the international fold with a handshake during a meeting in the Libyan capital Tripoli in 2004.

However, when the bloody Libyan uprising unfolded in 2011, many of the superstars swiftly donated their fees to charity.

"I was naive and unaware of who I was booked to perform for," Carey said. "Going forward, this is a lesson for all artists to learn from. We need to be more aware and take more responsibility regardless of who books our shows. Ultimately, we as artists are to be held accountable."

Furtado gave $1m to charity, followed by Beyonce, who donated her fee to earthquake relief efforts in Haiti, and 50 Cent, who made a donation to Unicef.

Sting boycotts boycotts

Image caption Sting attended a fashion show with the Uzbek leader's daughter Gulnara Karimova (right)

In 2010, Sting performed at a concert arranged by Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

Karimov runs a repressive regime. A UN report has described the use of torture as "systematic", there is no legal political opposition and the media are tightly controlled by the state.

After his concert, the former Police frontman said he believed the concert was sponsored by Unicef, although the charity refuted that, according to The Guardian.

But the singer was otherwise unrepentant in a statement.

"I am well aware of the Uzbek president's appalling reputation in the field of human rights as well as the environment. I made the decision to play there in spite of that," he said.

"I have come to believe that cultural boycotts are not only pointless gestures, they are counter-productive, where proscribed states are further robbed of the open commerce of ideas and art and as a result become even more closed, paranoid and insular."

In response, Craig Murray, a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, wrote on his blog: "He got paid over £1m to play an event specifically designed to glorify a barbarous regime. Is the man completely mad?"

Classical diplomacy

Image caption The New York Philharmonic's visit to North Korea was authorised by the US State Department

The New York Philharmonic orchestra performed in North Korea in 2008, for what was described as a display of cultural diplomacy.

The concert in East Pyongyang Grand Theatre began with the North Korean national anthem Patriotic Song, followed by America's Star Spangled Banner.

They went on to perform included music by Wagner, Gershwin and Dvorak as well as a Korean folk song. It was broadcast live on local television.

The visit entailed the largest US presence in the reclusive state since the end of the Korean war and was authorised by the US State Department. But one New York tabloid called the venture a "disgrace" that handed Kim "a propaganda coup".

Also on the bill

Image caption Michael Jackson signed a record deal with Bahrain's Sheikh Abdulla Bin Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa

In 2008, Chris De Burgh hoped to become the first Western artist to perform in Iran since 1979. But his attempts to perform with Iranian pop group Arian were apparently thwarted by Iranian bureaucracy.

Michael Jackson retreated to Bahrain in 2005 after being cleared of child abuse charges. The following year, he signed a deal to record a new album in the country for a label run by the King of Bahrain's son, Sheikh Abdulla Bin Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa. However, like most things in Jackson's life, it ended in legal acrimony.

Cuban leader Fidel Castro was in the front row when Welsh rock band The Manic Street Preachers played in Havana in 2001. The group met Castro before the gig and warned him that the show would be very loud. Castro memorably replied: "It cannot be louder than war, can it?"

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