J Lo joins Beyonce and Maria Carey in lineup of dictator divas

They've all sung to some of the world's most unpleasant dictators.

A report by the Human Rights Foundation has estimated that Jennifer Lopez has earned £6.6 m singing for some of the world's most unpleasant dictators and crooked industrialists — including at Turkmenistan's Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov's birthday party (try saying that after a couple of toasts in his honour) last month. 

J Lo's publicist later said that she would have never performed had she realised there were "human rights issues of any kind" — which strikes me as rather unlikely. Even if the star herself was too busy shopping for her latest diamante leotard, surely someone in her famously sizeable entourage would have time to flick through Human Rights Watch's reporting on Turkmenistan which describes it.

She's not the only pop diva happy to play for thugs, dictators and criminals for cash, however. Beyonce famously earned $1 m playing for Gaddafi's son Mutassim (which she later said she donated to Haiti). Mariah Carey also accepted money from Libya's ruling family as did, moving on to pop stars more generally, Usher, Nelly Furtardo, Lionel Ritchie and 50 Cent.

I don't buy the often used argument that music stars didn't realise that their presidential patrons abused human rights. Nor do I think that donating these earnings to charity after a public backlash makes everything OK again.

Sting's defiant response to his £1- £2m pay cheque from the Uzbek president's daughter Gulnara Karimova — he argued that he didn't believe in cultural boycotts as they only make closed regimes more insular — was self-serving and arrogant. The people who benefited from Sting's generous cultural exchange were the elite guests of the presidents daughter. Does he imagine they will be so inspired by 'Fields of Gold' that they will spontaneously lift controls on homegrown artists and journalists? 

Given these pop star payrolls, stunts like biting the head off a bat don't seem so bad after all — except that Black Sabbath (including bat-eating Ozzy Osbourne) performed for South Africa's apartheid regime, too.

This piece first appeared on Spears Magazine

Photograph: Getty Images

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

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Why Angela Merkel's comments about the UK and US shouldn't be given too much weight

The Chancellor's comments are aimed at a domestic and European audience, and she won't be abandoning Anglo-German relationships just yet.

Angela Merkel’s latest remarks do not seem well-judged but should not be given undue significance. Speaking as part of a rally in Munich for her sister party, the CSU, the German Chancellor claimed “we Europeans must really take our own fate into our hands”.

The comments should be read in the context of September's German elections and Merkel’s determination to restrain the fortune of her main political rival, Martin Schulz – obviously a strong Europhile and a committed Trump critic. Sigmar Gabriel - previously seen as a candidate to lead the left-wing SPD - has for some time been pressing for Germany and Europe to have “enough self-confidence” to stand up to Trump. He called for a “self-confident position, not just on behalf of us Germans but all Europeans”. Merkel is in part responding to this pressure.

Her words were well received by her audience. The beer hall crowd erupted into sustained applause. But taking an implicit pop at Donald Trump is hardly likely to be a divisive tactic at such a gathering. Criticising the UK post-Brexit and the US under Trump is the sort of virtue signalling guaranteed to ensure a good clap.

It’s not clear that the comments represent that much of a new departure, as she herself has since claimed. She said something similar earlier this year. In January, after the publication of Donald Trump’s interview with The Times and Bild, she said that “we Europeans have our fate in our own hands”.

At one level what Merkel said is something of a truism: in two year’s time Britain will no longer be directly deciding the fate of the EU. In future no British Prime Minister will attend the European Council, and British MEPs will leave the Parliament at the next round of European elections in 2019. Yet Merkel’s words “we Europeans”, conflate Europe and the EU, something she has previously rejected. Back in July last year, at a joint press conference with Theresa May, she said: “the UK after all remains part of Europe, if not of the Union”.

At the same press conference, Merkel also confirmed that the EU and the UK would need to continue to work together. At that time she even used the first person plural to include Britain, saying “we have certain missions also to fulfil with the rest of the world” – there the ‘we’ meant Britain and the EU, now the 'we' excludes Britain.

Her comments surely also mark a frustration born of difficulties at the G7 summit over climate change, but Britain and Germany agreed at the meeting in Sicily on the Paris Accord. More broadly, the next few months will be crucial for determining the future relationship between Britain and the EU. There will be many difficult negotiations ahead.

Merkel is widely expected to remain the German Chancellor after this autumn’s election. As the single most powerful individual in the EU27, she is the most crucial person in determining future relations between the UK and the EU. Indeed, to some extent, it was her intransigence during Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ which precipitated Brexit itself. She also needs to watch with care growing irritation across the EU at the (perceived) extent of German influence and control over the institutions and direction of the European project. Recent reports in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung which suggested a Merkel plan for Jens Weidmann of the Bundesbank to succeed Mario Draghi at the ECB have not gone down well across southern Europe. For those critics, the hands controlling the fate of Europe are Merkel’s.

Brexit remains a crucial challenge for the EU. How the issue is handled will shape the future of the Union. Many across Europe’s capitals are worried that Brussels risks driving Britain further away than Brexit will require; they are worried lest the Channel becomes metaphorically wider and Britain turns its back on the continent. On the UK side, Theresa May has accepted the EU, and particularly Merkel’s, insistence, that there can be no cherry picking, and therefore she has committed to leaving the single market as well as the EU. May has offered a “deep and special” partnership and a comprehensive free trading arrangement. Merkel should welcome Britain’s clarity. She must work with new French President Emmanuel Macron and others to lead the EU towards a new relationship with Britain – a close partnership which protects free trade, security and the other forms of cooperation which benefit all Europeans.

Henry Newman is the director of Open Europe. He tweets @henrynewman.

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