In 1962, Marilyn Monroe serenaded United States President John F. Kennedy in her sultry voice with her own lyrics aimed directly at Kennedy in “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.”
This past weekend, Jennifer Lopez put a despotic spin on Monroe’s gesture by regaling Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov with birthday wishes. Berdymukhammedov, 56, is considered by many to be one of the world’s most tyrannical dictators.
Alongside J-Lo’s controversial concert, in which the diva donned traditional Turkmen garb, Berdymukhammedov drove past thousands of cheering, flower-toting citizens, took a boat trip and basked in the glow of fireworks – all of this at the Caspian Sea resort of Avaza, which was built for an estimated price tag of $2 billion dollars.
Meanwhile, the majority of Turkmenistan’s people remain impoverished with limited access to Internet and no freedom to travel beyond the nation’s borders. Further, Reporters Without Borders has ranked Turkmenistan’s media the third most repressed in the world. Human Rights Watch considers the nation’s government one of the most repressive in the world.
Apparently, Lopez simply wasn’t aware of these things. Otherwise, she would not have made the trip for the performance, organized by the China National Petroleum Corporation and attended by only a handful of officials, according to a statement released by her publicist Mark Young.
“This was not a government sponsored event or political in nature,” Young said. “The China National Petroleum Corporation made a last minute 'birthday greeting' request prior to Jennifer taking the stage. This was not stipulated in her contract but she graciously obliged the China National Petroleum Corporation request.” Lopez has since apologized for the show.
Her crew’s actions validate this claim. “The Turkmenistan breeze feels amazing at night, kidz! I wonder were all my Turkmenistan followers are!? Hit me up!” tweeted J-Lo’s choreographer JR Taylor. The lack of social media response is understandable. Twitter is blocked in Turkmenistan’s small number of people with Internet access.
Berdymukhamedov, a former dentist, is the center of a personality cult pervading all aspects of life in the natural resource-rich central Asian state. Foreign companies overlook his excesses in the hopes of accessing Turkmenistan’s massive oil reserves, estimated to be the world’s fourth largest.
As NPR notes, Lopez isn’t the first to cavort with a ruthless world leader and later regret it. Hilary Swank attended the birthday party of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, while Beyonce, Nelly Furtado, 50 Cent, Mariah Carey and Usher partied with Moammar Gadhafi. All have expressed their remorse, with those who performed for Gadhafi donating their concert proceeds to charity after learning about his links to terrorism.