Experiments with Truth: Analysis

Kanye West is the latest celebrity with an authoritarian client

Kanye West is a trendsetter, but his latest performance has him following a well-tread path. This week he flew halfway across the world to perform for a dictator at his son’s wedding, earning a $3 million payday in the process. Kazakhstan is ruled by Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has held the Presidency for 22 years and consistently wins more than 90 percent of the vote, and it has long been a very scary place for activists, whistleblowers, and reporters.

None of that bothers Kanye West, apparently, just as similar situations haven’t bothered other performers in the past. After all, being a dictator is a lucrative trade, and when combined with the egocentrism and insecurity that is also common to dictators, they aren’t shy about shelling out big bucks to surround themselves with glamorous people.

Muammar Gaddafi was a human rights violator for more than 40 years, but Beyonce, Mariah Carey, Nelly Furtado, 50 Cent, and Usher gladly took big payments to perform at various functions hosted by him and his sons. Those five have a combined 117 Grammy nominations, so they aren’t exactly struggling to put food on the table, either. Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to Turkmenistan’s Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow (177th out of 179 in press freedom); Julio Iglesias performed for the leaders of Equatorial Guinea (166th), while Grammy-award-winning rapper Eve dated his free-spending son; Sting performed for the family of Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan (164th).

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