Lionel Richie performs with an unidentified Togolese man during a concert held in front of the house of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi in Tripoli on April 14, 2006.
Lionel Richie performs with an unidentified man during a concert held in front of the house of Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi in Tripoli on April 14, 2006. Khaled Desouki—AFP/Getty Images

From Nicki Minaj to Lionel Richie: When Celebrities Entertain Dictators

Dec 20, 2015

Nicki Minaj performed at a holiday concert in Angola on Dec. 19, despite pleas from human rights activists that she back out of the event.

Her set was part of a Christmas festival sponsored by Unitel, a communications company that's partly controlled by the dictatorship of President José Eduardo dos Santos, according to the Human Rights Foundation. Dos Santos has been in power of the oil-rich African nation since 1979.

Any inkling that she might back out of the Saturday night show seemed erased when an image appeared on her Instagram account, showing herself walking off a private plane, with the caption "See u at the show tonight, Angola!!!!!!!!" followed by a whole lot of emojis.

Minaj's performance — perhaps for a multimillion-dollar paycheck, as has been the case in past instances — places her on a growing list of celebrities who have entertained despots and their families in recent years.

Kanye West

In 2013, the New York Times reported he performed "Can't Tell Me Nothing" at the wedding reception for the grandson of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the longtime authoritarian ruler of Kazakhstan. Rights organizations frequently call attention to restricted freedoms in the Central Asian nation.

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Lionel Richie performs with an unidentified Togolese man during a concert held in front of the house of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi in Tripoli on April 14, 2006.
Lionel Richie performs with an unidentified man during a concert held in front of the house of Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi in Tripoli on April 14, 2006.Khaled Desouki—AFP/Getty Images

Lionel Richie

In 2006, Richie sang at a high-profile concert in Tripoli to mark the 20th anniversary of American bombing raids in Libya. In early 2011, as Libya became engulfed in the Arab Spring and the masses rose up against Muammar Gadhafi, a Reuters journalist who attended the event recalled Richie saying "Libya, I love you. I'll be back."

Hilary Swank attends a concert in the new "Grozny City" residential and commercial complex in Grozny, Chechen Republic, Russia on Oct. 5, 2011.
Hilary Swank attends a concert in the new "Grozny City" residential and commercial complex in Grozny, Chechen Republic, Russia, on Oct. 5, 2011. Musa Sadulayev—AP

Hilary Swank

In late 2011, the Academy Award-winning actress attended the 35th birthday celebrations of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Swank quickly admitted regrets over her appearance, the Guardian reported, claiming she hadn't been aware that human rights organizations had a list of accusations against Kadyrov.

Jennifer Lopez performs at Avaza, near the city of Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan on June 29, 2013.
Jennifer Lopez performs at Avaza, near the city of Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan, on June 29, 2013. Igor Sasin—AFP/Getty Images

Jennifer Lopez

Lopez sang her birthday wishes to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, the president of Turkmenistan, in mid-2013. She apologized after the performance was denounced by the Human Rights Foundation.

Sting, left, and Dr.Gulnara Karimova, right, attend the General Défilé fashion show in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on Oct. 17, 2009.
Sting, left, and Gulnara Karimova, right, attend the General Défilé fashion show in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on Oct. 17, 2009. Yves Forestier—Getty Images

Sting

British media went wild in 2010 after the entertainer was paid to perform in Uzbekistan by the daughter of President Islam Karimov, who is frequently slammed by human rights organizations. He later canceled a gig in Kazakhstan, to his credit, in a bid to support oil and gas workers who were on strike.

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