Over the past few years, some of music’s biggest names, including Mariah Carey, Usher and Beyoncé, have taken as much as a million dollars to play private shows for the family of Libya’s brutal dictator, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi – a man who this week ordered security forces to open fire on citizens protesting his rule, killing as many as “thousands,” according to a UN official. During New Year’s Eve events on the Caribbean island of St. Barts in 2009, Carey received $1 million to sing four songs for one of Colonel Qaddafi’s sons, according to news reports and music-business sources, while Beyoncé and Usher played for an undisclosed fee the following year.
But now that Qaddafi’s security forces have brutally cracked down on protesters throughout Libya, many in the music business are stepping up their public criticisms of the participating stars. “When I saw Beyoncé and Usher and whoever else was out partying with these Libyan criminals … these are people who have stolen tens of billions of dollars from their nation,” says Howie Klein, former president of Reprise Records who is now a prominent leftist blogger. “What they all have in common is they’re all kleptocracies – they’ve got a family stealing all the money. And for very, very wealthy American and British pop stars to take part in this kind of thing makes me want to puke.”
“People put a big paycheck on the table, and people don’t consider where the money is coming from, or what they’re at least passively endorsing,” adds David T. Viecelli, agent for Arcade Fire and many other acts. “I don’t want to specifically say Beyoncé or Mariah Carey behaved unethically, because I don’t know all the details. But if it’s true that Muammar Qaddafi’s son says, ‘I’ve got $50 million, come and play for my buddies,’ I really think you have to say no to that. Given what we know about Qaddafi and what his rule has been about, you have to willfully turn a blind eye in order to accept that money, and I don’t think it’s ethical.”
The artists’ reps declined comment: “No statement,” said a rep for Randy Phillips, the AEG Live concert promoter who manages Usher. Asked if he had any comment, Chris Lighty, who manages Mariah Carey and other pop megastars, also declined. Beyoncé’s management company, run by her father, Mathew Knowles, did not return phone calls.