Trend Watch: Celebs hanging out with dictators

The rise-and-rise of superstar-despot relations.

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This Tuesday, word came out that Kanye West performed in Kazakhstan at the luxe wedding of Aysultan Nazarbayev, favourite grandson of long-ruling despotic dicator Nursultan Nazarbayev. Nice!

For a reported fee of around $3 million (£1.93m), 'Ye played a set of classics (probably), and posed for snaps with high society guests.

The Nazarbayev clan – long accused of various human rights abuses and electoral rigging – has proved more than happy to splash out on Western icons. Nursultan dropped $13 million on on-going policy consultancy from Tony Blair

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Kanye hasn’t done an album tour proper since his Glow in the Dark epic in 2008, back when he was still wearing neon grilled glasses and not, y’know, Lanvin. These sorts of one-off, high-paying private parties are, you’d think, a no-brainer to pad out the accounts in between album cycles.

But the below clip of Yeezy’s Kazakh performance, uploaded by a party guest, is deeply depressing. Like, 808s and Heartbreak depressing.

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This is Kanye post Dark Twisted Fantasy, post “N****s in Paris”, post Grammy and post baby: by any measure, at the peak of his power. And yet, here he is, spitting lyrics to “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” with as much bravado as supreme selling-out allows for.

It’s mesmerising. The Central Asian beauty stage right, just metres away, is lost in conversation. She’s turned her back on Yeezus! Naturally, he raises the stakes, gyrations getting deeper, flow getting fiercer.

Ye’s consolation prize? She poses for a snap, more content to Instagram the moment than take part in it. In the face of such unabashed apathy, Ye looks like a chump warmup for the opener for a D-grade urban festival. Oof.

Also this week in Celebs Hangin’ With Despots: NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman is today en route to North Korea to visit his “friend for life” Kim Jong-Un. Again.

Probably the most eccentric character in the history of a league with eccentric characters, Rodman has been on something of a basketball diplomacy tour, which began last year when he joined the Harlem Globetrotters for a USA-DPRK exhibition match in Pyongyang.

Lay out the facts, and the Rodman/Jung-un bromance seems kinda star-cross’d: Kim, the “socially awkward” young dictator who grew up watching Chicago Bulls playoff games on VHS; Dennis, the tree of a man with a lot to say but who nobody’s taken seriously since taking the Bulls to a world championship in 1998.

On one hand, Rodman’s pal has some endearingly chubby cheeks and digs the same sports as you, but on the other, he also allegedly murdered his ex-girlfriend last month over a sex tape. 

So, yeah: weird week. And a couple of worthy additions to what has been a rich history of megastar-dictator relations.

In 2011, Beyonce collected a cool million for performing for the now-deceased Libyan dictator whose name nobody could decide how to spell. Months after her performance, the uproar came and Bey claimed ignorance, saying she didn't realise just what kind of a man Gaddafi/Qaddafi/Kaddafi was. She donated her fee to charity.

Mariah Carey and Nelly Furtardo also performed for Gaddafi/Qaddafi/Kaddafi, and also distanced themselves from the former Libyan leader.

But, the undisputed don of Hangin’ With Despots? Michael Jackson, who buddied up with Bahrain’s heir-to-the-autocratic-throne, Prince Abdullah Hamad al-Khalifa. Not only did Jackson pocket Thriller-grade money to keep up his lifestyle, including millions in legal fees and an epic vacation for his entire entourage – he even inked a deal al-Khalifa to record a goddamn collaboration album.

Jackson eventually pulled a fast one and bailed out of the LP – presumably much to the disappointment of the niche group of upper-upper class MJ fans in the Mid East.

What exactly attracts superstars to super-jerks is hard to pin down. It’s probably an attraction to power that even money can’t buy. It’s probably because dictators do it better. (It’s probably because Spotify pays chicken feed.)