Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, Usher and 50 Cent are facing industry calls to give back the money they earned performing at lavish parties thrown by family members of Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi. "If it were me, it would go to charity," says Buck Williams, agent for R.E.M. and Widespread Panic. Adds David T. Viecelli, agent for Arcade Fire, "Hopefully donate it to a charity that somehow assists some of the people who have suffered at the hands of that regime."
Carey accepted $1 million to perform for Qaddafi's son, Muatassim, Libya's national-security adviser, at a lavish New Year's Eve party on the Caribbean island of St. Barts in 2008; Beyoncé and Usher performed for an undisclosed sum on the island the following year. 50 Cent gave a performance before Muatassim at a 2005 film festival in Venice. Managers for Usher, 50 Cent and Carey declined comment, and Beyoncé's management, run by her father, Mathew Knowles, did not return phone calls. "They've done it for tons of artists," says a music-business source, referring to Muatassim's parties, which are often jammed with supermodels. "Those guys are all over the world."
Qaddafi's record of brutality and terrorism during his 40-year reign is well-documented - his regime was linked to a 1986 Berlin disco bombing, causing the deaths of two American soldiers, and the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270. Late last month, Libya's former justice minister told a Swedish newspaper that Qaddafi himself ordered the Pan Am bombing. Muatassim's brother Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi recently warned Libyan protesters on state television to abandon the streets or face "rivers of blood."
Videos of Muatassim in a coat, tie and fedora, posing for photos with beautiful women at the Venice festival have circulated on YouTube in the past week. According to media reports, Jay-Z, Lindsay Lohan and supermodels Miranda Kerr and Victoria Silvstedt were in the crowd at St. Barts in 2009; rap mogul Russell Simmons tweeted a photo and caption at the time: "Kevin Lyles [sic] and fiancé Erica @ khadafy party. Beyoncé performing in a bit."
The controversy has echoes of the condemnation that artists - including Rod Stewart and Queen - faced for playing the South African resort Sun City in the Seventies and Eighties despite the country's apartheid regime; Stewart, Queen and the British band Status Quo donated money to charities after playing Sun City. R.E.M. agent Williams wonders why such prominent artists accepted the gigs in the first place and, like other music-business sources contacted by Rolling Stone, suggests some stars may not have known who they were playing for. "Ninety percent of the time the artist has no clue," he says. "You hear about these things, it's generally after the fact. But the majority of my artists, if they knew something was funded by Qaddafi, they would not play it, and morally it would not rest well with them."
"I don't think most artists go into [performing at a party like this] with that kind of in-depth focus, [of] how each country is governed and what goes on inside each country," says Dennis Arfa, agent for Metallica, Billy Joel and Stewart. "Not every artist is a humanitarian. In more cases than not, for people, greed rules."