Did These Musicians Sell Their Souls For A Paycheck?

Lots of people, especially starving artists and those in desperate need of cash, may do and agree to things that may not necessarily align with their morals, ethics, and values. If it's a matter of survival, that's quite understandable — you take what you can get because you have to eat. However, when you're already rich, successful, and world-renowned, there aren't really any excuses left to compromise your dignity for a dollar.

The following stars were already A-listers when they said and did things that seemed to go against the very values they espouse, be it political freedom, racial equality, mental health, artistic integrity, or even just their self-proclaimed tastes in music. Some of these artists offered apologies and even material reparations for their actions, while others doubled down and reinforced that all they seem to care about are their own bank accounts. Behold, musicians who may have sold their souls for paychecks that they (probably) didn't even need.

Demi Lovato disappointed fans with detox tea

Demi Lovato has long been open about her struggle with bulimia, which is part of what made an April 2017 sponsored Instagram post so shocking to her fans. In the since-deleted photo from April 2017 (via Teen Vogue), the "Anyone" singer promoted detox tea, claiming the product was part of a "30 day detox challenge to help get rid of toxins and my bloating for summer." But critics of detox tea claim that it doesn't shed pounds beyond water weight, and its effects on both physical and mental health can potentially be devastating. Many fans were reportedly both disappointed and even triggered by her post. It was also alarming to fans in retrospect, because six months later, Lovato revealed in her Simply Complicated documentary that she struggles with her eating disorder more than she does with her other mental health issues, including bipolar disorder and addiction.

It wasn't the only post of Lovato's to tick off Lovatics. In October 2019, Lovato posted photos from a trip she'd taken to Israel to be baptized in the Jordan River. She got backlash, Rolling Stone reported, amid speculation she'd been paid for the trip by Israel's Ministry of Culture; the outlet later reported that private donors footed the bill. Fans criticized her for being insensitive due to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. She later apologized for accepting the trip in exchange for "a few posts" and said her visit was not a political statement.

Jennifer Lopez made big bank off of human rights violators

Jennifer Lopez was accused of making $10 million from various dictators. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Lopez first came under fire publicly in 2013 for performing for Turkmenistan president Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, who the Human Right Foundation accused of being a despot. J.Lo's rep insisted that if she knew of any human rights violations, she never would have agreed to perform.

Prior to that, Lopez got $1 million to perform at a July 2011 wedding that Chechen president Ramzan Kadyro attended; she was also previously paid $1.4 million to perform at an allegedly corrupt Russian businessman's birthday party. In September 2012, Lopez was accused of meeting with an Azerbaijan dictator to perform in a planned music festival — after pocketing $2.5 million to perform at a soccer tournament. A month later, she performed in Belarus, Europe's "only remaining dictatorship." That November, Lopez was paid $2 million of alleged "kickback and bribery" cash to sing happy birthday to a Russian bureaucrat accused of corruption. The bureaucrat was arrested the day before his party and it isn't known if Lopez kept her fee.

As far as we know, Lopez hasn't commented on the allegations, but Human Rights Foundation president Thor Halvorssen said in a statement (via THR), "J.Lo has repeatedly mingled with and entertained some of the world's worst thugs and their cronies. The 'Jenny-from-the-block-who-doesn't-Google' clarification may be credible in one instance, but it beggars belief in light of a pattern of repeated behavior."

Beyoncé, Usher, and Nelly Furtado made good on their shady paychecks

Beyoncé came under fire in 2011 after Wikileaks exposed (via The Cut) that she was paid up to $1 million to perform at a private party for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's son in St. Barts in 2009. She and her team were able to mitigate the damage somewhat by donating the money she was paid for the show to the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund. Her rep told CNN in a statement, "All monies paid to Beyoncé for her performance at a private party at Nikki Beach St. Barts on New Year's Eve 2009, including the commissions paid to her booking agency, were donated to the earthquake relief efforts in Haiti, over a year ago. Once it became known that the third party promoter was linked to the Qaddafi family, the decision was made to put that payment to a good cause." Usher reportedly performed at the same event as Beyoncé and released a statement saying he was "sincerely troubled"by the Gadhafi link and would also donate his fee to the same org.

After the news broke that Beyoncé and Usher performed for Gadhafi's son, singer Nelly Furtado issued her own unprompted mea culpa for doing the same at a private party in Italy in 2007. She tweeted (via People) that she'd donate the $1 million she earned for the performance.

Mariah Carey opted to 'Save the Day' following a scandal-plagued private performance

Like Beyoncé, Usher, and Nelly Furtado, Mariah Carey also was slammed for performing for Moammar Gadhafi's family. The "We Belong Together" belter performed at a private New Year's Eve party in 2008, though Showbiz411 reported that the deal was made through a third party promoter who likely hid the details of the party (and that Libya wasn't really in the news at the time of the performances).

Carey later announced that she'd donate all the proceeds of her song "Save the Day" to human rights issues through her own foundation and said in a statement, "I was naïve and unaware of who I was booked to perform for. I feel horrible and embarrassed to have participated in this mess. Going forward, this is a lesson for all artists to learn from. We need to be more aware and take more responsibility regardless of who books our shows. Ultimately we as artists are to be held accountable."

Lionel Richie performed in Libya, missed the irony

What is it with American Idol judges and Libya? Lionel Richie performed in Tripoli on April 15, 2006 to mark the 20th anniversary of America's offensive on Tripoli and Benghazi, Today reported, with "more than 1,000 senior Libyan officials and diplomats" in attendance. At the time of the bombings, then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan said the raids were "in retaliation for what he called Libyan complicity" in the death of a U.S. serviceman during the bombing of a German nightclub.

Moammar Gadhafi's daughter, who was around 10 years old in 1986, told the press at the concert, "I stand in front of this silent house where 20 years ago my childhood was torn and my toys were destroyed. Twenty years ago on this day I awoke to the sound of bombs and rockets and the cries of my brothers ... But today we try to heal our wounds and shake hands with those who are here with us tonight. Yes for peace, no for destruction." Perhaps most ironically, the concert ended with a rendition of — wait for it — "We Are the World."

Reuters journalist William Maclean, who was in attendance that day, recalled his own surprise at the performance, writing that he was "dumbstruck," and had to "rub [his] eyes to remind [himself] what [he] was seeing was real." He reported that Richie closed his set by declaring, "Libya I love you. I'll be back."

Is 'Conflict of Interest' a Taylor Swift song yet?

Taylor Swift's stance on music streaming seems to change with the tides. In July 2014, she wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, slamming streaming as a whole because artists won't make much cash from it. That November, she removed her music from Spotify, and described streaming as "an experiment," rather than a potential solution for the problem of actual physical sales of music having fallen steeply years before. Former Pandora Chief Technology Officer Tom Conrad dismissed her rant as "mostly theater." By March 2015, Swift changed her tune and put all of her albums except 1989 on Tidal. That June, she posted a now-deleted open letter to Apple Music over their "disappointing" three-month free trial program. Apple later changed that policy and resolved its differences with Swift, leading some to speculate that the entire beef was a publicity stunt. In December 2015, she released her 1989 World Tour Documentary on Apple Music, and in April 2016 starred in an ad for the service.

More recently, Swift has opened up about her political stances and revealed she voted for Barack Obama both in 2008 and 2012. That didn't stop her, however, from teaming up with Papa John's Pizza in 2012 — just a month before Obama's reelection — despite "Papa" John Schnatter's own vehement opposition to Obama's signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act.

Adam Levine mocked celebrity fragrances until he made one

Hypocrisy, thy name is Adam Levine. The Maroon 5 frontman tweeted in March 2011, "I also would like to put an official ban on celebrity fragrances. Punishable by death from this point forward." One year later, Levine announced plans to release his own cologne and perfume line, called 222 — and his fellow coach (and occasional nemesis) on The Voice, Christina Aguilera, called him out. Posting a screenshot of his prior remark, the "Fall in Line" singer wrote, "Haha @adamlevine. What a difference a year makes... Welcome to the celebrity fragrance family!"

Levine later halfway recanted his remark but still felt the need to shame fellow celebrities with perfume lines. He told People, "I know there's a stigma attached to it. A stigma that I fully understand because I, too, hate the idea of a celebrity fragrance, absolutely, 100 percent. I kind of thought to myself, 'Well I'm interested in fashion and there's a lot of things about it that could be really cool if done properly," he added. "So I want to do a thing that's never done properly. That's my goal. It's going to be cool."

Selena Gomez hates Instagram, but loves sponsored posts

Selena Gomez is one of the most-followed people on Instagram, but she complains often that she hates the medium as a whole. In February 2016, the "Lose You to Love Me" singer told W Magazine that she vowed to "give all of [social media] up" a some point, saying she only uses it to leverage her young fan base and have "a f**king say" in tabloid stories about her. Nine months later, she Gomez told her fans in the crowd at the American Music Awards, "I don't want to see your bodies on Instagram, I want to see what's in [your heart]. I'm not trying to get validation nor do I need it anymore."

In January 2020, she told The Wall Street Journal that she was back on Instagram to promote her album Rare, but that she was going to remove the app from her phone to avoid it from triggering her "addictive personality." It's a tale as old as time for Gomez, who makes quite the killing off of the very social media platform she repeatedly decries: AdWeek estimated in July 2016 that Gomez's social media posts are worth roughly $550,000 a piece at the time, and she's posted plenty of sponsored snapshots for the likes of Adidas, Coca-Cola, Coach, and Pantene.

Was drinking Pepsi too... challenging for Britney Spears?

Britney Spears had a lucrative contract with Pepsi to the tune of $8 million in 2001, but the "Slumber Party" singer kept getting busted drinking Coca Cola products. "You don't expect to sign someone to a deal that big and then see them drinking a competitor's brand twice in a month," a source told The Sun (via PR Week). "Words were said to her in the strongest terms last month, and I'm sure more will be said to her now." A spokesperson for the brand seemed to dismiss that notion, however, describing Spears' slugging back a Coke as a "non event." 

Still, we wonder how the brand felt when the Vegas headliner seemingly dissed them once more in 2013. TMZ reported that in Spears' conservatorship case, her financial dealings were examined closely, and she sold 574 shares of Coca Cola for $3,238.55, keeping 208 shares for herself. There was no PepsiCo found anywhere in her stock portfolio.

Sting needed an S.O.S. after angering human rights activists

In October 2009, Sting made more than $1.3 million to perform at a concert organized by then-Uzbekistan dictatorial president Islam Karimova, who was accused of jailing and deporting political opponents and public figures with dissenting views. What made it especially shocking was the former Police frontman's reputation for being politically, socially, and environmentally conscious. The backlash against the former Police frontman was widespread, like the letter from Umida Niyazova, Director of the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, who wrote, "I hope that you will not accept the money for the concert, which symbolizes much of the suffering of Uzbek people."

Sting's response to the backlash, which conspicuously did not include a promise to donate his paycheck from the show, was even more baffling. "I am well aware of the Uzbek president's appalling reputation in the field of human rights as well as the environment,"Sting said in a statement (via The Guardian) at the time of the outrage. He added, "I made the decision to play there in spite of that. I have come to believe that cultural boycotts are not only pointless gestures, they are counter-productive, where proscribed states are further robbed of the open commerce of ideas and art and as a result become even more closed, paranoid and insular."

And how did that go over? Former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray had some thoughts, most notably calling Sting's logic "transparent bollocks." 

Miley Cyrus' hip-hop flip-flop

Miley Cyrus sang about Jay-Z in "Party in the USA," but then said she's never heard a Jay-Z song before (really?); a year later she said she called herself "a sellout" for making pop music. Perhaps that's part of what made Cyrus' abrupt jump to hip-hop was so jarring with her twerk-obsessed performances and album Bangerz in 2012 and 2013. She then slammed the entire genre to Billboard in May 2017, griping, "I can't listen to that anymore. That's what pushed me out of the hip-hop scene a little. It was too much 'Lamborghini, got my Rolex, got a girl on my c**k' — I am so not that." She then backtracked on her remarks in a since-deleted Instagram post writing (via Vulture), "I have always and will continue to love and celebrate hip-hop as I've collaborated with some of the very best! At this point in my life I am expanding personally/musically and gravitating more towards uplifting, conscious rap! As I get older I understand the effect music has on the world & seeing where we are today I feel the younger generation needs to hear positive powerful lyrics!"

Unfortunately for Cyrus, her country-pop follow-up to Bangerz, Younger Now, flopped, selling 45,000 in its first week. Comparatively, the hip-hop infused Bangerz sold 270,000 and went platinum, while Younger Now didn't even go gold. Rolling Stone reported in December 2018 that Cyrus pivoted back to hip-hop once more for her follow-up to Younger Now, called She Is Coming.

A bunch of musical icons ignored Apartheid for checks

The BBC reported that despite a United Nations boycott of South Africa in the 1980s, a slew of iconic musicians and bands performed at the Sun City Resort and Casino in Bophuthatswana, an area for South Africans of color, during Apartheid. Frank Sinatra made a cool $2 million to perform, while Elton John, Dolly Parton, Queen and Liza Minnelli were among the other artists who pocketed allegedly dirty money for their services. Queen guitarist Brian said of the "Bohemian Rhapsody" band's decision to perform at Sun City in 1984, "We've thought a lot about the morals of it, and it is something we've decided to do. The band is not political — we play to anybody who wants to come and listen." According to The New York Times, Minnelli agreed to perform under the conditions that the concert was integrated, but only 200 out of 4,500 attendees of her 1982 show there were people of color (and only one of those was reportedly in a more expensive seat).

Feeling dismayed? Cheer up: Other artists, including Tony Bennett, Stevie Wonder, and Ella Fitzgerald stuck to their guns and refused the massive payday. Integrity really is expensive.