I first discovered Googoosha through The Daily Beast.
At first, it was impossible not to laugh; after all, one of the world’s worst dictators having daughter aspiring to be a pop diva is a bit hard to believe. Perhaps as a music lover and, I guess, a former radio DJ, I really wanted to believe the magic of music was not only real, but, in fact, tangible. It’s a vessel for social change–for revolution–and provides a mode of expression able to topple over the cruelest of governments while garnering millions of hits on YouTube. For instance, this video totally took down the Gaddifi regime, right?
Googoosha (AKA Gulnara Karimova, the eldest daughter of Islam Karimov–the brutal dictator/president of Uzbekistan) is an “artist” from Uzbekistan, also known as “Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan” if you happen to be Herman Cain–the U.S.’s old pseudo-ally in Operation Enduring Freedom. Since Uzbekistan borders Afghanistan, Karimov permitted U.S. troops to use their K2 military base in exchange for aid (in various forms), but such an agreement fell apart a few years after Operation Enduring Freedom began. Growing human rights abuses and other related issues caused a fissure in Uzbek-U.S relations, and the relationship has been somewhat complicated since.
As the eldest daughter, she’s her father’s right-hand “man” (so to speak) with experience in politics from working as a counselor to Uzbekistan’s Mission to the UN to being appointed as the deputy foreign minister for international cooperation in cultural and humanitarian affairs. In addition, she is said to have a net worth of roughly 570 to 665 million USD and has her finger in every available successful business venture in the country as well as a host of philanthropic causes, including Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the Fund Forum (a so-called sponser of the arts bent on “reviving the spiritual legacy and the national traditions of the Uzbek nation”). Because “she remains the single most hated person in the country“–a fact Sting hopefully wasn’t aware of–it’s hard to imagine her capturing the hearts of millions with song. So, while Bono continues to save the entire continent of Africa and Coldplay is off saving the planet by planting dead trees, Karimova is tromping around the United Nations defending the Uzbek right to…boil prisoners?
To this end, she advertises herself as businesswoman, fashion designer, singer, and philanthropist. And, at least according to her website and Amazon.com page, a future Grammy winner:
“Just like in life, Googoosha s [sic] album takes you through many moods, experiences and lessons. It s [sic] an exotic potpourri of sounds and a personal testimony to the power of deeply felt emotions. She sings all her songs in English.”
And from her Twitter:
“All my songs are spoken for different moments of my life. The music is an experiment from trip-hop to soft rock and even pop.”
Unless one runs on the assumption that either she wrote the description herself or blackmailed/payed off some PR hack to do so, it’s nearly impossible to see where exactly this level of eloquence came from. ”Round Run” sounds a bit like the nightclub version of elevator music–or, in other words, Enya for youngsters–and has as much emotional content as a rock. Whatever lessons or experiences derived from listening to this song over and over again (for review purposes, of course) are overwhelmed by the desire to fall asleep and/or change the track.
Not to mention the other songs. ”Try, Try, Try” tells the listener to “learn to be free,” and one can’t help but think about the state of her own country; “Wake Up” happens to feature the line “when you’re forced to play tough”–a line we hope she didn’t write with her father in mind. The rest of the album is pretty bland as her English lyrics often sound choppy and the songs feature boring and uninteresting titles (e.g., “Night,” “I’m Alive,” “I Live,”and ”My Daddy’s Country Got a Democracy Score of 6.93 from Freedom House“–okay, that last one is fake).
Thankfully, Googoosha is a rarity, but dictators are certainly known for their bad–if downright bizarre–music taste. And we’re not just talking about Hitler’s obsession with, or, in his own words, “youthful enthusiasm” for Wagner.
While the West is currently debating whether or not to intervene in Syria, Bashar al-Assad is making good use of iTunes by purchasing LMFAO, Right Said Fred, and Chris Brown. Terrifyingly, he’s apparently been listening to “I’m Sexy and I Know It“–an image that even a glamorous profile in Vogue cannot fix.
Everyone now knows about Gaddafi’s Condilezza Rice obsession. He had a photo album dedicated to her and, to according to her book, No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington, wrote her a song and created a videotape:
At the end of dinner, Qaddafi told me that he’d made a videotape for me. Uh oh, I thought, what is this going to be? It was a quite innocent collection of photos of me with world leaders—President Bush, Vladimir Putin, Hu Jintao, and so on—set to the music of a song called “Black Flower in the White House,” written for me by a Libyan composer. It was weird, but at least it wasn’t raunchy.
Not to mention his family hired Usher, Mariah Carey, Nelly Furtado, Beyoncé, and Lionel Richie. Later, they were pressed to give the money to charity, but they nevertheless personally entertained the Gaddafi clan.
We can give him a little credit: he didn’t try Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend.”
It’s hard to find an actual clip from his debut album, but Hugo Chavez released a CD of traditional Venezuelan music back in ’07.
It is all satisfyingly horrendous – almost the smoking gun. The paintings of naked blonde maidens menaced by dragons and trolls, warriors wrestling serpents…that have been found in Saddam Hussein’s palaces and love shack feel like proof of something. They appear to reflect the man’s authentic pleasures and interests, or at the very least the culture of Saddam’s court, the values of his inner circle.
All in all, the presence of these paintings may seem like an complete anomaly, but they’re hardly surprising. The cockiness, the hysteria, and the deviant attraction to power and violence are all associated with a specific type of leader, a maniacal dictator. The delusions of grandeur derived from the image are probably not tremendously different than those driving Gulnara Karimova to her image as a diva, a fashionista, and a musical superstar.
But, in the end, at least Hussein didn’t record an album.