Things aren't going so well for Akon these days. Not only did he endure a serious moral scolding after video footage began circulating widely online of the Senegalese-American rapper dry-humping a 14-year-old fan during a concert in Trinidad, but then came news that telecom giant Verizon canceled its sponsorship of Akon's tour with Gwen Stefani and removed him from all its online and in-store promotions.
Speaking in today's New York Times, a Verizon spokesman explained the termination thusly: "We made a decision, based on what we saw, and in this case, our own customers, who we listen to, were reacting." It's hard to gauge the extent to which Verizon customers were truly shocked and appalled by Akon's behavior (which took place at a 21-and-over club -- one that obviously needs better bouncers), but you've got to think that the company's decision was in no small part influenced by prominent conservative media personality and anti-rap Savonarola Michelle Malkin, who criticized the rapper as misogynist and his behavior as "vulgar and degrading" on a video podcast last week and pressured sponsors to sever their ties with the rising star.
Akon's antics were definitely on the gross side, but what did Verizon expect? Did anyone at the company even listen to his album ("Konvicted," which has sold more than 2 million copies) before signing the guy? If they had, they'd have heard hit singles like "Smack That" ("Smack that all on the floor/ smack that till you get sore") and "I Wanna Love You," which, in its unedited version substitutes "love" with a different four-letter word. But the problem isn't that Akon is objectionable -- he isn't really, and people who complain about him are the same kind of people who would have tied themselves in knots over Elvis -- the problem is that Verizon fired Akon for doing the kind of thing it hired him for. The dude is a star because he has a sexy, streetwise image and an album full of sexy, streetwise songs. Verizon was only too happy to bask in Akon's popularity until he took one sideways step from what he always does (which he's since apologized for) and then it drops him like a hot potato. To suddenly treat him as some sort of moral degenerate is ridiculous. Especially considering the fact that, at this very moment, R. Kelly walks the streets as a free man. Would somebody please think about the children?!
There's also a double standard in play that makes Verizon's foolishness even more annoying. The Times article I quoted earlier points out that Verizon has maintained its associations with both Keith Urban and Fall Out Boy mainman Pete Wentz -- even though the former has a well-documented addiction problem and the latter had pictures of his wee wee (inadvertently) plastered all over the Internet last year. Hmm. Cute white stars have more leeway with their indiscretions than does one born with the name Aliaune Damala Bouga Time Puru Nacka Lu Lu Lu Badara Akon Thaim. Weird.
Anyway, I think I'm going to go bang my head against a wall.
-- David Marchese