In Thursday's lead Arts story, Jeff Leeds wondered why the communications company Verizon is so uptight about R&B singer Akon simulating sex with a 14-year-old on stage at a concert in Trinidad - "Verizon Drops Pop Singer From Ads."
"Yet it was Akon, a smooth, Senegalese-American R&B singer, whose conduct in an amateur video circulating online recently seemed to cross a line for Verizon, which last week said it would cease advertisements involving him. Verizon also terminated its sponsorship of the pop star Gwen Stefani's tour, for which Akon is the opening act. The move by Verizon has sent a chill through the ranks of touring pop artists and agents, who are left scratching their heads over their vulnerability to such penalties.
Maybe this is the part that bothered Leeds most: "Verizon - the telecommunications company, which markets music services including ring tones and live-performance videos - quietly moved to end its affiliation with Akon last week after critics, including conservative political commentators, called attention to a video of him simulating sex with a fan onstage during a club performance in Trinidad several weeks ago. The fan, according to news accounts in Trinidad, turned out to be under 18 (and a pastor's daughter). Yesterday Akon offered an apology that appeared to deflect part of the blame on to the club that admitted the girl."
Leeds forwarded this lame defense of Akon's behavior:
"But others said Verizon should have more fully understood Akon before choosing to promote him. The first two singles from his recent album, 'Konvicted,' include sexual references and became hits. Yet others say Akon's stage show on [singer Gwen] Stefani's tour has been relatively tame, and that Verizon acted unfairly, and perhaps without considering whether Akon could have known his onstage dance partner was under age."
Maybe that should have crossedthe singer'smind before he started "performing" something that was hardly a "dance" with the teenager onstage- more like"throwing her around like a rag doll" around the stage, in the words of critics. You can watch the vulgar performance here.
Changing the subject from Akon's on-stage behavior, Leeds came to the defense of Gwen Stefani (who is touring with Akon) with this heart-wrenching anecdote:
"One fan of Ms. Stefani, April Van Zandt, of Landers, Calif., said she and several friends she had met online had labored on a home-made Gwen Stefani music video for a Verizon-backed contest that was withdrawn because of the company's move. Ms. Van Zandt, 27, said she and her friends - fans whom she has become close to but never met - were hoping to win the contest, in which the prize was a trip to California, so they could meet for the first time. I would think they would lose some business over this, not just me,' said Ms. Van Zandt, who added that she has a Verizon phone. 'People are very upset.'"