Why Argentina’s president hates pop diva Lali Espósito

Javier Milei has accused the singer of being ‘a parasite’ who makes her living ‘by suckling the state’s teat,’ in a crude attack on her for collecting public funds to give free recitals

Lali Esposito
Lali Espósito, at the Hard Rock Hotel in Madrid, in July of 2023.Claudio Álvarez

The president of Argentina, Javier Milei, is leading a coordinated attack on television, radio and the internet against pop diva Mariana Lali Espósito. Just as Trump has gone after Taylor Swift, Milei has chosen the popular Argentine singer as his bête noire in the artistic field.

Lali isn’t the only star in the country who has taken a stand against Milei, nor is she the public figure who has been the most critical of him. However, she embodies everything that Milei detests: she’s a progressive feminist, she’s pro-choice and she supports the rights of sexual minorities.

During a televised address last Wednesday night, the president claimed that she has received public funds for her performances, renaming her “Lali Depósito” (in reference to depositing of money in a bank account), a nickname that has quickly been repeated by Milei’s army of trolls on social media. Then, on Thursday, Milei turned up the volume: he called the singer a “parasite” and retweeted an AI-generated meme in which a doctored image of Lali showing her with a bag of cash, fleeing from starving children. He then deleted the tweet.

“Who started this? Not me. She started this,” the president complained to La Red, a local radio station, “If you want to attack [me], you have to be clean; if you’re a parasite who [has made a living] from suckling the state’s teat — and if your opinions are in line with [the politicians who] paid you for your performances — you’re a propaganda machine, you’re not an artist,” Milei declared.

The president was referring to Lali’s opposition to him. She has made no secret of her disdain for the far-right economist and TV panelist who won the elections in November. When he won his primaries in August of 2023, she wrote on social media: “How dangerous, how sad.”

Those four words triggered an earthquake of online libertarian anger. Now, every time she expresses herself politically, there’s a huge response from the pro-Milei bloc.

The most frequent accusation that the president hurls at the singer is that she has collected state funds to hold free concerts in cities throughout the country, which is a common practice not only in Argentina, but throughout the world. Local, provincial and national governments often finance shows that are offered for free in public spaces.

On social media, Lali’s supporters have pointed out that Milei’s alleged girlfriend, TV presenter Fátima Florez, has also received state funds for her presence at public festivals. In a Twitter thread, you can see Florez at a poncho festival in the province of Catamarca. There are also images of her attending state-funded performances in the provinces of Tucumán, Neuquén and Córdoba, among others.

This past weekend, the five-foot-tall Lali came out swinging on stage at Cosquín Rock. It was her first performance at this iconic summer festival in Argentina. When she performed one of her hit songs, Quiénes Son (“Who are they?”), she made a small change to the lyrics, to mock the attacks she’s been receiving from the far-right ruling party:

So what if I drink,


And live off the state?

Keep talking,

You’re full of shit, baby.

Shortly afterwards, she urged her audience to prevent the government from taking away “the unity that music, art and culture provide.” She also dedicated her song K.O. to “the lying, stupid, bad people who don’t give a damn, who don’t care about their country.”

At the same festival, another artist named Dillom angrily sang: “They have to kill Caputo in the plaza,” referring to Minister of Economy Luis Caputo. A complaint was filed against him in court for allegedly inciting violence and making an aggravated threat. But when it came to Lali, Milei didn’t say a word.

Lali started performing on TV when she was only 10 years old. Now 32, she’s one of Argentina’s most successful singers, although she grew up in the modest south of Buenos Aires. She went to castings by bus, without an agent, until she succeeded in soap operas for teenagers, such as Floricienta and Teen Angels. From there, she made the leap to pop music.

In a long text that she published this past Thursday on X (formerly Twitter), the singer reminded her almost eight million followers that she has had a 22-year-long career and that she doesn’t need state support to live. “I feel that the asymmetry of power between you and those you attack for thinking differently — [and all your] fake news — makes your [discourse] unfair and violent,” she wrote, publicly addressing the president. On her social media, Lali rebutted the president’s crude remarks with a synopsis of her 22-year-long career.

A smokescreen

Dozens of artists and celebrities have come out to publicly defend Lali. “We support our colleague Lali in the face of harassment by the president. Institutional violence against cultural representatives and social leaders seeks to silence the voices that are raised against misogyny, hunger and [austerity],” denounced the Argentine Actresses Collective in a statement. Her boyfriend, the journalist Pedro Rosemblat, opted for irony: “I understand you, brother (referring to Milei). I’m also obsessed with Lali and I do the same stupid things as you. I look at everything she does, I pay attention to what she says about me… [whenever people ask me something], I tell them about her.”

For Rosemblat, Milei’s constant attacks contradict the liberal mantra that he repeats in every speech: “Liberalism means unrestricted respect for the life project (or life path) of others, based on the principle of non-aggression.” Rosemblat thinks that this hypocrisy is an unequivocal sign that “he’s not a liberal, he’s just another reactionary.”

The outcry against Milei even came from the ruling party. Legislator Carolina Píparo said: “[Personally] attacking an artist from [the executive branch] is asymmetrical. It’s not how things should be done.” The governor of Córdoba, the province where the Cosquín Rock festival is held, noted that Milei “has an obsession with making blacklists of musicians.” He maintained that the smear campaign seeks to “distract attention” from Argentina’s real problems.

At the moment, the South American country has the third-highest level of inflation in the world — 254.2% year-over-year, just behind Venezuela and Zimbabwe — despite going through an economic contraction. According to the IMF, Argentina’s GDP will decline by 2.8% this year.

Upon assuming the presidency two months ago, Milei removed price controls that the previous government had placed on certain basic goods such as food items, which have gone up in price by 300% over the past year, and withdrew subsidies from public transportation and services such as gas, electricity and water. Both measures have put the shrinking Argentine middle class on the ropes: people have been hit hard after successive years of declining purchasing power. Criticizing Lali appears to be a distraction: attacking her doesn’t help tackle the tangible problems that are fueling a country that’s on fire.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS