Meet the Russian Pop Star at the Center of the Trump Jr. Scandal
The son of a Kremlin-friendly real estate mogul, Russian singer Emin Agalarov got Donald Trump to appear in one of his videos and once planned a duet with Steven Seagal.
Emin Agalarov is one of Russia's biggest pop stars, a 37-year-old Michael Buble-style crooner who also indulges in the occasional Euro Dance number.
He's also the scion of a real estate empire, son to Aras Agalarov, one of Russia's richest men, who has close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
And, according to reports, Emin Agalarov is also the man at the center of the latest scandal to engulf the Trump presidency. In a story Monday, the New York Times identified the younger Agalarov as the person who set up a meeting, June 9, 2016, at Trump Tower in New York, between Donald Trump Jr. and a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer. As the Times reported, Trump Jr., at the time a part of his father's campaign team, was promised the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, had damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
Reached by The Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday, a Russian spokeswoman for the singer would not confirm or deny any of the details of the Times story. The rep also declined to comment on the role of Rob Goldstone, a former British tabloid journalist and the president of a marketing company called Oui2 Entertainment, identified by the Times as Emin's publicist. Oui2 was involved in the publicity for the 2013 Miss Universe pageant and Emin's 2016 St. Petersburg show but it is unclear whether he represents Emin beyond that.
But who is Emin Agalarov? Turns out, he's one of the biggest, and strangest, pop stars you've never heard of.
Born in the North Caucasus republic of Azerbaijan, Emin (he goes by his first name only, like Madonna, or Sting) has enjoyed the cosmopolitan upbringing suited to the son of a billionaire. He was educated in Switzerland and the U.S. and worked for a time in Manhattan, N.Y., opening a shoe store on Madison Avenue, before returning to Russia in 2001 to join his father's company, Crocus Group, where he is still listed as an executive vp in charge of its retail-entertainment complexes, restaurants and a Caspian resort back in Azerbaijan.
The older Agalarov, whose net worth Forbes estimates to be around $1.9 billion, is often described as the “Donald Trump of Russia.” For several years, Emin was half of a Azerbaijani celebrity couple, married to Leila Aliyev, a daughter of Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev. The pair divorced in 2015.
In 2006, Emin broke into the music scene with his (English-language) album Still, which sold well in Russia. Seven more English and three Russian albums followed, including 2008's Obsession, a collection of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley covers. According to his official website, Emin has sold more than 1 million albums in Russia.
Emin is signed to Warner Music and Sony ATM Music Publishing and frequently tours, both in Russia and the U.S. Earlier this year, he wrapped up a multi-city jaunt that took him to Miami, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. He has had some crossover success outside of Russia, supporting U.K. pop giants Take That on their European tour and charting on Billboard U.S. dance charts with a remix of his song "Boomerang," a collaboration with the multi-Grammy winning Nile Rodgers.
Emin's biggest gig to date came last July when, in front of a 50,000-strong crowd at the historic Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg, he performed tracks from his most recent album, Love Is a Deadly Game, together with Grammy-winning Canadian musician and producer David Foster. As his website notes, only two other artists — Madonna and Sir Paul McCartney — have ever performed at the location. The concert was filmed for a PBS television special in the U.S.
Emin also had the honor of performing as an interval act at the finals of the 2012 Eurovision song contest, when it was held in Baku, Azerbaijan, the town where he was born. Later that year, he also performed in Baku with Jennifer Lopez at her sell-out concert for 25,000 fans.
Emin is well-known for his musical duets with other Russian artists, though the oddest collaboration — a planned duet of Freddie King's "Boogie Man" with Kremlin-friendly 1980s action star Steven Seagal — has sadly yet to be realized.
Emin's connections to the Trumps, however, came through real estate, not entertainment. In November 2013, Agalarov's Crocus Group complex in Moscow was chosen to host the Miss Universe pageant, then owned by Donald Trump. Before the event, Trump tweeted that Putin might attend, and speculated, “if so, will he become my new best friend?”
In the end, Putin didn't make the pageant, but Emin did, and he and Trump apparently hit it off. Emin used the event as a backdrop for the video to his song "In Another Life," a bass-heavy Ibiza-style pop number, in which he dreams of hanging out with all the beauty queens. Trump features in the video, breaking Emin's daydream and bringing the singer back to the reality of a boardroom where Trump berates him and then, in full The Apprentice style, tells the Russian star, “You're fired!”
Shortly after the event, Trump tweeted thanks and praise to Aras Agalarov and appeared to suggest he had signed a deal with Crocus to build a Trump Tower in Moscow: “I had a great weekend with you and your family. You have done a FANTASTIC job. TRUMP TOWER-MOSCOW is next. EMIN was WOW!”
While several Russian media outlets reported the story of a deal with Crocus for a Trump Tower Moscow, apparently no such agreement was ever signed.
Emin, however, maintained contact with the Trumps, even playing a concert at a Trump golf course, according to Forbes. On Emin's 35th birthday, Trump sent the singer a video message, calling him a “winner” and “a champ.” The feeling is apparently mutual. In a recent interview with The Chicago Tribune, Agalarov called Trump “a super-successful businessman” who has an advantage over other world leaders because “he actually ran a huge corporation.”
Emin moves between life as a musician and working for his father's company. In the Chicago Tribune article, he draws a connection between the creativity involved in writing a song and what happens “when you build a building or open a restaurant or store.”
As far as the connections to Trump Jr. and last year's meeting at Trump Tower go, Emin has so far declined comment and his typically busy Twitter feed has been silent on the subject.
The singer's international representation remains similarly murky. His website lists Ric Salmon of London-based ATC Management as his worldwide manager, but ATC's company website doesn't list Emin among the artists it represents.
The Kremlin has so far denied any connection to the July 2016 meeting; spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he had never heard of the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya.