All Emin Agalarov ever wanted was to be a global pop sensation like his idol, Elvis Presley. He’s absolutely determined to break America – and being a central figure in the wildest federal investigation of American political history isn’t going to hold him back. Unless, of course, it does…
There’s a very interesting pop concert due to take place in New York City this month. On 26th January – a few blocks south of Times Square; a stone’s throw from Broadway – a Russian billionaire has booked a 1,500 seat theatre and is scheduled to play a gig there to a practically sold-out crowd.
The gig is not for charity. It’s not being done as a dare. It’s a regular, ordinary, doors-at-7, merch-in-the-foyer, please-have-your-bags-ready-for-inspection type of concert.
There’s nothing about the gig that will be particularly noteworthy. Unless his pal Steven Seagal shows up to jam on a few tunes, it’s all but guaranteed to be a set of pleasant but forgettable pop ballads and passionless swing covers. In fact, the only remarkable thing about the gig is that it’s taking place at all.
And why is that?
Because the Russian billionaire who’s headlining the show is one of the names on Robert Mueller’s hitlist: Emin Agalarov.
You’ve likely heard the name Emin Agalarov before. He and his father, Aras Agalarov, are a pair of extremely rich Russian property developers, who have been identified as a possible channel of collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign in the 2016 US election.
Not only were the Agalarovs the ones who instigated the now-infamous Trump Tower meeting of June 2016 (the one in which Donald Trump Jr met with a Russian lobbyist on the promise of getting dirt on Hillary Clinton), they were also the ones who met with Donald Trump Sr in Las Vegas back in 2013, angling to host a Miss Universe contest in Moscow (the one which is almost certainly at the root of the pee tape story).
A billionaire pop star who got the President of the United States into piss-play is very much Popbitch’s kind of celebrity – but our interest in Emin actually goes back much further than that.
We first became aware of Emin in late 2010, shortly before the release of his fourth album, Wonder. Back then he was just the lowly son-in-law of the President of Azerbaijan; a rich kid trying to throw his father’s fortune and his wife’s name at making a career for himself – very much the Jared Kushner of Azeri society.
We popped along to his album launch event, in part because we saw he’d hired out the newly-refurbished Savoy Hotel for the bash (a very lavish rarity in the credit crunch era) but also because we noticed he was trying to kickstart his career with a cover of an obscure track from one of Nick Carter’s solo albums.
Backstreet Boys deep-cuts, fuelled by champagne and funded by mildly opaque Azeri-Russian money? Naturally, we were there like a shot.
We’ve kept a close eye on Emin’s career ever since, as he went on to appear as the interval act at the Eurovision Song Contest in Baku in 2012; as he went on to perform in the evening gown competition at the Miss Universe contest in Moscow in 2013; as he went on to lure Donald Trump Junior into a legal minefield of potentially felonious activity in 2016 – each development delighting us even more than the last.
Now, it seems as though he’s on the verge of becoming a genuine international sensation – though, sadly, not for the reasons he so desperately wants to be.
In the pursuit of his dream to become a world-beating pop star, Emin is boldly returning to the States this month to see if he can finally break America.
The only difference this time is that America may now try to break him.
As he’s a person of interest in one of the most fractious scandals in American political history, there’s a pretty decent chance that shit will kick off the second he sets foot on US soil. So we thought now would as good a time as any to get you up to speed on the weird story of Emin Agalarov: the world’s richest pop star – and possibly the world’s strangest spy.
The College Years
There’s not a huge amount known about the early life of Emin Agalarov – short of the dull geographical facts that typify the pre-teen exeperience. Born in Baku in 1979. Moved to Moscow in 1983. Sent to school in Switzerland in 1992. The story only starts picking up momentum in 1994, when the 14 year old Emin moved to Tenafly, New Jersey.
It was there that he discovered his “passion for music”. As is the case with every milquetoast crooner who ever donned a slim-fit tux, what that really means is that he heard his first Sinatra.
Before that, Emin had been devoted to Elvis Presley. While everyone else at Tenafly High was listening to TLC and Montell Jordan, Emin’s former classmates remember him best as the “mad Russian” who rode around town on a souped-up moped that he’d strapped a sound system to, blasting out Elvis Presley songs and shouting “ELVIS IS THE KING!” so often that it became his catchphrase.
His abiding love for two of America’s most recognisable musical icons has been a huge influence on his life. Not just in his own music (his early albums are peppered with Presley and Sinatra covers; one album – aptly titled Obsession – is made up exclusively of them). It’s affected a significant number of his other decisions: be they business, political or pet related.
After graduating from Tenafly High, Emin crossed the Hudson River to study Business and Management at Marymount Manhattan College in New York’s well-to-do Upper East Side.
Marymount has its fair share of famous alumni, but Emin had the spectacular fortune to enrol at a time where a young woman by the name Vanessa Haydon was a student there.
Haydon was a couple of years older than Emin, so it’s unlikely that they ever took a class together. She was also dating a Saudi prince at the time (Khalid bin Bandar bin Sultan), so would have been broadly immune to the young Russian’s charms had the two ever met at a rich people party. However, the fact that the two of them were both undergraduates at Marymount Manhattan at the turn of the century would go on to provide plenty of helpful talking points in later life when the Agalarovs tried to court the Trump family business in 2013.
For who did young Vanessa Haydon grow up to be?
Vanessa Trump – wife (now ex-) of Donald Trump Jr…
Back To Business
After seven years stateside, keeping himself in pocket money by selling various Russian trinkets on eBay, Emin returned to Moscow after graduating to take a place in his father’s booming business. Aged 21, he became the Commercial Director of the Crocus Group.
The Crocus Group is currently one of Russia’s biggest property development and construction companies – not wildly dissimilar to the Trump Organisation. Among the flagship properties within the Crocus portfolio are a luxury retail centre, a residential tower, a hotel, an exhibition centre, a concert hall, a golf and country club and all sorts of subsidiary businesses under the Crocus brand including their own clothing line, watchmakers, bank, and an insurance company.
In recent years, the company was picked to build two stadiums for the 2018 World Cup, a federal university in Vladivostok, multiple branches of the Nobu restaurant chain (for which they have partnered with Robert De Niro).
It’s a massive operation, currently valued somewhere in the region of $1.7 billion. So understandably Emin’s work was cut out for a while when he first started; his music temporarily getting shifted onto the back burner.
During these corporate-focused, artistically-fallow years Emin met and married his first wife, Leyla Aliyeva: the daughter of the president of Azerbaijan. It’s perhaps a little cynical of us to suggest that this marriage (which took place in early 2006, formally connecting his wealthy family to the powerful Azeri establishment) afforded him the breathing room to pick up the tunes again – but, whatever the reason, Emin’s debut album Still came out later that year.
From there, he got the bug. No longer content just to be a young corporate go-getter, raking in the rubles and staking his place as the heir apparent to his father’s enterprise, Emin decided that his destiny was in music. He would juggle his business and family commitments with recording and releasing his own albums – churning one out every year for the next five years.
Then, in 2010, he decided the time had come to take things global. Emin and Leyla relocated to London, where she began editing the international edition of quarterly lifestyle magazine Baku for Conde Nast, and he – using his significant social and financial clout – started throwing everything he had at his music career.
He teamed up with a raft of songwriters and producers, including:
– Brian Rawlings (behind Cher’s Believe)
– Paul Barry (behind Enrique Iglesias’s Hero)
– Wayne Hector (behind multiple number ones for Westlife and JLS), and
– Fame Academy’s David Sneddon.
Things really started picking up. He signed a distribution deal with EMI. He got added to Radio 2’s A-list. But in May 2011, something especially fortuitous happened: Azerbaijan won the Eurovision Song Contest, meaning that they got to hosting the show in 2012.
And heading up the Eurovision Organising Committee on the ground in Baku? Mehriban Aliyeva. The First Lady of Azerbaijan. a.k.a. Emin’s mother-in-law.
A global audience of 200 million watch the Eurovision Song Contest each year, and Emin was the natural choice to perform for the grand final’s interval show – being both a Baku boy himself, and (rather more helpfully) married to the President’s daughter. It gave him a truly international platform on which to showcase his talents, bringing him to more widespread attention.
After the glory of the Eurovision Song Contest, Emin’s ambitions shifted up a gear. He decided that he wanted to shoot a video with Miss Universe – and that’s when things start to get really interesting…
Meeting #1: The Golden Opportunity
No matter who you are, no matter what you do, the rule is this: if you want to shoot a video with Miss Universe, you have to go through the proper channels. Specifically, you have to speak to the organisers of the Miss Universe competition – a franchise that was, at the time, owned by Donald J Trump.
Emin had his publicist (Rob Goldstone, who we will deal with properly in Part Two) reach out to the Miss Universe team. Goldstone made all the necessary enquiries, flexing a bit of Emin’s billionaire pop star muscle, insisting that having a Miss Universe appear in Russia’s hottest new music video would be mutually beneficial for both pop star and pageant owner alike. Donald Trump, the trashy impresario that he is, agreed.
The deal was done. Miss Universe 2012, Olivia Culpo, could star in Emin’s video for Amor – and, furthermore, he was also keen to discuss the possibility of hosting the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. Maybe at one of the Crocus Group’s concert halls?
To talk the deal over, Donald Trump extended an invitation to the Agalarovs – both Emin and Aras – to join him for a meeting in Las Vegas.
The stars were aligning. The pieces all clicking into place. For Emin, the invitation was a total no-brainer. Hanging out with Trump in a Vegas hotel surrounded by a bevy of beauty queens? Chuck in a Jack Daniels, and it was everything he’d ever dreamed for himself as a kid listening to his moped boombox in New Jersey.
He’d even named the Crocus Group’s massive entertainment complex Vegas in honour of the city that was famously home to Elvis Presley’s and Frank Sinatra’s legendary residencies. This was it. It was happening.
In June 2013, the Agalarovs flew out to meet Donald Trump in Las Vegas – and, in doing so, set off a chain of events that has since spawned the infamous piss tape story.
If you aren’t aware of the allegation put forth in the Steele Dossier – that a video tape exists of Donald J Trump watching prostitutes soak the mattress of his Moscow hotel suite in piss, then:
a/ Where the hell have you been?
b/ This is supposedly what happened…
In the early hours of 15th June – the day before the Miss USA pageant took place in Las Vegas – Trump, Emin and his father, Aras, all reportedly attended a cabaret performance at a nightclub called The Act. The Act was well-known for putting on rather risqué performances; some so risqué that they came within a squeak of getting evicted for skirting too close Nevada State obscenity laws.
Among the routines there was one in which two women (taking on teacher/pupil roles) undressed and appeared to urinate over one another. There is no official record of whether or not that particular routine appeared on the setlist the night that Trump, Emin and Aras were present, but word around national intelligence circles suggests that it did.
Not only that, but the story goes that Trump was so tickled by the spectacle of that pissy performance, that he wouldn’t shut up about it – telling everyone about it, over and over, for the rest of the Agalarovs’ trip.
Having seen what a kick he’d got out of it in Vegas, one of the Agalarovs therefore decided that they would arrange a private encore for him to enjoy in his suite when he arrived at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton a few months later.
It’s that event – the Moscow encore – that someone supposedly has a tape of.
This might sound like a far-fetched conspiracy theory. It certainly sounds too outrageous to be true. But, from what little we do know, it isn’t actually hugely inconsistent with some of the sworn testimony of Trump’s longtime bodyguard, Keith Schiller.
Schiller testified under oath to the House Intelligence Committee that, shortly after the first meeting in Vegas, one of the Agalarovs offered to send a number of prostitutes (five, in total) up to Trump’s suite – an offer that Schiller took it upon himself to rebuff.
It’s worth pointing out that Emin has disputed this claim, insisting that no such offer was made – not by him, nor by his father.
However, it’s also worth pointing out that Emin has only ever been called upon to address this claim in press interviews about his pop career; never under the threat of perjury.
That could all be about to change though.
Given that Keith Schiller’s testimony directly contradicts Emin’s account of events, Mueller would doubtless be keen to chat to see how, and why, this little discrepancy has occurred.
18 months ago, the prospect of landing this sort of interview must have seemed impossible. Why on earth would a Russian billionaire ever go to the trouble of assisting an American G-man investigating his friend and associate when there is absolutely no legal compulsion for him to do so?
Yet, such is Emin’s blinkered dedication to becoming a pop star, he is now ditching his day job to travel to the States – voluntarily – to play a handful of gigs in New York, Miami and LA to maybe a few thousand fans. A four-date tour that could cause him no end of trouble.
Because if Mueller decides he does want to sit down with Emin, the questions probably won’t just be confined to the debauched night he had with Trump in Vegas. Mueller will likely want to clear up another matter in which Emin’s recollection of events differs somewhat from the testimony that others been given.
You see, when Donald Trump Junior testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2017 (not under oath, but with a legal obligation not to lie or mislead Congress) he claimed that he could not recall whether or not he spoke to Emin over the phone in advance of the contested Trump Tower meeting of 2016.
Yet from the sound of the some of the interviews that Emin has been giving from the safety of Russia, it would seem that his memory is much, much clearer…
In Part Two…
As well as bringing Emin Agalarov to international attention, the fateful Trump Tower meeting of 2016 also had the unintended consequence of introducing the world to another incredible character: Emin’s outspoken publicist, Rob Goldstone. Goldstone’s candid emails to Don Jnr have landed everyone involved in an awful lot of hot water with the special counsel – and they may have stirred some extra special interest in Emin himself. But there’s one particular slip of the tongue that may yet prove to be extremely significant…