The controversy surrounding Donald Trump’s Russia connections took a bizarre turn last weekend when news broke that Emin Agalarov—a Trump business partner and son of Aras Agalarov, a Russian billionaire with close ties to Moscow—had allegedly arranged a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. during last year’s campaign. Emin’s publicist, Rob Goldstone, promised incriminating information on Hillary Clinton would be on the table.
“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump—helped along by Aras and Emin,” Goldstone emailed Trump Jr. at the time.
Perhaps the strangest part of all: Emin Agalarov, 37, isn’t a spy or a hacker or even a diplomat, but an executive at his family’s Crocus Group real estate firm—and also a pop singer. He goes by the mononym “Emin” and refers to himself as an “international pop star”—a moniker the press has adopted in various forms—a label that is at best an exaggeration, and at worst an outright inaccuracy.
The Agalarovs’ ties to Donald Trump go back several years. The President got to know the Russian-Azerbaijani family while licensing them the rights to his Miss Universe pageant for an estimated $7 million and discussing plans for a Trump Tower in Moscow (the idea was abandoned as his political fortunes began to rise).
“And ever since, every time I was in America—in New York, in Miami—I performed at one of his events at the opening of a golf course, I visited his office, and we stayed in touch,” Emin told FORBES in February (this week, his team did not respond to an interview request). “He stayed in touch with my father as well. They’ve exchanged numerous letters. It’s been a great relationship so far.”
To say Trump is Emin’s biggest fan in the U.S. may not be an exaggeration. According to Nielsen’s stateside music numbers, the singer has clocked just 631,000 on-demand audio streams, 20,000 song downloads and 700 album sales in his entire career. By way of comparison, our June cover star The Weeknd generated 5.5 billion streams in the past two years alone, roughly 1 million times more than Emin’s total tally.
Internationally, Emin’s numbers aren’t much better. He averages 22,928 monthly listens on Spotify and grosses $8,906 per show according to concert data outfit Pollstar; both outlets include global numbers (it’s worth noting Spotify is not yet available in Russia—officially, anyway—and that Pollstar’s data can be spotty abroad). In any case, Europe’s household names outshine Emin by multiple orders of magnitude, from the U.K.’s Ed Sheeran (44 million, $1.2 million) to France’s David Guetta (37 million, $450,000).
One potential reason: Though much of Emin’s work is in English, some of it is in Russian. But language barriers haven’t stopped true crossover stars like Spain’s Enrique Iglesias (21 million, $1.1 million) and Italy’s Andrea Bocelli (1.4 million, $1.8 million). Emin’s stats put him closer to stateside acts like Sir Mix-A-Lot (943,781, $10,934) and the Squirrel Nut Zippers (50,032, $15,803).
A few of Emin’s YouTube videos have clocked seven-figure view counts, including one featuring 2013 Miss Universe contestants and Donald Trump himself, which now has 2 million plays. But it’s unclear who was doing whom a favor: Trump’s YouTube channel boasts more subscribers than Emin’s. And though the latter brings superstar-quality guest appearances and production budgets to many of his videos, his 80,000 YouTube subscriber total is vastly outweighed by Sheeran’s 19 million, Guetta’s 14 million, Iglesias’s 11 million and Bocelli’s 500,000.
Emin’s website claims he has sold over 1 million albums in Russia. That’s actually not a terribly impressive career tally. And insiders like Artemy Troitsky, a prominent Russian cultural critic, are deeply skeptical of even that number, positing that Emin’s pop star status in Russia–not to mention the rest of the world–is largely self-proclaimed.
“He’s never been really popular in Russia, let alone ‘superstar,’ although he’s quite well-known, especially in the glossy circle … I doubt very much that he has sold 1 million records, because he’s never got a real hit song in Russia,” says Troitsky. “Emin Agalarov is a very rich amateur.”
None of this has stopped Emin from touting a “mega-successful” U.S. tour earlier this year. That’s quite a charitable description. Of the six stateside shows his website says he played this year, only a gig at City Winery in Chicago appeared in Pollstar’s touring database; a rep for the venue declined to comment.
Faena Hall in Miami confirmed that Emin played there on his tour, as did Lincoln Center in New York. Neither would offer details on the financial arrangements behind the performances. But a search of Lincoln Center’s website revealed that Emin’s show took place in the Rose Theater, a 1,233-seat satellite venue that’s available for rental—an arrangement structured more like a wedding or Bar Mitzvah than a typical concert booked by a venue or promoter.
Paul Marte of the Bushnell Performing Arts Center in Hartford confirmed Emin played a show there on May 20 with Nile Rodgers (as did Rodgers’ rep, who quickly excused himself when asked for additional details). Like the Lincoln Center show, it took place not in the main concert hall, but in a smaller building, the Belding Theater (capacity: 908). Marte confirmed the show was a rental.
Emin had a similar arrangement at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles, where production manager Reid Bartlett says the singer played on May 27th. “The show at the Wiltern was a rental for us, and did feature performances by David Foster, Nile Rodgers and Emmanuel Kelly,” he says. “It was well-received by an enthusiastic audience of fans of all of the performers.”
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