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Who Is Emin Agalarov, the Russian Pop Star Behind the Donald Trump Jr. Meeting?

“Not every oligarch can say that he has developed himself into a genuine pop star,” said Boris Barabanov, a music critic for the Russian newspaper Kommersant. “Emin found his own repertoire that allowed him to get rid of the image of a singing billionaire.”

But the billionaire part was not insubstantial.

Privileged Beginnings

Born in Baku, Azerbaijan (then part of the Soviet Union) in 1979, Emin moved to Moscow with his family at the age of 4, according to his corporate biography. He attended school in Switzerland and New Jersey, where his interest in music blossomed.

“I was riding a moped, listening to Elvis and trying to look like him,” Emin told The Chicago Tribune in a May interview. “The whole school made fun of me because I thought I was the new Russian Elvis in town.”

After receiving a degree from Marymount Manhattan College in September 2001, Emin returned to Russia to work with his father, whose Crocus Group is known for developing shopping centers around Moscow. The senior Mr. Agalarov, one of Russia’s richest men, has close ties to President Vladimir V. Putin, who awarded him the Order of Honor, a top civilian award, in 2013. Emin is currently listed as the Crocus Group’s vice president.

A Turn Toward Music

In 2006, Emin released his first album, “Still,” which featured English vocals with an eye toward cracking Western European markets. Four more albums — “Incredible, “Obsession,” “Devotion” and “Wonder” — followed over the next four years with increasingly distinguished collaborators, including the British producer Brian Rawling (Enrique Iglesias, Rod Stewart).


Emin at a news conference with Mr. Trump at the Miss U.S.A. pageant in Las Vegas in 2013, when Erin Brady took home the crown.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

But finding a foothold in Europe proved tricky, and after a sixth album in English, Emin turned his focus to Russia, where he has gained something of a following, especially among members of the Azeri diaspora.

Though his YouTube channel, EminOfficial, has fewer than 80,000 subscribers — for comparison, the British singer Rita Ora has about 1.4 million — he maintains popular social media feeds on Twitter (332,000) and Instagram (721,000), where he flaunts his connections and flashy lifestyle. (Recently, he has introduced an alter ego, Jose Mamedov, a spy with a mustache, flowing hair and a white suit.)

Премьера клипа! EMIN (Jose Mamedov ) – ИСПАНИЯ.ЛЕТО Video by EminOfficial

“He is not in the first rank of Russian showbiz,” said Nikolai F. Uskov, the editor in chief of Forbes Russia, who called music something of a hobby for Emin. Still, “He is good looking, and he moves well when he sings,” Mr. Uskov said. “It helps because he has all showbiz stars as friends; they support him.” And, he added, “the press is very friendly.”

The Trumps, and More

Though the musical A-list has remained elusive, Emin has managed to rub elbows with some of the best, sharing stages and studios with Jennifer Lopez, David Foster and Nile Rodgers, the Chic frontman who appeared on Emin’s Robin Thicke homage “Boomerang.” The song reached No. 9 on the Billboard dance chart in 2015.

Emin – “Boomerang” feat. Nile Rodgers Video by EminOfficial

With his extensive catalog of club-ready pop songs and Engelbert Humperdinckesque ballads — he has been called “the Russian Ricky Martin” — Emin has also appeared as a performer at the popular Eurovision Song Contest (his mother-in-law at the time headed the organizing committee) and the World Music Awards. He has toured some in the United States, including recent shows in Miami, Los Angeles and New York. Last year, a concert special, featuring Mr. Foster and filmed in St. Petersburg, Russia, aired on PBS.


Emin performing in Red Square in Moscow last year.

Valery Sharifulin/TASS, via Getty Images

But it’s the singer’s nonmusical associations that have reverberated most loudly. Until 2015, Emin was married to Leila Aliyeva, the daughter of President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan. (A Trump hotel project there has been called Mr. Trump’s “worst deal,” though the Agalarov family has denied any involvement.)

And then there’s the first family.

After the 2013 deal to bring Miss Universe to Moscow and President Trump’s 15-second cameo in the pageant-themed video for Emin’s “In Another Life,” the pair have stayed in touch, visited each other in person and traded messages of endearment online.

In January 2017, the Crocus Group’s company magazine, Time to Eat, featured a photo of Emin, his father and President Trump on its cover, along with a two-page spread celebrating the rookie politician’s rise.

“Now that he ran and was elected, he does not forget his friends,” Emin told Forbes in a March interview, adding of the potential Trump Tower in Moscow, “if he hadn’t run we would probably be in the construction phase today.”

President Trump, too, had made his affections known. After the election in November, Emin reposted on Instagram a birthday video he had received from the mogul two years earlier.

“You’re a winner, you’re a champ, you’re great at real estate,” Mr. Trump said, “and boy, can you entertain!”

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