02:23 - Source: CNN
Russian pop star trolls Trump in music video (2018)
Washington CNN —  

Days before the release of his 14th studio album, Russian pop star Emin Agalarov abruptly canceled his North American tour.

Agalarov helped set up the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between members of then-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign and a Russian lawyer. He was in talks with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team and Congress about answering questions regarding his involvement with Trump and that meeting, but negotiations fell through and the tour was cancelled because he claims he couldn’t be sure he’d be able to leave the country and continue his tour. His attorney Scott Balber told CNN Agalarov did not want to be subpoenaed for testimony. The prospect of being on US soil and subject to US law enforcement had loomed over the planned tour. The special counsel’s office declined to comment.

He maintains that nothing came from the meeting between Trump’s son Donald Jr. and campaign aides and the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya and emails between his former publicist Rob Goldstone and Trump Jr. were exaggerated. Veselnitskaya was recently charged with obstruction of justice in an unrelated money laundering case.

He spoke with Cover/Line about his canceled tour, his album Good Love, which will be released Friday, about Trump (he thinks he’s doing a good job, but like Cardi B and Lady Gaga, he’s against the government shutdown), and about the infamous Trump Tower meeting.

The interview has been edited for length:

COVER/LINE: First off I wanted to ask you about your tour. I’m sure that’s frustrating to have to cancel that right before you were going to start.

Agalarov: It is very frustrating, very unfortunate because we really did plan to come and intended to perform those shows considering also they were sold-out shows, for the most part, especially in New York and Los Angeles. So it is, it’s a shame, especially for the people that bought tickets a year ago, half a year ago, that will be unable to attend.

Note: CNN could not independently verify information about ticket sales with individual venues.

In your Instagram video, you said you were postponing it. So does that mean you’re looking to reschedule those dates?

Yeah, that’s our plan, definitely reschedule the dates for the later period, when basically my lawyer can assure me that I could come to the United States freely and leave freely because at this point on Monday I received the information from him that if I do arrive, he cannot guarantee the safety of my departure and the safety of my departure puts claim on my other 50 or 60 shows that I have this year, which obviously I’m stuck and I cannot travel, I’m jeopardizing my entire touring schedule.

So there were worries you might be detained or what was the worry there?

I think the main worry was because there was a current investigation going, and obviously I’m willing to give all the possible information that I have voluntarily, however, the other side might not be willing to give me that opportunity, and they’re not even interested to speak to me, they just want to turn [unintelligible] meeting with a Russian-based artist and having had held the Miss Universe in Russia in 2013, given the Russian fever, this could have turned into a big circus, with me just getting stuck in the US, which I cannot afford doing, because just canceling these four shows in Canada and the US, this puts roughly a half-a-million-dollar burden on me financially, which is not very pleasant.

How were talks between your team and Robert Mueller’s team and Congress going and why did they break down?

That’s a question to my lawyer Scott Balber, he’s been in contact with them and there seems to be no common ground at this point.

Your attorney, he told my colleague Kara Scanell that you wanted to tell your story and it sounds like you don’t think you have anything to hide, you’re willing to be transparent and talk about it, so what was the concern about sitting for an interview with them?

There is no concern about sitting for an interview with them. I’m completely prepared and ready to sit down and do any interview with anybody in the United States.

But there were terms you weren’t able to agree with?

There were terms that until the investigation ends I might have to stay in the United States because obviously, I’m not ready to do because the issue has been going on for a year and a half, and might continue for another year, or half a year, and I’m just unable to stay in the US for that long.

Do you know by any chance which congressional committees your lawyers were talking to?

That’s a question to my lawyer, I think to everybody.

Now your new album Good Love, that was three years in the making. What does it feel like to finally be able to release that?

It’s a jewel because over three years, it’s the first time I’m able to record an international album without a deadline and I have been able to replace on a monthly basis the tracks that I felt were weak, replace it with stronger tracks. One of the jewels is the track that I released, the video for which I released yesterday, which is called “Let Me Go,” featuring Robin Schulz, which is a fantastic dance track. And a few more amazing songs that will be singles this year and the album is really worth listening to. It’s all in English, obviously, and some amazing producers that have worked with Bono and Adele and the world-class acts have been working on this album alongside with me.

I noticed all those producers that you were able to work with. What about their work drew you to them?

Usually when you like an artist and you like the production, that’s why you want to choose and possibly approach a producer to work with. For example, Fraser Smith, who has produced a lot of Adele tracks, has done a song with me on that album, and it’s a very special one. Obviously, I love Adele and turned out to be just great. And the same thing for the other producers. I just like the work that they’ve done. Basically, the track list of their career is fantastic, and they produced some contemporary, amazing material.

In 2016 you said you were absent in the US and your connection to Trump could be an instrument of exposure. Has that proven more difficult than you thought it might be?

It felt like everything was going well until this Monday when my lawyer called me and said the conversations I’ve had with the people who want to talk to you have not been [unintelligible] at all, considering that US has no jurisdiction over me and I’m willing to basically come and stay in the US, and I’ve actually allocated time to stay after for my tour for an extra couple of weeks to be able to give those testimonies and conversations, but obviously, it looks like they’re not wanted.

How much of a presence in the US are you now? Are you able to look at streaming numbers? Where are you now and where would you like to be in the US market?

Offhand, from the top of my head I cannot tell you where I’m at right now, but in terms of my shows, these are 1,500- to 2,500-people venues that I’ve sold out, the Town Hall in New York is a big venue, and most of my audience is American-speaking, so my shows are all in English. You know, I’ve done a PBS program with David Foster in St. Pete, which broadcast to 600 cities, so I am present in the United States, and people that do attend my shows every time I come to pretty much any city in the United States. And I think if I was able to continue to tour the US and do the promo that’s necessary to do when you’re there obviously to go to the radio and TV and promote your music and perform on television, this could really help. But not being able to, obviously doesn’t help.

So your song “Let Me Go,” you said it’s about discovering and appreciating art. Is there something specific that inspired that?

The inspiration behind it all is art in itself is a very tangible term where anything could be art and anything that’s art could be criticized if it’s not art, and it’s about discovering the art within yourself and sharing it with the people around you.

I’m guessing that had something to do with the ending of the video where you’re in the frame and you’re covered in paint. What was the meaning of that? The symbolism of that?

The symbolism of that is that throughout the video I’m appreciating the art around me – where anything could be art, the dancers, the boxers, the [unintelligible] video on the wall – and in the end, I also become part of this art exhibition, basically presenting my single.

So that was a song you co-wrote. Is songwriting something you’d like to continue to do more of?

Well co-writing I’ve been doing for the past 20 years, but a lot of the songs I write on my own, a lot of the songs I like as co-writes. Co-writes happen to be more effective in the sense that the more people who help, different people from different countries, who work on the song, the more, I guess, most of the time, the better results you get. We call them writing camps, and I have been part of many and the only thing is the time issue. To sit down and write songs you need to take time off work, time off touring, and sit for a week or two or ten days or sometimes three weeks in a studio with guys that are willing to do it with you and scheduling is always an issue.

Do you have a favorite song on the album?

“Good Love.”

Why is that?

That song has, since the day we recorded it, became part of my show, and we close our shows with that song for the past last year, basically, the entire last year, and that’s why it’s the title track. It has a little bit of everything in terms of what I love. It has a little bit of blues, a little bit of Elvis, but it’s contemporary and modern, and it’s just cool and funky.

For your song “Got Me Good,” do you know what President Trump thought of your Trump lookalike in that music video?

I have no idea, but if I were to guess, I would guess that he probably found it humorous.

When’s the last time you’ve spoken with him?

Before he ran for president.

What do your fans in Russia make of your connection to Trump and the whole Mueller investigation?

I think my fans in Russia find it strange, because everybody knows me in this part of the world as a music producer, as a guy who creates the biggest music events. I launched a radio station in Moscow, a musical TV channel, a musical award show. I do a lot of televised programs, and to consider me a spy is quite funny to everyone here.

And continuing on with Trump, do you know if President Trump knew in advance about the Trump Tower meeting in June 2016?

I have no idea.

And you’ve said about that meeting that someone asked your dad to set that up but you don’t know who. Have you found out anything since then about who asked him to set that up?

No.

Is that something you’re curious about at all? Have you asked your dad about it?

We haven’t had a conversation about it recently.

Is it something you’re curious about? Do you wonder who it was?

No, and I don’t even care. I know that the outcome of the meeting was completely pointless, so obviously that’s something investigators should be finding out and this is as much as I know and this is as much as I’m willing to share.

So your former publicist Rob Goldstone, he said in his email to Donald Trump Jr. that it was “puffed up” and the term “Crown prosecutor” was an exaggeration. Do you think, though, that he could have meant Russia’s prosecutor general?

I have no idea. I know that I think “Crown prosecutor” is a title that does not exist at all in Russia, so obviously, that underlines the fact that Rob didn’t know what he was talking about.

The lawyer, Natalia (Veselnitskaya), though, who did meet with Donald Trump Jr., she said that she worked with Russia’s prosecutor general. Do you think that there could have been a confusion between those two titles?

You see, now the questions you’re asking me are part of the investigation. I’d probably prefer to answer them once thoroughly to the investigators and not to a journalist from CNN or BBC.

Just another question about Rob Goldstone. He said he believes that Russia interfered in the 2016 campaign in the US. Do you agree with that?

I disagree with that, but anything is possible, I guess. But it’s very funny sentences to present, because how could Russia interfere with an American election. Or America interfere with a Russian election. I mean, it’s ridiculous. People vote, you know, what can you interfere with?

Note: The US intelligence community as well as the Senate and House Intelligence committees have all said Russia interfered in the 2016 campaign.

Have US sanctions against Russia been something that’s affected your companies or your Vegas complex at all?

No, not at all.

Now your biggest hit in the US was “Boomerang.” It peaked at No. 9 on Billboard’s Dance Club Songs chart. What do you think it was about that song that made it so successful?

I think it was the song. The reason I say that is the first time I played that song in New York was a charity event for the homeless and at that same event, Nile Rodgers was receiving an award because he’s done a lot for the homeless charities in his life and was homeless himself once, and backstage, he heard the song. He said, “Emin, amazing band, you guys sound great, and that song is a hit.” And that song was “Boomerang.” Where I said, “Nile, it could only be a hit if you do your guitar magic on it.” So he said, “Sure, I love the song, I’ll do it.” So he’s done it, and I guess it added value to the song, and he basically reproduced it and it became a collaboration that brought a lot of success, not just in the United States, but Europe and Russia. It’s a big song for me.

Now President Trump is a big Kanye West fan. Are you a Kanye West fan at all?

I admire him as an artist, but I’m not sure I’m the biggest fan of that style of music.

In the US we’ve had a lot of artists like Cardi B and Lady Gaga who’ve spoke out against President Trump over the shutdown. What do you make of the shutdown in the US?

I think the shutdown is quite ridiculous because the financial value of the wall that Trump was trying to build I think is now overlapped with the amount of money the government has spent on the shutdown, so it’s quite, I think, pointless. People aren’t getting their salaries, which is not a good thing.

If you were to give President Trump a grade on his first two years in office, what would you give him?

I don’t think I want to grade him, but I should say, this is important is his grading, as any president, should be the economic parameters. The economical growth, GDP has almost tripled, I think, in the United States since he became president. There’s less jobless people, it’s safer, he’s fighting the terrorists and protecting the border. So if you look overall, he’s been a very good president, and the overall result of his work is positive. Not everyone might like the guy, or what he says, but his actions speak louder than words.

What do you hope your listeners will come away with after listening to your new album?

I hope they view me as an artist that has developed in the past few years, to the next level, and as the audience grows with you, they want their artist to grow as well, and hopefully, the direction I’ve chosen goes in line with what they expect from me. This is to my loyal fans. And to the ones who come on board as new listeners, I hope they enjoy the music because it’s a great piece of work that many many people alongside with me have put their heart and souls into it.

And then just a last question, what is your favorite Britney Spears song?

Why would you ask about Britney?

She’s just an artist I like, and I’m always curious what people’s favorite songs of hers is.

With Britney I like her first debut single where, remember the video where she tied up the white shirt with the school lockers in the background. I actually I think I graduated high school when that song came out.