A few days before Vladimir Putin announces rushed referendums in occupied parts of Ukraine and the mobilization of 300,000 more men, the Russian pop superstar Alla Pugacheva73, had posted a message denouncing the war on Instagram, where she has 3.5 million followers. At the beginning of October, she hammer the nail by qualifying those who had reproached him for these comments as “lackey” and D’“slaves”adding that she was delighted to“being hated by people I’ve always hated”.
Having closely followed the artistic career of Pugacheva and written on the characters she embodied on stage and in the city, I knew that this anti-war declaration would have a significant impact on her compatriots in Russia.
Although Pugacheva is not well known outside of Russia, she is one of best selling singers in the world and arguably the most famous woman in Russia. Opinion polls have consistently named her one of Russia’s most popular personalities for decades: it sometimes appears in second position after Putin.
Its fans are found in all strata of Russian society, including among the millions of ordinary Russians who, because they rely on Russian state media to inform themselvesare particularly sensitive to the powerful propaganda machine of the Kremlin.
In a way, Pugacheva represents a bridge to the past. Being from the same generation as Putin, his name evokes the stability and predictability of the Soviet era. However, this is not the first time that she has taken advantage of her notoriety to challenge the political status quo.
A multifaceted singer
Pugacheva burst onto the Soviet pop culture scene in 1975 with “Arlekino”, a song about a tragicomic clown. In recounting the drama of a jester, she alternated between laughter and tears, exuberant singing and pantomime.
This first success had different effects according to the various strata of Soviet society. The general public is enthusiastic about the catchy melody and the stage presence of the singer. Meanwhile, the dissident intelligentsia interpret the text as a tribute to the plight of artists living in a totalitarian state.
His versatility and ability to merge high culture with popular culture will become characteristics of his artistic production. Although her performance style can be clownish or even grotesque, she became one of the first Russian pop singers to set lyrics to music from texts by classical poets such as william shakespeare and Boris Pasternak.
Her songs, a mix of pop, rock, folk and gypsy music, defy categorization, and her concerts resemble miniature plays in which Pugacheva – an excellent actress – demonstrates her gift for embodying a whole range of characters during in one piece.
Even today, millions of Russians listen to and sing Alla Pugacheva’s songs. One of his most popular titles, “A Million Scarlet Roses”, tells the story of a painter who falls in love with an actress. He sells all his canvases and possessions to buy roses to flood the place in front of his window. “He who is in love, and seriously / Will turn his whole life into flowers for you”sings Pugacheva at the end of the chorus.
Yet if you listen carefully to some of his songs, you will hear cleverly camouflaged political messages. For example, his tube “Kings can do anything” has often been seen as an ironic description of the illusory nature of rulership.
She always have ignored the advice not to perform this song at concerts in front of government officials, and on several memorable occasions she even singled out important government ministers present in the audience as she sang the provocative refrain: “Kings can do anything, kings can do anything! / But no matter what, not a single king can marry the person he loves!”
His status as an icon of Russian culture has also allowed him to challenge certain patriarchal stereotypes that are widespread in Russia. She is a loving mother and grandmother, happily married to a man twenty-seven years her junior, with whom she had twins by GPA in 2013. By continuing to perform well into old age, it upends cultural notions of femininity and sexuality, shattering the traditional image of the “babushka” Russian asexual and devoted to her offspring.
Singer Alla Pugacheva and Russian President Boris Yeltsin at the Russian State Awards ceremony in 1995. | Wikimedia Commons
The pop tsarina against the “new tsar”
In 2012, she became the spokesperson for the oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov during her unsuccessful presidential campaign against Putin and, in a television interview, she compared Putin to “mafia godfather of a criminal country”.
Although she always spoke out and shied away from the propaganda that permeated Soviet and Russian popular culture, her continued popularity compelled the Kremlin to honor him repeatedly.
Yet when war broke out in Ukraine in February 2022, Pugacheva remained silent.
Her husband, comedian Maxim Galkin, however, was one of the first Russian celebrities to openly oppose the Russian invasion, and the couple left Russia with their young children shortly after the outbreak of hostilities. As the war dragged on, Galkine continued to denounce her and to highlight the Putin regime’s corruption on social media. The Kremlin ended up designate as a “foreign agent”.
At the end of August, Pugacheva unexpectedly returned to Moscow with her children, but without her husband. When a reporter asked her about her plans, she replied maliciously: “I’m going to put things in order. In my head and in your heads.
On September 18, 2022, she released the instagram post mentioned at the beginning of this article. Addressing the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation, Pugacheva asked him to designate her as a “foreign agent” in solidarity with her husband. She added that her husband is “an honest and upright human being, a true and incorruptible patriot of Russia, who wishes his fatherland a flourishing and peaceful life, freedom of expression, and an end to the death of our boys for illusory goals which make our country a pariah and weigh heavily on the lives of our fellow citizens.”
Reactions ranged from praise for his bravery to charges of treason. Several Russian news agencies reported that Pugacheva’s statement discredited the Russian army and that it should be thoroughly investigated.
The great Russian satirist Mikhail Zhvanetsky once said: “The country knows Putin and Pugacheva, and these two are enough for it. Alla sings in a way that inspires everyone to imitate her… and she lives in a way that inspires everyone to imitate her.”
Time will tell if Pugacheva’s anti-war message will resonate with her millions of devoted fans.
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