There is plenty of stuff in this world to be perpetually heartbroken about; wars, massacres and repression among them, but today I’d like to take some time to lament the fact that far too many people in Russia consider Philipp Kirkorov sexy.
The Bulgarian-born pop star was rated Russia’s sexiest man by a poll conducted this month by Levada-Center, Russia’s biggest independent polling agency.
The top five was rounded out by stripper Tarzan, most famous for being married to singer Natasha Korolyova, PM Vladimir Putin (who, I’m sure, was delighted to find himself in such exalted company), billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov (possibly the only predictable member of this list and he isn’t even half bad to look at), and cheesy tenor Nikolai Baskov.
It’s weird to have women express admiration for Kirkorov, who, by all accounts, appears to have some issues with the ladies, and by “issues,” I mean, the guy strikes me as a violent misogynist.
Back in 2004, he had his bodyguards attack a female journalist for asking a question he didn’t like. And in 2010, there were allegations of him striking a female audience member and, later in the year, of slapping and kicking a female producer during a concert rehearsal.
Following the latter 2010 incident, Kirkorov briefly fled to a psychiatric clinic in Israel and in the finest traditions of Russian showbiz, offered a weak mea culpa along the lines of “I’m sorry, I don’t know what came over me.”
Of course, as a bunch of embarrassing Twitter feeds recently told us, women falling all over themselves for a celebrity famous for violence against other women is not a phenomenon unique to Russia. Explaining and excusing violent behavior is a kind of psychological defense tactic for many. If you can convince yourself that a hot guy has the right to hit women then you don’t have to worry your pretty head about the cognitive dissonance that arises when a popular figure shows his dark side.
I suppose, what’s truly interesting about Kirkorov’s persona and its enduring popularity is how at odds it is with traditional notions of Russian masculinity. Having, for some reason, endured into the 21st century after first becoming popular in the early 1990’s, Kirkorov is a throwback to the court of Louis XIV, a bedazzled peacock of a man, whose ability to prance around on stage in increasingly complicated outfits does, on some level, impress me. Kirkorov’s regular appearance at times rivals the biggest excesses of Elton John; except that Elton John doesn’t have women proclaiming him to be some sort of sex god.
According to the Levada-Center, most of Kirkorov’s admirers are poor and middle-aged. That seems to make sense, Kirkorov’s appearance would suggest that he is not dangerously virile, while his lavish lifestyle certainly makes for a peculiar fairy tale for those living below the poverty line. It would seem counter-intuitive but people whose lives are joyless and drab must find some solace in a figure such as Kirkorov’s. “Philipp, with his voice, his beauty and smile, helps many people stay alive!” A fan wrote in response to an article critical of the various publicity stunts surrounding the birth of Kirkorov’s daughter, who was born to a surrogate mother in the States before being brought to Russia.
Call me a snob, but I suppose that if you grew up with no concepts of beauty whatsoever, except for what the state-run television channels have taught you to admire, then sure enough, you will fall for someone like Kirkorov, or “Filya,” as he is known to both admirers and detractors alike.
Yet ultimately, the oddest thing about Kirkorov is that he’s actually an intelligent, bizzarely charming person, who’s sudden attacks of honesty can be disarming. I’ve seen him in action on Prozhektorperishilton, possibly the only mainstream Russian talk show I can stand, and I know that he can easily hold his own against comedians. Back when I was still a child, I was struck by his weary riposte to a journalist who just had to know why an ex-girlfriend had dumped him: “Why? I don’t know why. Maybe she’s looking for a penis as big as that Coca-cola can over there.”
Russian pop stars are like reptiles in a zoo; placed behind glass, in an artificial environment, heavily promoted by a PR machine steeped in lies, they can’t deny their own basic nature. And sometimes that nature calls for throwing up one’s hands and going, “Hey, I’m just as flawed and pathetic as the rest of you. I just happen to be covered in glitter - and that’s the main difference.”
The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
Trendwatching in Russia is an extreme sport: if you’re not dodging champagne corks at weddings, you’re busy avoiding getting trampled by spike heels on public transportation. Thankfully, due to an amazing combination of masochism and bravado, I will do it for you while you read all about it from the safety of your living room.
Natalia Antonova is the deputy editor of The Moscow News. She also works as a playwright – her work has been featured at the Lyubimovka Festival in Moscow and Gogolfest in Kiev, Ukraine. She was born in Ukraine, but spent most of her life in the United States. She graduated from Duke University, where she majored in English and Slavic Literature. Before coming to Moscow, she worked in Dubai, UAE and Amman, Jordan. Her writing has been featured in The Guardian, Foreign Policy, Russia Profile, AlterNet, et al.