“Russian Madonna” reluctant to be a gay icon

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

She has had 17 number one singles and is reputed to have sold over 100 million records.

Valeriya is undoubtedly a Russian superstar.

PinkNews.co.uk’s Adam Lake met up with Eastern diva to chat about her about her career, life as a Russian celebrity and why she thinks she deserves to make it big in the UK.

Having never travelled further east then a New Year’s party in Prague, I admit that I have never heard of the singer described by the media as a Russian Madonna.

Her big break was a talent contest when she was 23, which sparked of a string of hits for the classically-trained musician.

Now approaching 40 and with three children she has had a career that many of our better known musicians could only ever dream of.

Shocking claims of violent behaviour inflicted on her by her ex-manager and now ex-husband were revealed in 2001.

Valeriya, much to the horror of her fans, she then announced her retirement from the music industry and ran off to her native Atkarsk with her children.

After spending two years hidden from the public gaze Valeriya met Russian music manager Joseph Prigozhin, president of the ‘NOX MUSIC’ record label.

Joseph is now not only Valeriya’s manager but he is also the singers husband.

How has this influenced her music?

“After suffering 10 years of domestic violence I feel that I have become stronger.

“My new album, which is due to be released late August, is made up of the songs of a strong woman.

“My life story is in my music and every song on my new album is personal to me and my life.”

The album, ‘Out of Control’ is named after one of her favourite songs on the album:

“I want to show I am in control, I don’t want anyone to have control over me anymore,” she tells me.

Her London hotel room is abuzz with various members of her record company avidly discussing, in Russian, how they are going to get the Russian Madonna to rival the real thing in the UK:

“I am very Russian, and I am proud of being Russian, but I think that my new album has is very international feel and I hope that it will be popular with a UK audience.”

Despite the Russian Madonna label being stamped on her webpage, press releases and most other publicity material, the singer seems to dislike it when I use the term,

“I am original, I have a different style and a different voice.”

Listening to her album she definitely has a distinctive voice and her own style, but in the cut throat world of pop music will that be enough?

Valeriya desperately needs to get herself a fan base. With comparisons to the likes of Madonna and Kylie, does she envisage become a gay icon?

By the look on her face she doesn’t seem too keen on the idea:

“I don’t like the term gay icon, I just want to be an icon!

“I wouldn’t mind if they like me, why not. I think that the gay people are very creative, they feel everything very well and have good taste.

“I hope that my music can help people, especially those that have had to deal with difficult things in their life.”

I ask her about Moscow Pride; the event has been marred with controversy over recent years, and this year it has been banned altogether.

The government has gone out of its way to make life difficult for Moscow’s LGBT community, is she aware of this?

Valeriya looks uncomfortable at the question, and tells me that it’s not as much of a big deal in Moscow and that she knows nothing about it.

Whether she genuinely has no knowledge of it or if she is just trying to avoid controversy I am not sure.

What I am sure of though is that Valeriya will have to try a lot harder if she wants to attract support from the UK gay scene.

Throughout the interview I am handed Varleriya’s latest album, latest brochure and the rest by her record manager husband.

Whether he is playing the part of proud husband or shrewd businessman I am not sure, perhaps he is both.

The two couldn’t be more different to look at.

Valeria is slim and blond with a childlike playfulness, Joseph is a rather imposing man with a skin-head, firm handshake and thick Russian accent.

As the interview draws to an end I see that appearances have been deceptive.

Despite the smiles and laughter Valeriya is a determined woman who is extremely ambitious. You don’t become one of the top ten highest earning celebrities is Russia by accident.

Valeriya knows exactly what she is doing and why she is doing it. She has reached the top of her career in Russia and now she and her husband want to expand her fan and record sales in the West.

Her single, ‘The Party’s Over’ is extremely catchy and comes with a fantastic video that shows off her playful personality.

“I don’t want to be seen as Euro-pop,” she emphasises to me after showing me her latest music video.

It will be hard for her to avoid being seen as that, but with some good marketing and by getting some mixes into clubs this summer she just might start to get noticed for all the right reasons.

With fans ranging from Robin Gibb, (who pairs up with her for a duet of Staying Alive) and Vladimir Putin, if anyone from Russia is going to make it, the chances are it is going to be her.

Any plans of singing of performing at a gay venue like G-A-Y?

Valeriya admits that she has never heard of such a place, but I’m pretty sure, if her manager has anything to do with it, she’s going to know about it pretty soon.