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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Identify 'White Eagle?' Not a Peep

It's the dilemma that preoccupies many of Moscow's generation of newly rich businessmen: Where do you get your kicks once you have reached the pinnacle of your profession?

Some go into retirement in the Canary Islands. Some dedicate their lives to charitable causes. Others set their sights on making even more cash. But Vladimir Zhechkov, one of the pioneers of Russia's television advertising business, chose a more novel route:

He became a pop star.

Or so it seems.

The buzz among Moscow's media circles is that the square-looking Zhechkov is the mystery man behind the pop group Bely Oryol, -- or White Eagle -- which burst onto the music scene earlier this year and has been topping the charts with its nostalgic love ballads, "It's a Crime to Be So Beautiful," and "I Will Buy You a New Life."

The identities of the band members have been a closely guarded secret. They do not perform live, the members are not named on their cassettes or compact discs, and the record company is revealing nothing.

But the subtle giveaway came in a video for the single "It's a crime to be so beautiful," by prominent director Yuri Grymov, in which a jacket bearing the word "Zhechkov" flashes on the screen for a couple seconds.

In an interview, Grymov declined to reveal the identity of the group's singer. A spokeswoman for Premiere SV, the advertising agency of which Zhechkov is president, denied that her boss was involved in any kind of musical activity.

But among industry insiders, Zhechkov's involvement is a well-known fact. "I knew about it long ago," said Alexander Nakhalov, an editor with Telescope, an agency that monitors the television market.

A former professional radio journalist, Zhechkov, 38, started his business career working as a concert director for the Soyuz record label. In 1992, he and fellow advertising mogul Sergei Lissovsky founded Premiere SV, which has since grown to dominate Russia's television advertising market.

Zhechkov keeps a low profile and rarely appears in public.

Nakhalov has his own ideas about why the man behind Bely Oryol is so carefully concealing his identity: If people discovered who the singer really was, they would be put off from buying his records. "If the general public were to find out about it, they would see this as just another caprice of a rich man," Nakhalov said.

As it is, Bely Oryol has proven to be a runaway success. Its first album, released last year, was not particularly well received. But the second is a major hit. The single "It's a Crime to Be So Beautiful" -- the title track of the recording -- topped the music charts for several weeks. Moreover, Grymov's video, a tongue-in-cheek imitation of George Michael's "Freedom" video, was awarded last month the prize for the most scandalous video at the Generation-98 festival in Moscow.

The song, which features an old-fashioned playboy waxing nostalgic about his departed girlfriend -- coupled with the singer's careworn, laconic voice -- has struck achord with listeners.

"The songs are tearful and touch people's souls, and this is a major reason for their popularity," said Irina Tushnova, music editor of Russkoye Radio. She added that the station gets a lot of calls from listeners requesting the band's two hits.

Alexander Danilkin, director of the band's label, Extraphone, described the group as a "superstar" band -- adding that sales of the second album compare favorably with those of better-established performers. "It is evident that their songs are popular, even though they are anonymous," Danilkin said.

Many young Muscovites warmed to the idea that Zhechkov might be moonlighting as a singer. "I respect people for being different," said journalism student Kirill Tretyakov, 19. "It is like drawing cool graffiti and putting an illegible signature [below] it."

But a salesman in one of the Soyuz record company stores, who gave his name only as Pavel, said the general public has cooled on Bely Oryol. "People are not that interested," he said. "It is music for New Russians who sip wine and rest, because they have nothing else to do."