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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pop Star Bilan in Millionaire's Black Book

VedomostiViktor Baturin
Having spent $5 million on his protege, multimillionaire Viktor Baturin should probably be happy that singer Dima Bilan teamed up with Timbaland, one of the hottest pop producers in the world, to sweep the Russian MTV awards.

But Viktor Baturin is anything but impressed, and Bilan's work with the African-American producer is mostly to blame.

"Dima Bilan is now the chief black man in Russia," said Baturin, the brother of Mayor Yury Luzhkov's billionaire wife, Yelena Baturina, adding that he did not want to help propagandize American culture in Russia.

Baturin was so vexed that he has handed over his contract with Bilan, the man who gave birth to a million copycat mullet haircuts, to the pop star's manager, Yana Rudkovskaya.

The story provides a window into the strange world of Russian pop.

First off, Baturin is not distancing himself from Bilan quite as seriously as he might want people to believe, as Rudkovskaya is not just Bilan's manager, but also Baturin's wife.

Nonetheless, Baturin has railed at the singer's new direction. He says the problems began with the album Bilan recorded in English in the United States with Timbaland, who has worked with major stars like Missy Elliot and Justin Timberlake. The Russian version of the disc is due to be released in November, with the English version following early next year.

Baturin said he wanted Bilan to go to London's Abbey Road Studios and follow in the tradition of The Beatles, who made the studio famous, rather than take the American route.

This conflict is not Baturin's first over Bilan. He and Rudkovskaya had to go to court after the singer's first manager, Yury Aizenshpis, died in 2005. The couple had to fight for their stake in the singer after the mother of Aizenshpis' son claimed the boy had been left the rights to the Bilan name and his music.

Maxim Shmetov / Itar-Tass
Bilan posing last week after the MTV awards, where he walked away with three prizes, including artist of the year.
Baturin said Bilan had prospered under his guidance, receiving 50 percent of all concert receipts and pulling in at least $1 million per year. But he said the singer had responded by turning his back on his own musical heritage.

"Why don't we preserve the best of what's ours and take the best of what's theirs?" Baturin asked during an interview last week in his office on the seventh floor of the Radisson Slavyanskaya hotel. "Why do we have to put out R&B, which was created in the brothels of New Orleans?"

Rudkovskaya, whose office is just one floor below, find's her husband's attitude difficult to fathom.

"I don't understand why [he] is separating this into categories," Rudkovskaya said. "I don't think [people] can be divided into colors. Everyone is equal and the most important thing is the music … it should not be divided by race."

"If Timbaland had been Russian, for example, everything would have been OK," she said.

Rudkovskaya could offer just one explanation for Baturin's stance.

"I think he was in a bad mood," she said.

That mood was on open display ahead of the MTV awards, where Bilan won in three categories, including best song. Baturin called MTV head Leonid Yurgelas and asked him to remove Bilan from the nominations and not allow him to perform.

He also said he would not attend the ceremony, joking that he was afraid Russian rapper Timati might hit him.

While expounding on his attitude toward R&B music — and to Timbaland in particular — Baturin launched into a short discourse on the history of music.

Beginning with the 10th century and explaining how music was split into the Catholic and Byzantine traditions, Baturin expounded on how American music, coming from a Protestant tradition divorced from the Catholic church, was too young and fallow.

"If you say you love Russia, then you have to respect to its music and a musical tradition based on Byzantine orthodoxy," he said. Baturin has recently designed an album by singer Filipp Kirkorov celebrating 25 years in show business.

"Who is Timbaland? He sings in falsetto. … It is not a voice. It is a parody of a voice," said Baturin, who called Timbaland "a fat African-American who thinks he understands something about musical culture."

Neither Timbaland nor Bilan could be reached for comment this week.

Bilan appears at least to be trying to smooth things out. He turned up at Baturin's birthday on Oct. 2, Baturin said, and when he performed one of the songs from the new album earlier this month in Ryazan, he added a bayan, the traditional Russian accordion, to the band.