Natasha Koroleva: Ukrainian Star Conquers Russian Stage

Issue Number: 
The Russia Journal

Natasha Koroleva, a 26-year-old pop singer with brown eyes and acharming Ukrainian accent, is the idol of Russian soldiers and Russian men in general. Andjust about every other Russian is at least familiar with her face: Moscow's streetslast week were plastered with announcements for her recent concert series held in thecity's biggest hall.

Indeed, the advertising campaign for the concerts took on grandioseproportions. In the weeks leading up to the event, national TV channels ran nightly videosas teasers. A documentary that focused on the star's personal side also gotprime-time coverage on one of the country's biggest channels.

For a star of Koroleva's status, the hype was not overdone. Thesinger from Kiev is genuinely loved by millions – both in Russia and in herneighbouring homeland. She first appeared in the national limelight in 1989, and her stylewas synonymous with the change in atmosphere brought about by perestroika. She became ahome-grown symbol of pop music culture, something entirely new for the Russia of thattime.

Her lyrics are unsophisticated. Her music is obviously aimed at anundemanding mass audience. What won her fans over was her youthful sincerity, good voiceand her fresh Ukrainian beauty. She was sixteen when she first performed on a Moscowstage. Nine years later, at her Kiev birthday celebration, the applause resounded for thecompatriot who had conquered the Russian capital.

Koroleva did not receive any special musical education as a child. Sheinstead focused her studies on performance, graduating from a special school for thecircus and stage arts the same year she made her Moscow debut. Her musical talent runs inthe family: Koroleva's parents are a composer and a singer, and her sister Rusyaspecialises in traditional Ukrainian melodies.

But she says she owes her career to her husband, the composer IgorNikolayev. He was the keyboard player for Russian pop diva Alla Pugachyova and many of thestar's hits from the 1980's were penned by Nikolayev.

And it was Nikolayev who, when he first heard the young Koroleva singmore than ten years ago, knew that a future star could be made out of her. The firstmeeting with Nikolayev was arranged by Koroleva's mother. At that time, the younggirl's surname was Poryvai – not quite appropriate for the stage, especially inRussia. One of Nikolayev's first mandates was to invent a new one.

A fourteen-year age difference separated the composer and the youngsinger, and at first, they hid the romance that had sprung between them. During pressconferences and interviews, they refused to answer questions concerning their privatelives. This was all the more so as Nikolayev's daughter from his first marriage wasnot much younger than his new girlfriend.

The two were officially married in 1990. After that, Koroleva'spopularity grew at warp speed. She changed overnight it seemed, transforming from anawkward girl into an elegant young woman. The only thing she proved unable to change washer strong Ukrainian accent. "It's hard to change everything. Still, whenever Igo back to Ukraine and hear the local accent, I notice the difference," she says.

Her marriage to the man who made her famous has had its ups and downs.Koroleva and Nikolayev worked together, toured Russia and packed concert halls with theirshow, titled "The Dolphin and the Mermaid." After several years of happilymarried life, Nikolayev and Koroleva announced they were separating. To this day, no oneknows for sure whether this wasn't just a clever bit of self-advertising or not.After their surprise announcement, they continued their Russia-wide tour – and theirmarriage.

"Artists have to spend some time together and some time aparttoo," says Koroleva. They absolutely need that – they have to be able to spendsome time alone with themselves. When you're all the time together, it becomes toomuch." To illustrate, she explains how if she and her husband have had to spend thewhole time in the car together, taking care of various affairs, by evening, she cannotbear to look at him. "I head off on another tour straight away," she says.

Koroleva's decision to begin a solo career provoked a hostilereaction from her husband. She thinks their marriage is so atypical, it sometimes weighson him. He would like her to have a child, but she is still hesitating, afraid to spoilher good looks. Despite all this, Nikolayev is a happy husband. "We never fall intothe dreadful trap of ‘habit.' We just never let it happen. We don't imposethings on each other, don't get under each other's feet the whole time. Wedon't go touring in the same places and only rarely see each other in Moscow."Such is Nikolayev's recipe for professional and personal happiness.

Despite her young age, it is Koroleva who is responsible for thefamily's budget. She says that her husband is a poet, with his head in the clouds,and sometimes she has to bring him back to earth and stop him from going to the casino toooften.

Koroleva also took responsibility for building their house outside ofMoscow. "Even though it was difficult, I realised that if I didn't do this,nobody was going to." The couple has now moved to their new home and Koroleva saysthat she feels safer there than she did in Moscow. Their Moscow flat was constantly undersiege by fans that had somehow found out their address.

"When we were living in Moscow, we couldn't have a maid and Ihad to spend a lot of time doing housework. I put a lot of effort into running thehousehold smoothly," she says.

The present full-scale promotion campaign is nothing unusual forKoroleva. She was ambitious right from the start of her career on the Russian stage. Sevenyears ago, both she and Nikolayev seriously considered the possibility of her trying herluck in the West. But Nikolayev admitted his wife does not know English well. "Herpronunciation when singing in English wouldn't be up to the standard even of Swedishgroups like Roxette or Abba," Nikolayev said.

But in 1992, Nikolayev announced Koroleva was going to sign a contractwith Sting. "Our Western partners were interested in the way she sang inRussian," said Nikolayev. Sting sent a fax back in 1992, but that was where theco-operation between the English pop star and the Russian singer ended.

Over recent years, Koroleva has had the opportunity to improve herEnglish. She regularly goes to Miami, where her mother lives, and she and Nikolayev spendtheir holidays there as well. Koroleva also goes to Paris to select the materials for herclothes. She chooses all her costumes herself.

She does not often return to her native Kiev, but has not forgotten thecity. Incidentally, Koroleva's birthday and the anniversary of the founding of Kievfall on the same date – May 31. Ukraine is proud of its star: Among the guestspresent at Koroleva's 25th birthday celebrations were Ukrainian President LeonidKuchma and his wife.