One of her most popular tracks, “Millions of Scarlet Roses,” tells the story of a painter who falls in love with an actress. He sells all his canvases and belongings to buy roses so he can transform the square in front of her window into a sea of roses.
“One who is in love, and seriously so / Will transform his whole life for you into flowers,” Pugacheva sings at the end of the refrain.
Yet if you listen closely enough to some of her songs, you’ll hear skillfully camouflaged political messages. Her hit song “Kings Can Do Anything” was often interpreted as a cleverly disguised political joke with an underlying message about the illusory power of political leaders.
She ignored advice not to sing this song at concerts given for government officials, and on several memorable occasions she even pointed out leading government ministers in the audience as she sang the provocative refrain: “Kings can do anything, kings can do anything at all! / But whatever you say, not a single king can marry someone he loves!”
As a cultural icon she also rebelled against patriarchal gender stereotypes. She is a loving mother and grandmother who is happily married to a man 27 years her junior. By continuing to perform into old age, she upends cultural notions of femininity and sexuality, challenging the traditional image of an asexual Russian “babushka” dedicated to her progeny.
In 2012, she became a spokesperson for the oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov in his unsuccessful presidential campaign against Putin, and in one TV interview she likened Putin to “the underworld boss of a criminal country.”
Despite her history of speaking out and maintaining a firm distance from the propaganda that imbued Soviet and Russian popular culture, her enduring popularity has compelled the Kremlin to repeatedly honor her in public.
Yet as war broke out in Ukraine, Pugacheva remained silent.
Pugacheva’s husband, comedian Maxim Galkin, however, was one of the first Russian celebrities who openly opposed the Russian invasion, and the couple left Russia with their young children soon after the war started. As the war dragged on, Galkin continued to ridicule the war and highlight the corruption of Putin’s regime on social media. The Kremlin eventually designated him a “foreign agent.”