Yuri Shevchuk, lyrical genius and frontman of legendary Russian rock group DDT, has a song denouncing pop music that goes something like this:

Их территория помечена, отравлен водопой

Аншлаги обеспечены глухонемой толпой

Они входят без стука в каждый дом, их не счесть

И просто не возможно этой дряни не съесть.

Or, for the Cyrillically challenged:

Their territory is marked: a poisoned watering hole.

Concerts sold out by the deaf-mute.

They don’t knock before invading every home, totally inconsiderate.

It’s simply impossible not to consume this crap.

Obviously the words come across a bit more poetically in the Russian, but Shevchuk’s message rings clear nonetheless: “Popsa” (a derogatory term for pop music) makes Shevchuk’s skin crawl, and not without good reason.

For the unacquainted: Popsa isn’t the standard bubblegum pop, earworm-inducing airwave cholesterol we’ve grown accustomed to here in the States. It’s a bit more toxic than that.

Popsa is the shit you hear blaring from the living room while your [grand]parents huddle around the TV watching a concert stream live from Moscow na pervom konalye. You can usually spot it by a number of defining characteristics:

  • Comically obvious lip-syncing/instrument-syncing. Dudes basically just stand there, fingering random notes on their fret boards while the pre-recorded track does its thing.
  • Chicks that are hot in that standard skanky Slavic way, moving their bodies in a choreographed unison that could maybe be mistaken for dancing after a shot or five of hard liquor. (See example.)
  • Some old, tired singers (Kirkorov/Pugacheva/Orbakaite/etc. and various combinations thereof) cavorting around stage in melodramatized displays of vocal bravado. Performers from the older generation — the upper echelons of Russian pop celebrity (i.e. the Kremlin’s go-to media darlings) — advertise their musical pomp by adorning themselves in absurdly flashy and oft-unflattering ensembles that would make even Liberace wince.
  • At least one instance of a cross-dressing male. For reasons unbeknownst to me, the producers of these massive televised concerts seem to think that nothing is funnier to the Russian-speaking public than a man in drag. (See: Verka Serduchka)

filipThe writer is inclined to believe that Filipp Kirkorov has eyeliner permanently tattooed to his face, and that he was beamed down to Earth from the planet Androgena

Of course, Russian culture has outstanding examples of contemporary music as well, many of which have made their way into mainstream culture (an outstanding feat, considering that certain attempts at unconventional music have been stamped out by the government faster than you can say “glastnost”). The “golden age” of Russian rock — the 1980s — when bands like DDT, Kino, Akvarium, and Agata Kristi let loose unbridled creative energy, is long gone. But with the aid of the Internet, fresh music acts have been able to find other means of garnering attention from the masses.

What are your favorite examples of Russian music? Chanson strike your fancy? Zemfira? 5’Nizza? Splin? Bi-2? Ivanushki International? Ruki Verh????  Write them in the comments! I won’t judge you…..probably.

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For many New Yorkers, Brighton Beach is the closest approximation of life in Russia one can get this side of the Prime Meridian. Not only is this a hilarious misconception, Russians are so often put off by notions of the Russian-speaking shtetl enclave known as “Little Odessa,” that they reel back in disgust at its mention. Naturally, those that reel are hostile over—nye dai bog—being associated with the place. As one might expect, a culture so cripplingly consumed by status puts a lots of emphasis on where one lives and buys potatoes. Your location has as much to do with your rung on the social ladder as the car you drive or the shoes you wear—sometimes moreso.

Michael Idov said it best in his NY Mag feature: Brighton is “a Jewish immigrant’s idea of what an American’s idea of Russia may be. And that’s what makes it arguably the most fascinating ethnic enclave in New York: It looks just as exotic to the ethnicity it enclaves.” True, it’s fascinating — in the same way Supersize Me is fascinating, or Lindsay Lohan’s downward spiral is fascinating. It’s like that, except with more Cyrillic. Oh, and pharmacies. A fuckton of pharmacies.

Case in point, only on Brighton does something like this happen unironically:RA1

I snapped this photo of a gentleman inspecting his large container of pickled cabbage on the B train. Standard. Unextraordinary.

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In truth, only a few added touches could make this image any more absurdly stereotypical:RA2

You know you’re on Brighton when you see waifish young Russian beauties teetering down the ave in 4 inch gold platform heels, gingerly stepping over the decaying vegetable scraps scattered all over the sidewalk, while making their way to the haute couture quasi-Italian boutique sandwiched between two fruit stands.

If you’re on Brighton having a conversation, chances are you’ll have to stop mid-sentence while the screeches from the rumbling Q pass over your head, lightly showering your hair in subway juice.­

Also, you haven’t witnessed “poor customer service” until you’ve attempted to buy sliced kielbasa from one of the angry harpies behind the meat counter at any Russian store. One look in their eyes will fill your soul with fear, horror, and perhaps cholesterol.

Wanna know a Russian store secret? Mayonnaise. Not only is this condiment my people’s unsung national pastime, stores will douse their salads in it (even some salads whose recipes don’t call for mayonnaise!) in order to add weight/density to the sales, increasing their profit margins ever so slightly. (Not all stores are guilty of this, but there are some known perpetrators.)

There are more luxury cars per square foot in the Oceana complex than anywhere else in the vicinity. Oceana residents are the 1% of Brighton Beach, who dislike the neighborhood enough to annex themselves in a hermetic bubble of opulence, but don’t dislike it enough to actually move somewhere else. All the ostentation, without the burden of assimilating into American society! They are literally two seconds away from the same garbage and filth the rest of us all wallow in, yet they’re whining about the new public bathroom facilities being built on the boardwalk (which will obscure their ocean view, no less).

RA3

Most important is this: Russians will trash-talk Brighton to no end. But if they ever catch an American doing the same, im malo nye pokazhetsa.

 

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Parents and hook ups: the never ending saga

by RA Jr. on February 25, 2013

“But mom, I have a boyfriend,” I pleaded with my mother.

“Yes, but this one is Russian.” She snapped back.

My parents had just gotten back from their trip to Dominican Republic, where on their flight back they ran into another Russian couple. A Russian couple with a 20-something year old son. Obviously this meant that they exchange photos and phone numbers and I was now staring at a piece of paper and a photograph of a Russian guy. A guy I was supposed to call, regardless of the fact that (a) I knew nothing about him, (b) I already had a boyfriend…one I was living with, in fact, and (c) this Russian guy did not live in my state, nor did I have any idea exactly which state he did live in.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably faced this many times. Your mom is on vacation/at a store/out for a walk when she runs into another Russian person and this Russian person happens to have a son. A son you are now sworn to, since he’s running his own business/is in IT/is in Finance and if you have grand kids they’ll speak Russian. Cuz, you know, it’s important that we all keep to our roots and culture (aka, she wants to speak to her grand kids in Russian, damn it).

I’ve battled this one with my mother for years (in fact, I’m pretty sure she started in on me around the age of 12, when, in my humble opinion, I was far to young to be dating). It doesn’t matter where they live, what they are like, or what other things are happening in my life – a Russian guy is my mother’s dream.

There are many times that I’ve imagined what the conversation would be like,

“Hi, I’m Katia. My mom ran into your mom on the plane. No I don’t know where your mom was going. No, I’m not sure if she was coming home to cook you kotletki. Anyways, based on the 2 sentence description I got, along with your picture, I’d like to go ahead and propose we get married and have Russian babies immediately.”

Click.

Sorry, mom. At least I tried.

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