I thought I was writing a panegyric, but it turned out to be an epitaph.
About a year ago, Don’t Be Shy
was published, an oral history of 169 pop hits that defined the musical code of mass culture in post-Soviet Russia... I wrote and edited the book. 2 million characters, 1.7 kg – this seemed like a rather appropriate size to celebrate how over the past quarter century the word popsa
(in any case, what is understood by it) went from an insult to a compliment, while pop music became perhaps the most lively and interesting sphere of Russian music.
The dates 1991-2021 on the cover don’t imply any specific end (in fact, we originally aimed to publish the book in 2020). The book wraps up with an enthusiastic monologue from Slava Marlow, who produces Morgenstern, the biggest Russian pop-rap hitmaker of recent years: “I have a feeling that in the next 10 years money will come to Russian music, and then even the creators who don’t have many listeners will live better. And there are just so many new names now in music, in rap! Everything is great. It's really interesting to see what will happen next." In a sense, the book's storyline followed a paradigmatic quote from an old Russian state security chief: “the past of Russia was amazing, its present is more than magnificent, as for its future, it is higher than anything that the boldest imagination can imagine.”
Essentially, that's how it turned out. Even the wildest imagination couldn’t imagine that on February 24 the future would simply be cancelled. Now the dates 1991-2021 clearly look like an inscription on a tombstone. But whose grave is it?
To provide a clear answer to this question, we should go back 10 years. The first part of the future Don’t Be Shy
was published in December 2011 in Afisha
magazine – at that time the editors had just begun to master the genre of oral history, applying it to the archeology of modern Russian culture: media, advertising, cinema, the internet and of course pop music. On the cover of that issue was written: "99 Russian hits." The word “Russian” is important here: some of the songs were written and performed by Ukrainians, Belarusians, Kyrgyz and other foreigners; now this wording looks like an obvious example of imperial chauvinism, albeit unconscious. In 2011, it didn’t seem like that. In any case, such questions didn’t occur to the people in the editorial office who made and released the cover, nor to the heroes of the piece, nor, as far as I remember, to the readers.
After 2014, language changed along with reality. When we made Don't Be Shy
, it was obvious that the title of the book referenced a song by Ukrainian Ivan Dorn, and the word russkiy
would be completely inappropriate. As in fact would the word rossiyskiy
– and it wasn’t only about the citizenship of who made the hits, but also the space across which the hits spread: it would be strange to confine within Russia’s borders songs that are sung with equal enthusiasm in Omsk, Riga, Kyiv and Almaty.
Thus, the subtitle was formulated like this: “The history of post-Soviet pop music in 169 songs.” That said, this formulation required additional commentary. Here is what I wrote in the preface to the book: “We decided that ‘post-Soviet’ is the most correct and understandable description for the cultural space in question. Also because pop music is one of the few things that still unites our countries, despite everything else.”
I must admit that this thesis – about culture bringing us together despite everything – was really very dear to me, and in the years before the war I actively forced it into my projects. Don't Be Shy
was produced and published by the Institute of Music Initiatives
. Another joint project of ours was a series of collections of semiacademic articles under the umbrella title Novaya Kritika
– while soliciting entries, we emphasized
that we were interested in “new points of view on post-Soviet pop music.” In collaboration with the Moscow studio Stereotactic, we made a documentary series about music called Potok
, whose heroes were producer Yuri Bardash, a native of Lugansk Region who lived in Kyiv at the time, and Muscovite Azeris, who created the Zhara Music pop label.
In fact, that's whose grave it is.