In Time For Sochi, Everything You Never Knew You Needed to Know About Russian Pop Music

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Pop star Dima Bilan has had success on the Russian charts with his song "Malish"

Before the world convenes next month in Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympics, now's as good a time as any take a listen to what’s happening in Russia musically -- from cheesy romantic hits to hardcore punk protest songs to an aging pop star’s anthem for the national hockey team

In a conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, UCLA professor David MacFadyen -- editor of the music site Far From Moscow -- offers up a survey of the contemporary Russian music scene. 

Watch a video for “Shaybu Shaybu” by Russian pop diva Irina Allegrova. The song is a rallying cry for Russia’s national hockey team in advance of the upcoming winter Olympics in Sochi. Its music video features some of Russia’s most famous hockey players.


On Sochi's music scene: 

It's the most famous holiday resort in Russia... it's only about 300,000 people. So the one music scene it does have is really seasonal. A lot of the big stars from Moscow, when people take their vacation and head south, then the music follows. When it comes to the younger generations, it's pretty much online. 

On Ishome, the young DJ who's based in Sochi: 

She represents on what is going on in that part of the world... she's a very good representative of what's going on in terms of web-based music.... In terms of the way that the web helps young Russian musicians get around the problems of geography, she's a really good example. 


On protest music in Putin's Russia: 

If we're talking about protest music, everything is dictated by where it happens. If you're operating online, pretty much anything goes. The government has long been of the opinion that no one's really going to pay much attention. If we're talking about degrees of censorship, they're relatively low online.... If you move into newspapers, the restrictions are greater. And then if you move onto TV, then it's a totally different universe. 


On the Russian pop charts:

After the end of the Soviet Union through the '90s, there was obviously this knee-jerk rush toward everything Western. But gradually domestic material started to play catch up, and if you look at the artists who make the most money touring now, or if you look at Russia's iTunes... the most popular genre is something called "chanson." It's a very slow, melancholy, middle-aged type of song that involves a lot of themes such as tricky marriage, prison terms, and other reasons to be generally sort of sad and grumpy. 


On Russian pop star Dima Bilan: 

His great claim to fame is that he won the Eurovision Song Contest... it's traditionally a competition in which all the countries of Europe and surrounding nations take part. Each country sends one singer, and they all get one shot to present one song. It produced ABBA, most famously. But since then, it's pretty hard to think of another winner of the Eurovision song contest winner who made a lifelong international career out of it. Bilan is probably the best known young male pop singer in Russia, and at the moment he's probably best known because he just finished a season of The Voice -- it was syndicated around the world, and Bilan was one of the four judges.