Guess who’s singing at the Olympics?

Which Russian pop stars would best represent Russia by singing at the Sochi Games? Here’s our columnist’s version of a gold medal playlist.

The Buranovskiye Babushki. Source: Source: ITAR-TASS

Alexander Belyayev, special to RBTH

It’s February, 2013, and I’m in the lobby of Sochi’s Marins Park Hotel, talking with the man responsible for the cultural program at the 2014 Winter Olympics. “I can’t say who will be performing, but I can say one thing – it will be glorious,” he says. “In other words, no popsa ,” I specify. For many Russians, popsa (a pejorative word derived from “pop music” and akin to muzak in English) and dignity are incompatible.  

Russian pop music is like an atomic bomb – everyone is afraid of it but no one really likes it. The critical difference between Russian pop and the bomb though, is that while an atomic bomb is something you want YOUR country to have, pop music this vile is something that Russians would gladly leave to the West. Unfortunately, this revolting musical kitsch has found its way even to Russia, which has always closely copied its Western neighbors.

Pop music is everywhere – in cars, restaurants and supermarkets. But nobody admits that they actually like it. Like pornography, pop music is something you might enjoy at home but would never let on to the neighbors about (and especially not Mom!). Secretly we love it – it’s a sweet, guilty pleasure. But to let the world know… absolutely not! Better to run naked through Red Square.  

It amuses me to think of the people who put together the Olympic setlists: Who will follow whom and so on… Here’s the news that the opening act will be t.A.T.u. – the only band in Russia that has had significant international success, from the U.S. all the way to Japan.

They’re a logical choice, since the world knows t.A.T.u. and many people love them. Plus, singers Lena Katina and Yulia Volkova have always cultivated an image as lesbians, so their turn on the Sochi stage will naturally leave viewers in no doubt whatsoever that Russia is not a homophobic country.  

t.A.T.u. - All the things she said. Source: YouTube

And while we’re on the subject, Alla Pugacheva might also come in handy. After all, she is a gay icon in Russia, and made two big breakthroughs with Western audiences in the past. The first was a 1985 tour and album release in Sweden at the invitation of late journalist Jacob Dahlin (Dahlin, of course, was openly gay). Pugacheva enjoyed a series of successful performances and recorded the album “Alla Pugacheva in Stockholm” in English. However, the singer did not go on to develop an international career, and when former ABBA members Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson asked her to play a role in their musical Chess, Pugacheva categorically refused. “Not everything in Western Europe is as sweet as it seems,” said the singer in a televised interview. Nonetheless, the Soviet Union’s most internationally renowned pop diva returned to the West in 1997, when she performed at the Eurovision contest in Dublin, though her song finished a dismal 15 th .

Alla Pugacheva. Every night and every day ( live ). Source: YouTube

And if we mention Eurovision, at which Russia has performed increasingly well and even managed to win in recent years, we can’t forget Dima Bilan and the Buranovskiye Babushki.

The Babushki, or “Grandmothers” - that’s really who they are and they’re not ashamed of it - are the bearers of a folk tradition from Russia’s heartland, hailing from the republic of Udmurtia, in Russia’s Volga Federal District. Only 350,000 native Udmurts remain in Russia, and these grannies sing in the Finno-Ugric language of the region. What could be more politically correct?

Buranovskiye Babushki. Party For Everybody (Live). Source: YouTube

And how could we forget mega-popular Soviet singer Eduard Khil , who, shortly before his death, gained newfound popularity as “Mr. Trololo”, thanks to a YouTube video of him singing the wordless 1976 song “I’m Glad I’m Finally Coming Back Home” that went viral. Now Khil has become a world-famous internet meme – but singing at Sochi may be beyond him.

Another new internet star is the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs Choir (the Russian police, to put it simply). The singing cops do a well-known cover of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” At the Olympic opening ceremony they should sing Snoop Dogg’s “Sweat,” in honor of the sporting victories to come.

Russian police — Get lucky cover. Source: YouTube

In Russia, nothing is done without approval from on high. The court favorites are the favorites of the people. It’s common knowledge that Vladimir Putin is a fan of the group Lyubeh (they combine pop-rock with martial music and a nostalgic Soviet folk sound), as well as the singer Grigory Leps. A Sochi native himself, Leps is the owner of a husky baritone à la Rod Stewart. His presence in the program would be one in the eye for the United States, since the singer was recently denied entry to the country based on his alleged ties to the Russian mafia

Grigory Leps. A shot of vodka. Source: YouTube

The Soviet Union and Russia have always been proud leaders in classical music. Richter, Bashmet, Rostropovich, Gergiev… and today Russia’s most famous operatic voice belongs to Anna Netrebko. One of the greatest vocal sensations in the world, it would be strange indeed to leave this Petersburg beauty off the program.

Finally, it might not be a bad idea to play on the name of the city. Musicians would take great pleasure in reinterpreting Mumiy Troll’s hit “Vladivostok 2000” for Sochi 2014.

Mumiy Troll. Vladivostok 2000. Source: YouTube

On the whole, there is every chance of a great lineup of artists being put together for the Olympic opening ceremony. I’ve given you one scenario here - but I really hope I’m wrong.

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