Leningrad – The Russian rock band that holds nothing back
If there is one Russian music group that dares to push the bounds of social propriety, it is Leningrad. Founded in 1997 by Sergey Shnurov, they’ve been winding up the political elites of Russia since then. The former Mayor of Moscow even banned them playing in the city for a while. Their reputation, or perhaps notoriety being a better word, is not however restricted to Russia. With a collective viewership of over 500 million on YouTube, Leningrad have a global outreach and popularity. They are indeed world famous. Their international tours take them to Germany, France, and even far flung locations like Australia or Argentina. For a band with very humble beginnings, they have done really well for themselves.
Leningrad is one of the most popular music groups in Russia today. With their unique “ska-rock” sound, Leningrad stand out from the crowd of Russian music groups, making them instantly identifiable. Along with their musical style, their lyrics bluntly mock various aspects of Russian society; from consumerism to alcoholism. Controversially, their songs frequently use Russian mat’, or Russian swear words; hence why many radio stations were wary to play their songs.
“Wit, outrageousness, and social critique”
In their words, Leningrad “is founded on three principals; wit, outrageousness and social critique”. Because of this, Leningrad is popular for presenting Russian society in a brutally honest way, which contrasts the representation of post-Soviet Russian society by other media outlets. If their lyrics don’t force this message home enough, then their videos certainly do. If anything, it’s these videos that have sealed their popularity abroad.
For example, in the music video for the song ‘В Питере – пить’, Leningrad pokes fun at the city’s ‘cultural capital’ title, by addressing its other, less-honorific one: Russia’s drinking capital. Imagery and references to St Petersburg’s cultural legacies are contrasted by the drunken antics of the anti-heroes going on a day-long binge around the city. One scene depicts a bored guide giving a tour of an art museum to disinterested school children, all playing on their phones. In the middle of quoting Pushkin, she loses all patience, and, in less eloquent terms, tells them all to get lost, and storms off to join in the drinking.
Eksponat is perhaps their most famous song and music video. Released in January 2016, it received 60 million views six months after it was released. To date, it boasts over 130 million views and counting. The video follows the attempts of a young woman getting ready to go out on a date with a successful-looking businessman. Everything inevitably goes wrong for her, but the relatability of her trials, if somewhat exaggerated, makes this video absolutely hilarious.
The video, however, the more you watch it, provides some interesting motifs. If you look closely to the pictures of the models pinned to the girl’s wall, they are all western celebrities sporting western brands. It’s no coincidence that the girl specifically wants to wear Louboutin high-heels. These expensive fashion brands symbolise high social status, wealth, success, since only a certain few can afford them. And yet we see a woman, clearly from lower economic and educational background, trying to aspire to achieve this status for herself, yet ultimately failing in her attempt.
Whilst Leningrad’s songs and videos provide no answers, they certainly do pose questions. Why do we put ourselves through painful beautifying procedures, and what do we hope to achieve in doing so? What is the role of the media and the culture of celebrity in our lives, and how they influence our choices? Is there any respect for St Petersburg’s history, or do our immediate, material problems take precedence? Why is the woman’s end goal to marry a man she hasn’t yet met in person? Is this a critique of an old and outdated expectation that women should only aspire to marriage?
Some more suggestions…
Perhaps I am overthinking, and at the end of the day, the songs and videos of Leningrad provide comedic entertainment regardless. However, I feel the reasons why we find their videos amusing and relatable is the fact that Leningrad really does reveal dark truths of Russian (and world) society today. Here is a list of some of my other favourite Leningrad videos that I think are super interesting social critiques. What do you think?
3.) Обезьяна и орел