Musical fight club

Last week, Pussy Riot issued a new musical video, attacking the Prosecutor General of Russia, Iurii Chaika, for alleged corruption. This got me thinking about whether musical quality is correlated with political success.

As I mentioned elsewhere recently, N.E. Andreev, a Russian émigré in inter-war Czechoslovakia, remarked in his memoirs that the White veterans he met in Prague lamented that the Reds had had much better songs than them. ‘No wonder we lost’, one of them said. What I wonder is whether this experience can be universalized. Do winners always have better songs than losers?

Having established the research question, like all good political scientists I will now propose a hypothesis, namely:

In any political conflict, the side with the better songs will win.

If validated, this theory will constitute a massive breakthrough in political science. So let us test the hypothesis by looking at the war in Donbass.

Militarily, the rebels have done better than the Ukrainian Army. If the hypothesis is correct, then the rebels ought to have better songs. Do they?

To answer that, let us examine a large sample – two songs (one on each side).

On the Ukrainian side, we have Vitalii Telezin’s 100 Biitsiv (100 Soldiers).

And on the rebel side, we have Kuba’s Vstavai Donbass (Arise Donbass) (not to be confused with another song with the same name by punk rock group Day of the Triffids, which has been adopted as the national anthem of the Donetsk People’s Republic)

To avoid any accusations of political bias, I played these songs to a highly scientific sample of one Canadian teenager, who declared Kuba’s rebel tune the clear winner. The hypothesis has been validated. Victory is indeed correlated with better music.

This is a satisfactory conclusion, but if any political theory is to have real value it must do more than explain the past; it must also be able to predict the future. So what does the theory suggest about the future of Russian politics? Will the ‘Putin regime’ survive, or will its political opponents succeed in destroying it. Let us look at what the music tells us:

On the side of the regime: rapper Timati and his October 2015 hit, Moi luchii drug – eto President Putin (My best friend is President Putin – currently at 8.6 million hits on YouTube).

And against the regime: Pussy Riot’s latest, Chaika (1.68 million hits).

The teenager’s verdict: Timati knows how to rap, whereas all Pussy Riot can do is talk over the beat. Timati wins hands down.

If, as the evidence suggests, my theory is correct, this result means that Putin has no reason to fear for his political future. The music doesn’t lie.

23 thoughts on “Musical fight club”

  1. Laughing. Out. Loud. at Telezin’s song, can’t even come up with an original tune! It’s “Ballad of the Green Berets”, a 1960s era paen to the training and skills of the US Special Forces. They have to Americanize even their musical praises to their troops!

    Losers, in every possible way. No other way to say it.


  2. This is comedy gold.
    Pardon me for asking such a foolish question, but how is P.R. still relevant? I thought they’d exhausted their shelf life several years ago.


  3. Oh boy, where to start? First the boring stuff then we’ll get into the videos, then back to the boring stuff.

    I think there’s actually a strong connection between politics and music, or rather between politics and musicians. Also artists and writers, but especially musicians — now the offspring of the MTV generation — hold the most sway. Partly this is because of their “social network” value. Partly it is because you need a little something to ease the unpleasant edge of confronting real world problems, which is what politics is about, right? (first choice: good catering. second choice: good tunes).

    Witness the Obama election machine, benefit concerts, etc. Feel-good stuff, and boy, does it work! You see it in other places too, it’s international now. When the campaign machinery is in tune with the culture, it becomes a smooth, enjoyable experience. You don’t want to alienate the media folk, and even less so the performers and real artists, in the rare moments they stoop low enough for an overt political statement. Sadly (or happily?) not often enough.

    Thing is, an overtly political song or work of art or whatever is going to be at best half-assed on its artistic merit, compared to something where the subject matter is a more timeless theme. (though someone told me the standard subject matter of traditional american folk music is Whiskey, Wars, and Women, so that’s at least half political…nevermind). Point is the bar is set low.

    So with that, the vids, going in reverse.

    With the bar set low, I actually like the P. Riot video the best. Probably because their costumes are cooler, and because of their subversive message, independent of the way they were milked for international PR value (hmm… PR used for PR?).

    At the same time I’m a bit put off by the russian guy rapping, mainly because he’s doing a version of a style I can’t stand in English. And I do like some hip hop, just not that kind, not at all, sorry. On the plus side, rapper dude has better babes and better bling (and ballerina/gymnast!). And actually, given what I can make out of the lyrics, very decent delivery of some cheezy lines. Your teenager might have something there. But my Russian stinks so I may be missing a lot, and rap/hiphop is all about wordplay. Something tells me, though, that a truly gifted lyricist wouldn’t touch this project, nor the PR one either.

    Not going to say anything about the patriotic war songs. They’re ok. Unfortunately I’ve watched too much propaganda surrounding that conflict and I’ve had enough.

    As a side note, notice how thoroughly they’re adopting American style? All the geniuses who buy into the clash of civilizations or our fundamental incompatibility in this Bud Ice of cold wars should take note.

    Finally, I have a feeling your theory about the quality of the tunes vs the quality of the politics has merit. But . . . I don’t know if it was something Saul Alinsky said, but I think the way to use of music in politics is to play tunes that are NOT political. Doing so sucks the life out, and whether you’re trying to pump up the brand image of your product the point is to put the life back in.


  4. Personally, from everything I’ve seen on Youtube about the Ukraine conflict, I think this one is probably the most effective:

    The choice of song (Polina Gagarina’s rendition of “Кукушка”) and the visuals do a great job of stirring emotions.


    1. This seems to me to be very effective propaganda – an excellent song allied to striking visuals, but most importantly producing an emotionally compelling story – civilian casualties, which are personalized (and thus given more emotional impact) through the old woman’s story of her dead son. In this way, anger is created. But then viewers are told that, like the grandson, they can do something to assuage their anger – take up arms and strike back. The video thus becomes a story, and as such is likely to have an effect.
      At a security conference a few years ago, we were shown an Iraqi jihadi video which had a similar story line – pictures of American bombings, dead Iraqis, etc, followed by pictures of jihadis striking back, dead Americans, a crying American soldier, and finally a jihadi pushing over a telgraph pole which looked very like a Cross: anger, leading to vengeance, leading to triumph, all accompanied by stirring music. You start with the negative, push people into anger, and then drag them out to a positive message. Without agreeing with it, you can understand why it works – it engages the emotions.


  5. Paul, I’m disappointed! Really? Why you didn’t include the ultimate Ukrainian Patriotic song, which could appear only “thanks” to Russian Aggression ™ and Ukraine Finding Its European Identity(tm)!?

    Гiдность over 9000. I mean, it has everything you need: combat gopak, cossaks with choobs, salo, trizub and the dill as the new national symbol. And, no – this is not a parody.

    But you raise a very important issue here, Paul. Fight for hearts and minds is waged n every front and mass media and culture are one of them. Its an open secret how some American super-stars were used for pushing the current State Dept agendas (for the record – when Lady Gaga tried her trick and began promoting her usual “gay is okay!” routine she got booed by her own fans in Russia).

    Reasons why the Whites lost are manifold and the fact that their songs frankly sucked (and were good only for creating an overwhelming level of depression, after which the only thoughts you had were to put bullet through your head) are only a partially to blame for that. Take for example the artistic propaganda – perhaps one of the most influential in the era before TV and radio. Here we see the White Army recruiting poster:

    Besides the fact, that it looks like a carbon copy of the Italian Great War poster (and we all remember how successful the Italians were against the A-H empire), it also has a lot of other flaws. First of all – the archaic form of “why” used in it. Next – clinging to the “pre-reform Russian”. As if the guy is asking: “My kind sir, would you like, if this wouldn’t inconvenient you, to join our Glorious Cause, because other fine chaps are already here?”. Besides – the guy is already on one of his knees – how good could that be?

    And now compare to the Red Army poster:

    Minimalistic, aggressive, laconic. “You! Yes, you! Get your ass off the chair and enlist – at the double!”


    1. Dammit! Posted wrong link. I meant this Italian First World War poster:

      And just to demonstrate, that no, “Укроп” song is not a parody, but are real thing, a case of forced patriotic meme, here you are:

      I think this is beautiful. СУГС!


    1. Perfect! I was also going to adduce Spanish Civil war, as counter-example to Prof. Robinson’s theory. Republican side had magnificent songs, plus even Pete Seeger and Ernst Busch singing them; but still they lost.


      1. South will rise again [nods]

        And judging by the Southerns – they are still no aware that they’ve lost. In Hollywood at least existed a strong pro-Dixie lobby.


  6. And the true winner of the Musical fight club super bowl is… “Экспонат” aka “На лабутенах, нах!” by the Leningrad. 41.6 millions of views – and counting!

    What, you think this song has nothing to do among the example that you all just provided? Au countraire! None other than the famous Ukrainian musicain and the freontman of Vopli Vidoplyasova band Oleh Skripka have equatied listeing to this song for supporting an aggressors and the destruction of the Ukrainian language, and called it “an act of cultural colonialism”.

    Oleh Skripka worked closely with Vitaliy klitchko since his election as Kiev’s mayor and for his patriotic work had been granted honorary membership in the NatzGuard battalion “Dnipro-1”


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