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14 March, 2012

Primitive and Dull! Hit Song?

Ukrainian music with socially sensitive lyrics is never played on radio and TV. Program managers simply do not want to take risks and opt for “background style” music with primitive lyrics instead.

Once, I talked to a program director of a TV channel about our ‘Telling No One’ video which featured the UPA (Ukrayinska Povstanska Armiya or the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in English). He said his channel did not play political videos. That surprised me. What kind of politics was he talking about? Our video was all about patriotic sentiments. Still, he said the Ukrainian Insurgent Army was politics in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the channel did play political and socially sensitive videos of Western bands, including Linkin Park and System of A Down. All the director had to say to this was that few people in Ukraine understood what Western artists were singing about. So, socially sensitive lyrics in English are okay, while the same thing in Ukrainian is not because the audience will understand what the artist says. Another TV channel called our video a provocation. Still it was, at least, played once a year there.

Most Ukrainian radio stations prefer “background music” today. They follow a few criteria when setting up their playlists. First and foremost, music should not burden the audience. Secondly, both the arrangement and the message should not draw any particular attention. Therefore, the lyrics should be as simple as possible, basically the more primitive the better. Radio stations have obvious motives: why play sensitive songs that might stir up trouble when they can play a well-tested song? Moreover, the Ukrainian audience is not too picky and will swallow anything cooked up in the mass media kitchen.

I remember that while I was travelling in Argentina last year, I listened to the local radio a lot. Just like other countries, other than Ukraine, Argentina has many radio stations focused on specific music styles. Some play heavy music while others broadcast Latin American or classical music, or simply international hit songs. What caught my ear, though, was that I really liked the music no matter which radio station I had on. Alas, I can’t say the same thing about Ukraine as I surf through the radio stations. We are losing to Argentina because Ukraine remains a post-colonial country, especially in terms of music. From time to time people get more excited about Ukrainian culture, including modern Ukrainian music, but it all fades away too quickly. Why is that? The factors which cause this situation are many. Perhaps one is that people who take up the promotion of Ukrainian culture often do it in an awkward and primitive way.

But we must remember that the social component in music is one of the tools which can affect the mindset and upbringing of the younger generation. This component must be available both in Ukraine and worldwide. Our troubles here result from the global problem in some way. Music sometimes helps to reach out to a modern young person often hidden inside an individual cocoon. Just look around: school kids and students can often be seen walking around town with their headphones on. It is the headphones that deliver the music to them and they understand the world through their music.

Lately, Lyapis Trubetskoy [1] and Noize MC[2] have caught the public’s attention largely because they sing about social issues. Ukraine also has artists who are not popular but tackle sensitive issues in their music. Eventually, some gain a little popularity, mostly on the Internet. A few years ago, a song called ‘We Have BYuT (Yulia Tymoshenko’s Party) In Our Village’ sparked a furor after it was posted online. Later, everybody was singing ‘These Are Good Times, My Brother’ by Okean Elzy. Radio stations played it quite often. Also, the audience liked ‘They’ve Dumped Me’ and ‘People as Sea Ships’, both social songs performed by Skriabin. Currently, new songs that tackle sensitive social issues continue to appear but they are having a harder time getting through to the radio or on to the silver screen.



[1]Lyapis Trubetskoy is a Belarusian rock band that has been openly opposing the latest developments in Belarus and the Belarusian government

[2]Noize MC is a Russian rapper, singer and actor


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