Pussy Riot release first English-language song, inspired by Eric Garner

Pussy Riot release first English-language song, inspired by Eric Garner

18 February 2015
Text Nadia Beard

Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina launched their first song in English today, with a haunting music video to accompany what they describe as an “industrial ballad”. The song’s title, “I Can’t Breathe”, is dedicated to Eric Garner, the American whose last words were “I can’t breathe” before dying at the hands of a New York police officer who put him in a chokehold.

“The genre of this isn’t like other Pussy Riot songs,” the women wrote in an article published by the Guardian. “It’s an industrial ballad. Dark and urban. The rhythm and beat of the song is a metaphor for the heartbeat, the beat of a heart before it’s about to stop. The absence of our usual aggressive punk vocals in this song is a reaction to this tragedy.”

In the video, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina are dressed in the garb of Russia’s OMON riot police, lying in a grave being buried alive. Inspired by the street protests against Garner’s death, which both women took part in, the song is dedicated to victims of police brutality while also making a political statement about Russia’s covert role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

“We really could not breathe for this whole last year,” the women said. “Our previous ideas did not speak to what was happening in the conflict zone in Ukraine as we were realising that Russia is burying itself alive in terms of the rest of the world … and so the song “I Can’t Breathe” is about us and our country as well. It is about Russia, too.”

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina wrote the song during the protests in New York that broke out after a grand jury failed to indict the police officer who killed Garner.