Pop hits from the 90s are experiencing their biggest ever revival in Russia: they’re being sung in karaoke bars and remixed in clubs across the country. This is a small selection of music videos featuring some of the Russian artists that defined the decade. For better or worse, no house party would be complete without an emotional rendition of at least a few of these generation-defining hits.
Mister Maloy I’m Going to Die Young
Mister Maloy, Russia’s self-proclaimed first rapper, shot to fame with I’m Going to Die Young (Budu Pogybat Molodym), the anthem of the decade’s ‘lost generation’. His less famous track Under the skin (Shmyg pod kozhu), with its relaxed acid house vibe and untranslatable slang, is a time capsule revealing where Moscow’s trendiest party people were in the mid-90s (and what drugs they were on at the time).
Alyona Sviridova Pink Flamingo
You can tell a Russian song was made in the 90s by how surreal its lyrics are. This smash hit by Alyona Sviridova tells the story of “a pink flamingo, the child of the sunset”, and is one of the most lavish videos of 1994. The press release for the clip gushes: “viewers will experience a fantastic spectacle, set atop a small mountain lake, with swamps and underwater fountains. Here, in a grand cinematisation of a Russian fairy tale, the Earth’s crust will crack open and wonderful creatures will appear from streams of water.” Quite.
Bogdan Titomir Moscow Clubbing Season
The director duo Khleborodov and Opelyants had already achieved cult status when they teamed up with Bogdan Titomir — god of Russian dance music, drug dealer to the Soviet Union’s pop divas, all-round heartthrob — to make this hit of ‘96. Although the video features the real who’s-who of the Moscow party scene, you’ll be surprised to find that it was actually filmed in the Mosfilm studio, a relic of the Soviet film industry, rather than a club.
Ivanushki International Universe
After this video was released, the world was never the same again. It was the birth of the pop megastars Ivanushki International. It’d be an understatement to say that every schoolgirl in Russia was in love with at least one member of the three-piece boy band. Even now, after 20 years of being played in school discos, nightclubs and summer camps, Ivanushki’s hits still attract swooning crowds at open-air festivals.
Guests from the Future Games
Although the video for Games (Igry) was shot in London in 2000, it’s only part of the noughties on a technicality. Conceptually it belongs to the era of 90s dance music, which includes everything from speed garage to acid house to trip-hop. Judging by the number of times that this track by Guests from the Future (Gosti iz Buduschego) has been remixed, you can bet that most of the young underground DJs spinning records at Moscow’s coolest clubs are cutting their teeth on this track.
Anzhelika Varum Winter Cherry
Russian 90s hits were obsessed with lonely women, which is probably understandable, when you think of the upsurge in sexual freedoms that came with the end of the Soviet era (and the boom in divorces and promiscuity as a result). The synthesised romp Winter Cherry (Zimnyaya Vishnya), by sex symbol of the 90s Anzhelika Varum, is still a favourite with Moscow’s beautiful, lonely, drunk ladies at corporate karaoke nights.
Shura After the Summer Rain
Just when it seemed as though 90s music had gotten as outrageous as it possibly could, an effeminate young gay man with no front teeth arrived from the depths of Siberia to cause another scandal. Shura’s After the Summer Rain (Otshumeli Letnie Dozhdi) was the first in a series of heart-warming hits that became floor-fillers of summer discos all across Russia. By the start of the 2000s Shura had put on weight, got himself some new teeth and began to sing Christian hymns. But all this makes you appreciate his early work even more.
Malchishnik Sex Non-stop
Lyrics about rampant sex, cascades of hormones and enthusiastic hip-grinding made the group Malchishnik a hit with good girls and bad boys alike. Malchishnik poured petrol on the flames lit by the post-perestroika influx of American goods and culture, at a time when there was chaos on the streets and pretty much no one was thinking about the children. But the fire was soon put out: at the end of the decade Putin recovered some respectability — and brought in state censorship. But for those who had already made a name for themselves in the “wild 90s”, their legacy had already been set.
A-Studio Stop the Night
Stop the night (Stop Noch), like the other hits by the original members of the Russo-Kazakh group A-Studio, always stood apart from their trashier peers in the post-Soviet pop scene. They had the full package: thoughtful lyrics, imaginative but modest dance moves and unusual, almost cinematic, costumes. Videos for A-Studio songs were inspired by feature films of the 80s, with characters shuffling through a city lit by neon signs. Some of their music is even more emotional than George Michael’s early hits.
Irina Saltykova Blue Eyes
The “Natalya Vetlitskaya or Irina Saltykova?” debate was almost as ubiquitous during the Russian 90s as the one about Nike or Adidas. A whole generation of Russians was so transfixed by the faux-rivalry played out between these two super-sexy blondes that even today they know all of their songs by heart. If Vetlitskaya won the battle, then Saltykova won the war with her appearance in the cult film Brothers 2, which turned her from a mere singer into a national icon. Her video for Blue Eyes (Golubye Glazki) is the epitome of the era’s new style, showing her with clothes by Jean-Paul Gaultier, over-the-top make-up and – why not? – a Chupa Chups lollipop the size of your fist.
Text: Olya Korsun