Kulture by Yaroslava Bondar September 22, 2020
Russian TikTok songs… ever heard of them?
You log into TikTok and see a 15-second video of a 16-year-old girl. She’s standing in her room, cow print on the door behind her. With every count of the song, she wears a different top, pair of pants, bag, headband, necklace. The synthesizer beat dictates how quickly the items change.
As you swipe up, to the next video, you see a humanoid llama. It’s dancing, clearly living its best life while a high-pitched voice sings, “mi pan, su su sum, su su sum.” Behind the llama are palms and mountains.
What do these seemingly unrelated TikToks have in common? Both videos use Russian songs. Russian songs do not often gain popularity on the app, so it’s odd to see these, very different, highly specific tunes be so well-loved.
The first sound, “Sudno (Boris Ryzhy),” is a 2019 song by the Belarus group Molchat Doma (translated as “houses are silent”) from their 2018 album Этажи (pron. “etazi”, translated as “Floors”).
On their website, they describe their music as a blend of post-punk, new-wave, and synth-pop. Molchat Doma’s songs evokes raw concrete, isolation, decay, existential dread; if you take brutalist architecture and pour it into an album, you’ll have an idea of what Molchat Doma sounds like.
The song is primarily used by “alt TikTok” users, short for “alternative TikTok.” Teens show their wide array of clothing and accessories in the 15-second video, stirred on by the driving synth.
Alt Tiktok is recognizable by their heavy-handed eyeliner, funky colored hair, draped chains, grunge-inspired fashion. This is the group with “e-boys/girls;” teens that would likely be scene kids if they hadn’t been wearing diapers in the 2000s.
Additionally, it is interesting to note that most of the videos are by kids that don’t speak Russian and don’t understand the lyrics of the song.
“We’ve discussed this a lot and came to the conclusion that it’s likely because of the track’s beat.” Molchat Doma told KultureHub when asked about this surprising popularity. “It’s unfortunate that most people don’t really look into the lyrics.”
Well, the lyrics of the song use a poem by Boris Ryzhy, a Russian poet who gained popularity in the ’90s. His poetry “all about love and death” as he himself once said, is a blend of harsh reality and bittersweet joy. The part of the poem “Sudno” used by Molchat Doma translates to:
Little window, bedside table, bed
Living is hard and uncomfortable
But it’s comfortable to die
And quite dripping from the faucet
And life’s disheveled like a whore
Comes out of a fog
And sees: bedside table, bed
And I’m trying to rise up
I want to look her in the eyes
Look in her eyes and burst out sobbing
And never die, And never die, And never die”
In light of the current situation in Belarus, KultureHub asked the group how they fit into the current Belarusian mentality. Molchat Doma refused to answer this question.
Perhaps that is an answer in itself; the nihilism of their songs is in stark opposition to the passionate activism of modern Belarus youth. By not answering the question, they reiterated this disconnect.
However, on the other end of the Russian-TikTok-song spectrum, there’s the song “Mi Pan Su Su Sum.” On TikTok, the song is used in a variety of different ways. From people dancing with pieces of bread (“mi pan” is Spanish for “my bread”) to nonsensical dancing llamas and humanoid creatures.
The song, however, doesn’t have anything to do with bread or llamas and is instead a sped-up cover of a Russian cereal commercial for Miel Pops. Miel Pops by Kellogs are similar to Honey Loops, but where the latter are donut-shaped, Miel Pops are cornballs covered in honey.
In 2010, the jingle launched. In the commercial, we’re greeted by a white cowboy-fit wearing bee that welcomes us into the hive to see the “supergroup ‘Miel Pops’.” Once in the hive, the bees perform, dancing to the now well-known jingle. The lyrics translate as:
“Miel Pops, buzz buzz buzz, buzz buzz buzz
Miel Pops, buzz buzz buzz, buzz buzz buzz
Miel Pops, so delicious, om nom nom
Honey balls for breakfast
Miel Pops, honey drip drip drip, drip drip drip
Miel Pops, crunch crunch crunch, crunch crunch crunch
Miel Pops, om nom nom, om nom nom
(v/o) Miel Pops, honey balls for breakfast
On the other side, the aspiring Russian singer Rozalia (@chernaya.princessa) uploaded an acoustic cover of the jingle to TikTok. In her YouTube video cover, she explains that her singing career wasn’t taking off so she wanted to try something else. She thought singing something silly but with beautiful vocals would be a good way to try and go viral.
Rozalia wasn’t wrong. TikTok user @isterrrrika took her acoustic version and sped it up. Additionally, user @awa_de_horchata_uwu then used this version for a TikTok of a dancing llama.
So, in reflection, what is the appeal of the dancing bees, llamas, and bread? In a world that’s becoming more and more saturated with information and misinformation, it is easy to lose track of what’s real.
Perhaps, instead of trying to restore a sense of logic and normalcy, teens have fully embraced the absurdity of modern-day times and are now able to find joy in it. It’s also related to the way internet comedy works; there’s little time for set-up and punchline and instead jokes are single images or 5-second clips.
A dancing llama is also a good example; it’s funny in its unhinged sensibility and absurdity plus the lack of context, allows for endless manipulation and remixes.
Or maybe teens just feel perpetually random.
Russian songs on TikTok, the few that do make it on the app, are not appreciated for their lyricism. The two popular Russian songs are just a very limited slice of Russian media and culture.
Listen to the playlist below if your interest has been piqued and you wish to listen to more Russian music away from both previously-listed extremes.