In Ukrainian Music, The 2010s Are The New 90s
To escape in the past has always been a matter of special interest for artists of any generation. Maybe such reflection is indispensable for anyone who tries to define the new reality. Ukrainians, in particular, have been feeling quite nostalgic for 90s music in the last five years or so. The parallel between now and then is not precisely identical but it does have many points of similarities. When The Soviet Union collapsed it was a time of great turbulence for everyone living there but also it had us see the surge of creative energy. The Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine had a comparable effect on the local art scene.
Even now we can see how Ukrainian culture continues to trample down its own path and explore local narratives in cinematography, literature and visual art. Music, however, has found its place at the very centre of this renaissance. Some artists embraced the local folk tradition while others had their look directed at the early post-Soviet pop and dance hits. Today we’re interested in the latter.
Luna and Her “Sad Dance”
Luna released her first album “Маг-ни-ты” in 2016 and suddenly became the biggest indie-pop star across all post-Soviet countries. At that moment, Kristina Gerasimova was the archetypal ambassador of her generation: someone who physically lives in the present but mentally she is stuck in the aesthetics of the past. She was a model and a photographer. She was a vegetarian who also practised meditation and occasionally smoked weed. She was at the heart of nightlife in Kyiv but she was also a young mother with a good deal of drama in her personal life. In some sense, she was the elite and the ordinary, which is why Luna was the perfect stage name for Kristina — impossible to touch yet irresistible not to watch at night.
“Sad dance” is the perfect collocation to describe Luna’s music style. It’s melancholic yet danceable. Her lyrics are literal and straightforward but also — because of the unusual way Kristina chooses and combines words — somewhat mystical and metaphorical. In many aspects of her sound and imagery, Luna draws much inspiration from the then-popular Russian pop singers like Natalya Vetlitskaya and Irina Saltykova, for only the mood she invokes is lethargic and depressing rather than hopeful. But maybe that’s exactly what the growing generation of young adults needed this time around. Even if this explanation is simplistic, artists who followed Luna’s success only reinforced this trend.
The 2010s Are The New 90s
For the next four years, the 90s and early 00s became a vital source of inspiration for musicians all across the board. In pop music, Loboda and Max Barskih released two highly successful and nostalgically-sounding singles “Твои глаза” and “Туманы” respectively which they followed by dropping similarly nostalgic albums.
Around the same time, Luna’s now ex-husband Yurii Bardash put together a hip-hop band GREBZ and soon released the long-play album inspired by the 80s house music. Their song “ Тает Лед” became one of the most popular songs in all post-Soviet countries including both Ukraine and Russia.
The list of musicians who ventured into the 90s can really go indefinitely. There’s Stepan i Meduza — a child of Bravo and Depeche Mode. Tik Tu and their playful Arlekino-like instrumentals and vocals. Ivan Dorn and Leonid Agutin. Maruv and Russian chanson. Dakoooka and Zemfira.
Speaking of Dakooka, Luna seemingly paved a way for a number of indie singer-songwriters who thereafter went into a more sulky and dismal temper. The most notable of them are Siuzanna and Luci. The former is also one-half of Russian hip-hop duo Мальбэк. Her debut album “Та самая” is a quirky dark pop record which — unlike Luna’s music — follows a more underground, urban Soviet aesthetics influenced by trip-hop and ethno-rock stars like Linda.
Luci is perhaps the last breath of the 90s in 2010s indie pop music. Last year she released an album named “Enigma” which serves a tasteful reimagination of Ukrainian pop music defined by artists like Irina Bilyk and Skryabin. “Enigma” is so well-produced and sonically accessible it sounds almost like a contemporary pop album albeit for its overly biblical and anguish sentiment as well as unimpressive vocal arrangements. Still, it’s a rather eloquent dot at the end of a rich historical chapter.
Tina Karol and Her Ultimate Leap Forward
As unlikely as it might sound, Tina Karol is the very person who concludes the 90s epoch by recently releasing her eighth album “Красиво”. She’s adored by the public at large and disliked by the music snobs and connoisseurs of “quality” music. She has begun her career in the early 00s and made her way up to this day — becoming perhaps the most well-known pop star in Ukraine. Along the way, she made a ton of questionable choices in her music, from the repertoire and vocal arrangements to artistic imagery and cheesy lyrics. The only thing that seemed to remain constant was her aspiration for perpetual betterment. It’s 15 years later, and now I can see an artist who has grown both personally and professionally — and she finally releases an album that is nothing less than timely and perfect.
“Красиво” is when all shards from past experiments come together into a beautiful and wholesome piece. Everything here works brilliantly. Vocal arrangements are dynamic, sundry and dramatic. Lyrics are easy to follow yet fascinating to unravel: a story of the lifetime told through simple and catchy narration. In seven songs presented on the album, Karol and her co-writer Arkadiy Aleksandrov referenced pretty much everything they could when it comes to 90s music: from Alla Pugacheva’s theatrical and eccentric pop in “Красиво” to Gosti iz Budushchego’s lyrical dance-pop in “Любовники”. Karol here often sounds too risky and provocative for a pop artist but she never falls flat in any of her performances. Eventually, “Красиво” is an album born out of nostalgia for the 90s which, nevertheless, sounds unapologetically modern and chic.