This article originally appeared on VICE Romania
A lot has been said about Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. Vova. The Czar. The USSR's James Bond. Leading armies across Chechnya, Georgia, Ukraine and Syria. Prime minister, president, prime minister again, then president again.
He has released tigers into the wild, basically has his own biker gang, loves hunting and fishing – sometimes shirtless – has a black belt in judo, is an accomplished hockey player and sings Blueberry Hill in public.
The naysayers argue that the only thing he leads is an enormous propaganda machine, that he doesn't care about human rights, plus that he is a mobster with a nuclear detonation button. What the naysayers forget is that beyond all the propaganda served up in his name, Putin is loved by many Russians – his approval rating is apparently in the high 80s – so deeply that he inspires artists. Artists like amateur musicians.
To explore the ways Vova Putin has influenced the Russian speaking music scene, we have chosen some of the best songs about Putin we could find – some positive, some critical – and translated parts of their lyrics.
1. In the Open Field
Let's start off with a war tune. 'In the Open Field' is a simple but effective video, showcasing the Russian army in action. It's also worth mentioning that the lyricist/composer, who was born in Moldova, is called Peleneagră – Romanian for Black Skin.
The song starts off like a power ballad, making you wonder if all those pictures of soldiers haven't been inserted there by accident. The singer mentions he looks at the stars in the sky, which remind him of fireworks, Lady Di's diamond necklace and New York. Right as you're about to wonder what this guy has been smoking and where you might get your hands on it, he hits you with the chorus: "And in the open field, the Grad System / Behind us – Putin and Stalingrad." The Grad System is a platform that can launch 40 rockets in just 20 seconds. It's been used by the pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.
It's also profound how the song links Putin, a self-professed fan of the USSR, with Stalingrad – the battle in which the Red Army overturned the course of the war against Nazi Germany.
2. A Tajik's song about Putin
Some bloggers have claimed that this song is actually a subtle jab of irony against Putin, but I doubt it is. Tajik crooner Tolibdjon Kurbanhanov's face is not the face of someone who jokes. And the lyrics are as honestly affectionate as they come:
Let's all remember those years when he wasn't there – all worries
The country was in crisis, the people hurt, and meanwhile God sent him
See when he came to power, at the beginning of a century, a new millennium
He is the messenger of God and he will give us many upon arrival – an improvement
A good strategy, you've noticed, is the country is in zero debt
He's proved to us, throughout his presidency,
That he keeps his promises and is a man of his word.
Tolibdjon keeps it a lot more to the point in the chorus:
VVP! He saved the country!
VVP! He defends us!
VVP! He's raised Russia!
And keeps developing it more!
VVP! He's saved the people!
VVP! He protects!
VVP! When he's in power, he's the safeguard of stability!
3. My Putin
Mashani seems like a true country girl, standing in a field, decked out in the Russian flag, with one strand of hair braided with a red thread to ward off the evil-eye. While in that field, near a wall and in a basement, she's singing her little heart out about her dedication to Putin. In the basement she's wearing a Ukrainian flag, matching with some of the lyrics of the song, applauding the annexation of Crimea.
The English translation of the lyrics – mostly about what a man's man Putin is – can be found in the YouTube clip, but I'd like to highlight the chorus:
You are Putin, you're so Putin
I want to be with you
I'm howling for you
My Putin, my dear Putin
Take me with you
I want to be with you
I'm trying to make "That's so Putin" the new "That's so fetch". Believe me, it's going to happen.
Throughout the video, there are glimpses of a mysterious biker. Is Putin the biker's morning star, guiding him on his journey? Is the biker Putin? There's no telling. The video ends somewhat abruptly with Mashani looking into the distance, so we'll never know if she rides off into the sunset with Putin himself or with just some guy on a bike taking advantage of the situation.
4. Act, Putin!
Marina is a young girl, so no blame befalls her for the quality of this production. But the guy with the moustache behind her (father? Uncle? Grandfather? Neighbour? Music teacher?) could have mentored her better into giving a more subtle performance. Singing so loudly and closely into the camera is no ticket for getting into show business.
She does, however, get her message across: During the first three verses, she keeps repeating how great it would be if Putin goes to Crimea, and in the chorus she asks him to take the appropriate measures:
Act, Putin! – Russian president
And shine brighter than the movie stars
Russia has a strong argument
Putin, Putin, Putin – the President
The song ends with a positively idyllic scene, with people rejoicing at having been freed from under the Ukrainian yoke:
The people call out "Bravo!", they dance and they sing
The stars are shining in the sky and the fireworks rumble
It is because our President has acted wisely
By uniting us with Sevastopol and Crimea.
5. Someone like Putin
This song by Poyushie Vmeste ("Those Who Sing Together"), was so on point that the girls made an English version:
Again, the song is about what a fine, desired gentleman the Russian president is: The girl in the song has dumped her drunken bully of a boyfriend, and now wants someone like Putin:
Someone like Putin, so powerful
Someone like Putin, who doesn't drink
Someone like Putin, who won't hurt me
Someone like Putin, who won't run away.
But not all songs about Putin are about the glory of his decisiveness, stable character and moderate alcohol consumption. There are some hate hymns about him as well, so let's discuss a selection of those:
1. Song for Putin
These burly blokes are veterans of the Russian Airborne Troops' special elite forces, also called "Desantniks". In the USSR, kids used to threaten each other by saying: "I'll tell on you to my cousin, who's a desantnik." The guys really dig into Vladimir Vladimirovici:
You're just like me – a man, not God
I'm just like you – a man, not a fool
We'll no longer stand by the lies, we won't allow the theft
We're the desant troops of freedom, we've got the Motherland on our side
You're a normal person, not a Czar and not God
To you, man is nothing more than a stupid monkey
The colour of the ribbon of freedom means something good to us all
But to you it's nothing more than a condom.
To be clear: these are the kind of guys you'd want on your side – or not against you, at least. Unless maybe you're someone like Putin. Then you might not care about it all too much.
2. Bratuha ("Yo, Bro")
It's not just angry guys on guitar who aren't fans of Putin – there's critical hip-hop, too. Like this one from a couple of years ago: Vasya Oblomov doesn't waste any time on introductions and goes all in right off the bat:
My name is Vova P (Putin) and I'm here to stay
Grandpa Boris left me under the Christmas tree
I was the present, covered in needles
But, look at me, ain't I so pretty?!
I look undeniably well in photos so piss off, all you losers! […]
I'm generous, smart, brave, and strong
I'm real active when I talk to the people
Judo, sumo, karate, aikido
I dance the samba like a pro, I've got balls like action stars
If something's bothering you, ask for me!
That last line, about "something bothering you" is Russian gang terminology. When a gang member is trying to take over a particular area, he tells the people in the area that the gang will take care of everything – against a protection tax, of course.
3. Vova rules once more
The lyrics in this video could have been taken from any of the songs in the former category, and sung by a bunch of fan girls. But it's not, at all. It's sarcastic rap!
James Bond can't even be compared to him
He is a superman and the whole capital loves him
All public figures: professors, deans
All towns and villages, the Western countries
And in times of strife, as always, he is by your side
Because standing behind him is like standing behind a wall
And, if need be, he'll smack the bad guy in the mouth in the toilet
Yeah, Vova rules and he rules like he's supposed to
4. Vova IS A Plague
There's really nothing sarcastic about this next song – these guys get right to the point: "Vova, Putin Vova is a Plague". The song also talks about the opposition, which isn't doing well in Russia. It's much safer to just sing Putin's praises:
A role model from the Opposition
Yelling to take him down
But, for now, everything's the same
The opposition is – there is no opposition
Just a finger drilling through your temple
The KGB is in the back
Jokes are not a good idea
Just praise him.
Aside from this last one basically comparing Putin to the Black Death, it can be hard to tell with these songs which lyrics are pure adoration and which are pure sarcasm. That should be a worrying sign to a world leader – that you might want to tone it down a little. Unless maybe you're a world leader like Putin. Then you might not care about it all too much.