• Joel Dwek

RUSSIA: Za Chetrye Morya - Blestyashchiye

Updated: Jan 20

It's perfectly acceptable bubblegum pop, but can the success of this Russian girl band tell us anything about the influence of Western culture in modern Russia?

Some of the artists we speak about on here contain multitudes, either in their music or their lyrics, and, if we’re lucky, both. There is often a lot to dissect, discuss, talk about. Much is revealed on second or third, even fourth listens, and this can even happen with artists I had initially dismissed, like The Kavaholics, Lay Phyu or even Jorge Drexler, though admittedly with Drexler I had an advantage because I understood the lyrics. However, I regret to report Blestyashchiye is not such a band. Maybe they would be if I understood Russian (any Russian speakers out there, let me know), but as it stands, I can sum them up in three words. Russian Spice Girls. There we go. That’s it. That’s the review. If you’ve got a busy day, you can stop there and get on your way, because that’s a perfect summation of what they’re about. The title track is basically Russian Spice Up Your Life, and several other tracks have similar Spice Girls vibes to them. It’s not direct thievery like we saw with Vital Signs, but there’s a clear influence. Now, that’s not a bad thing. I grew up with two older sisters, and the Spice Girls are a nostalgic pleasure of mine. Blestyashchiye apparently means ‘the brilliant ones’, and to be fair to them, they’re definitely competent. The album is a fun and enjoyable listen. The title when Romanised is pronounced Za Chetrye Morya, and it means ‘beyond four seas’. I’m not going to analyse that or anything, I just thought you might want to know, because the entire album is in Cyrillic characters on Spotify.

“Russia has always sat at a unique confluence of east and west, Europe and Asia, distinct from Europe but also a part of it”

In a metatextual sense, the album is interesting in one respect because it provides an interesting mechanism with which to look at Western influence on Russia. Blestyashchiye were formed in 1995 (only one year after the Spice Girls, and their respective debut albums were released in the same year, 1996), and Russia in that time was in the process of democratisation, a process that was never completed in any meaningful respect, and also changing from a communist system of government and economics to a neoliberal model of economics, which was successfully completed. A by-product of this was that imported Western culture, which had previously been deliberately suppressed and disallowed by the communist authorities began to thrive. However, Russia has always sat at a unique confluence of east and west, Europe and Asia, distinct from Europe but also a part of it.

Tsar Peter the Great was the Russian leader who actively welcomed European traditions and influences, and during the communist period, the pendulum swung the other way, though they were, of course unable to stop all of it becoming popular, as the rise in Russian rock music in the 70s and 80s will attest. This album was released during the early years of Putin’s reign, before he had cemented his place as a modern-day Tsar, and Western culture was being fully integrated into Russian life. It is arguable now that Russia is rejecting elements of that westernisation, at least politically, but in those early years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Western culture was near wholesale imported, and the success of a band like Blestyashchiye shows that Western music could continue to be adapted successfully for the Russian market, as rock had shown thirty years earlier.

Look, overall, this album is fun, and your tolerance of its cheesiness will depend on your tolerance of cheesy pop music as a whole. There is little variety or innovation in this album, and unfortunately, they don’t have a member like Mel C who can actually sing well and hit the high notes, but it is enjoyable. It is easy listening and quite catchy. I can’t say it will change your life, but if you’re looking for some Russian pop music, and if you’re frequenting this site you very well might be, you could do a lot worse than Blestyashchiye.