Friday, July 15, 2022

Welcome to America, Little Big!

I grew up revering the humorous music that was played on the Dr. Demento show  Spike Jones was and remains the king of all that, but there were many others, from those devoted to the craft (Lehrer, Allan Sherman, Ray Stevens, and then Weird Al) to those who only recorded one funny song or a smattering of ’em. Funny music videos entered the picture much later on (although the visualizations of Spike’s work in vintage movie clips and on his television show blazed the trail for that specific visual niche).

Thus, I have loved the music videos of the Russian dance-rave-punk-cartoon-satire group Little Big from the first time I saw the viral music-video (621 million views so far on YouTube alone) for their nonsense song “Skibidi.” I encountered it in late 2018, and since that time I’ve regularly checked back to their channel to see if they’ve produced another music-vid. The videos, directed by Alina Pasok with the assistance of the male lead singer and songwriter Ilya Prusikin, have embellished the songs (catchy melodies with nonsense lyrics) with indelibly silly imagery.

I noticed that the band “disappeared” from YouTube (read: no new material) the moment Russia invaded Ukraine. Little Big have a big following in Europe and over here in the U.S., but it probably was just too difficult to create catchy music and memorably weird images when a war started by their country was raging. I hoped they would return in some fashion and was recently surprised to find that they have come up with a song and an accompanying video that are resolutely anti-war and that the lead singers, Ilya and Sonya Tayurskaya, have relocated to the U.S. (in Los Angeles).


It has been noted that only Ilya and Sonya have relocated to L.A. but that they “hope” the other two members will join them. Nothing has been mentioned about music-video director Alina Pasok, who really is the fifth non-musical-but-incredibly-important member of the group, for sure. The songs and videos also wouldn’t be the same without Sergey "Gokk" Makarov as the group’s DJ and Anton "Boo" Lissov on guitar (more commonly known as “the weird guy with the black makeup on his mouth”).

I’ll also miss the very, very Russian “types” of actors who played the smaller characters in their music videos, but I have hopes that their music will remain as light-hearted and goddamned unforgettable as it has been over the last four years. If Ilya (and Pasok) are still behind the music videos, they will most certainly be worth watching.

And so, here is their latest offering, the hardcore anti-war tune “Generation Cancellation.” Ilya’s vocal here does seem to have a hint of Trent Reznor in his finest Nineties angst. Sonya only appears at the end of the video and looks quite a bit different than she had in the preceding videos.

As a New Yorker, I’m of course wary of what could happen to very creative artists from other countries landing in Los Angeles, but hopefully Little Big won’t be unduly affected by the numbing effects of the California sun. (And the U.S. economy, which is currently crashing and certain to crash even further.)

 

The comments below the video on YT are mostly positive, praising the band for taking a stand against war. However, one critic – a gent in Toronto who posts videos in Russian — noted that the images in the video were too tame in their critique and that Little Big wound up criticizing Western governments as well as Russia. I’m guessing that he is wanting them to condemn Russia unconditionally. 

Little Big, it should be noted, isn't new to criticizing warmongering. Here is their video "Lollybomb," which depicts a certain North Korean dictator having a love affair with his nuclear bomb.

The answers to the criticisms above are pretty apparent. a.) Sonya and Ilya have friends (and bandmates!) back in the Mother Country, so it would be stupid of them to solely trash Russia and incur the government’s wrath on their loved ones. Oh, and b.) Western governments have provoked wars in the past, and it’s pretty plain that the Ukraine conflict has turned into what is called “a proxy war” (think Korea and Vietnam, but in a much more grievous iteration) between the Russia and the U.S.


The Eurovision news site wiwibloggs included this translation of a Russian news story about the group:

Little Big — Russia’s Eurovision 2020 act — have explicitly come out against the war in Ukraine with their new single “Generation Cancellation.” Writing in the description of the music video, they say: “War is not over. Stop war in Ukraine. Stop wars worldwide. No one deserves war.”

[...]

In a statement, quoted by Newsweek, the band’s frontman Ilya Prusikin said: “We adore our country, but we completely disagree with the war in Ukraine. Moreover, we believe that any war is unacceptable.”

“We condemn the actions of the Russian government, and we are so disgusted by the Russian military propaganda machine that we decided to drop everything and leave the country.”

An update: As I was writing this piece, Ilya and Sonya were interviewed on BBC television and NBC (print only). The BBC piece has them saying they oppose war in general and received requests to take down an anti-war post they put up on Instagram when the invasion of Ukraine took place. They say they won’t be returning to their home country until Putin leaves office.

 

The NBC article contains no video, just quotes from Ilya given in an interview with an NBC reporter on Zoom. In the piece he discusses why he left and won’t be going back, despite loving Russia. Most importantly for fans of the band, it is noted that Ilya and Sonya “hope that the band’s two other members, who have for now stayed in Russia, can join them in California soon.”

So, to salute Little Big for their Big-ass Adventure across the seas and for their past videos, which have given me no end of pleasure, let me embed just a few favorites here. Each one of these videos has gotten several million views.


The very first LB video was “Everyday I’m Drinking” in 2013. The group was reportedly created for the video and then actually became a real functioning band. There were two little-person women, Olympia Ivleva and Anna Kast, on vocals with Ilya. Thus, a “little/big” group was born.

This video shows both their love of their homeland and their pretty sizable longing to make fun of it. Thus, we have all the usual symbols — vodka, Russian dancing, traditional costumes, and oh yeah, a bear. The band may be more of a “dance” band these days, but when it began it was more hardcore, playing thrash (counterpointing a traditional Russian melody here). Ilya’s lyrics also harkened back to the heyday of punk — as he notes here he drinks everyday because there’s “no future.”

 

By 2016-17, the group had shifted its sound almost entirely to EDM, and they started coming up with anthemic tunes that were definitely written to make the listener laugh as they danced (as with “Big Dick”). Alina Pasok’s videos also started to become more elaborate affairs with trick visuals, odd juxtapositions, and memorably weird imagery, as with this paean to women who really are very pissed off with their men.

 

Ilya has primarily written the band’s hits in English  except for the few written in gibberish (more below) and in elementary Spanish. “Faradenza” is an example of his nonsense writing. The lyrics seem to be in a sort-of Spanish, but English words and “konichiwa” slide in as well.

This 2018 music video was the definite turning point. From then to now, Little Big’s videos have been elaborate productions that are utterly ridiculous and wonderfully funny. Here Ilya plays a playboy sexbomb entrancing the senior women at a spa. The Little Big that fans outside of Russia know began here.

 

In late 2018, the band’s craziest video to date went viral in a big way (again, 621 million views to date). The lyrics are all nonsense (but that didn’t stop people from consulting those who speak Russian asking them to translate them). The video, however, was carefully planned by Pasok and Ilya, so that every new scene is a bit more absurd than the last.

Romance, shopping, seduction, a street gang dance-off, talking animals, and a cartoonlike robotic dance that became a fad for a while. “Skibidi” has it all — and that includes Godzilla (or a reasonable facsimile thereof).

 

A lot of bands would’ve been content to simply rip off their viral video with a similar song and a similar-looking video. Little Big instead did the most absurd thing possible: They rerecorded the song as a ballad, and Alina and Ilya directed a music video that contains every goddamned romantic clichĂ© that had been seen in the early days of music videos.

The “romantic version” of “Skibidi” is thus even sillier than the original. And it continues the “saga” begun in the first video, with Sonya losing Ilya to her rival, Godzilla. This is ridiculousness that transcends borders and language. It it straight-faced lunacy of the finest kind.

 

The next move in the Little Big march of absurdity was a song written in simple English that was accompanied by a video with a clear intention — to show every idiotic person one could possibly find in a bar. Ilya and Sonya are the main culprits, but there’s a great gallery of Russian faces here, with each party explaining to us that no, “I’m not alcoholic!”

It’s one of the few Little Big videos that takes place in the real world, the kind of world that you and I live in. And it actually makes unregenerate hard-drinking sots into charming-seeming people. (In real life? Not so much…) It’s the Little Big video that separates the men and women from the boys and girls — if you like this one, you’re sure to get stuck on their music-vids and actually (like me) await their next assault on sanity.

 

The group returned to “Skibidi”-style jovial strangeness with “Go Bananas,” which barely has lyrics (Ilya just wants us to know he is “the banana man!”), but the video contains every cheap joke you can think of (rubber chickens, pies in the face, food as musical instruments). And yet the vid moves beyond the purely shticky into the world of the surreal and intentionally idiotic. The melody is catchy as hell, the action is fast and furiously idiotic, and it’s just great.

 

Back to an actual plotline of sorts. “Hypnodancer” has the band committing high-stakes capers thanks to Ilya’s hypnotizing dancing moves. There’s no explanation needed.

 

To illustrate how deeply I fell down the Little Big rabbit-hole, here is one of the most fun variety specials that they took part in, a New Years Eve farewell to the horrid year of 2020 (which they had made fun of in their delightfully caustic Xmas single/music-vid, “Suck My Dick 2020”) done in the form of an Italian musical variety show.

The whole show is a wonderfully detailed sendup of Italian entertainment from the Seventies and Eighties, with all the participants speaking in Italian for the duration and covering old hits. I can’t imagine an American comedy-music show that would get this deep into the joke (especially since Americans never learn a word of other languages).

“Piccolo Grandi” (as they were known for this show) covered the song “Mamma Maria,” a 1982 hit by the Italian group Ricchi e Poveri. Their performance is both faithful to the original and to their own style (especially with the crazy-ass dancing toward the end). They appear at 37:42. (Ilya “smoking” a pencil is a reference to the “Hypnodancer” video – and perhaps a stricture of Russian TV that people shouldn’t be seen smoking, as exists in the U.S. these days).

 

And while their Eurovision song (for the Eurovision that never was, in 2020) “Uno” and their paean to ethnic food, “Tacos” are both entertaining, I’ll close out here with another one of those Little Big music-vids that shows an upside-down world, “Moustache.” The song and music video pay tribute to hirsute women (who have carefully groomed 'staches).

 

A perfect way to close out this survey of Little Big’s catchy-and-crazy music-videos. I welcome them to our country with open arms, in the hope that they will NEVER become normal. (And/or have guest star cameos in their videos from former SNL stars or other purveyors of substandard American mainstream comedy.) Please, Ilya, Sonya (and Anton and Sergey, and hopefully Alina), stay very, very weird.