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Ideologies in a music TV show

Language & Communication 52 (2017) 45–59
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Language & Communication
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/langcom
Language practices and language ideologies in the popular
music TV show The Voice Russia
Evgeniya Aleshinskaya a, *, Elena Gritsenko b
National Research Nuclear University MEPhI (Moscow Engineering Physics Institute), 31 Kashirskoye shosse, Moscow 115409, Russia
Linguistics University of Nizhny Novgorod, 31a Minin St., Nizhny Novgorod 603155, Russia
a r t i c l e i n f o
a b s t r a c t
Article history:
Available online 20 September 2016
This paper examines the diverse communicative practices of the popular TV show The
Voice Russia and highlights the role and function of language ideologies in Russian popular
music. We argue that language choice in songs is guided by two sets of ideasdthe ideologies of pop music professionals, who have a strong English bias, and the popular beliefs
held by the audience, who support the integrity of the Russian language and culture.
Analysis of multilingual songs which combine lyrics and music from different countries
(and cultures) reveals the role of language alternation as a resource of meaning making
and an instrument for constructing ethnic, local, and glocal (transnational-but-localized)
Ó 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Popular music
1. Introduction
Popular culture and popular music are areas of social life profoundly affected by globalization. Their impact is manifested,
among other areas, in ‘the global diffusion of a similar range of programme types on TVdnews and current affairs programmes, soap operas, ‘reality TV’ shows’ (Fairclough, 2006, p. 87). The Voice (Golos) is a local version of a global musical TV
show which enjoys great popularity in Russia. It is an important part of the Russian pop music landscape and a salient
example of glocalization (Robertson, 1995)dthe creative appropriation of global cultural flows involving reflection on and
reaffirmation of local cultural forms and values.
As a popular entertainment show, Golos covers not only the performance of musical product (songs) but also other related
language practices, such as rehearsals, show hosting, and conversations between coaches and contestants. Different aspects
of the show are discussed by TV viewers on the internet. This provides ample material for studying the discourse of the show
as a ‘complex arena of practice’ (Fairclough, 1995b, p. 185) in which ‘social knowledge and social reality are produced,
reproduced, and transformed through a variety of special genres’ (Androutsopoulos, 2009, p. 43). Language practices in
popular music have become the object of academic inquiry as a result of ‘acceleration of the sociolinguistic interest in [.] the
socially meaningful’ (Coupland, 2007, p. vi). A number of recent studies of language alternation in popular music, especially in
rap lyrics, raise questions about identity construction, the politics of language, and simultaneous processes of globalization
and localization (Alim et al., 2009; Davis and Bentahila, 2008; Terkourafi, 2010). Several works have addressed the symbolic
use of languages in popular music where the national (ethnic) language (e.g., an Asian language) can ‘convey a sense of
“Eastern-ness”, “locality”, “conservatism”, “collectivism”, “us-ness” and so forth’, while English and/or other foreign languages ‘convey a sense of “Western-ness”, “globality”, “modernity”, “individuality”, “otherness” and so forth’ (Chan, 2009, p.
109). Mixing languages and language varieties in music also serves as a medium of social ideology and can express a political
* Corresponding author. Fax: þ7 499 324 2111.
E-mail addresses: [email protected] (E. Aleshinskaya), [email protected] (E. Gritsenko).
0271-5309/Ó 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
E. Aleshinskaya, E. Gritsenko / Language & Communication 52 (2017) 45–59
stance; for example, switching between indigenous languages and (African) American English in rap expresses opposition to
the dominant ‘English-as-official language’ policy in Nigeria (Omoniyi, 2009).
In Russia, all these topics are fairly new. The prime focus of research, to date, has been on language hybridization and the
functions of English in Russian popular music (Aleshinskaya and Gritsenko, 2014; Eddy, 2008; Gritsenko and Dunyasheva,
2013; Proshina, 2010). In this paper, we aim to explore the language practices of Golos through their links to language ideologies ‘as an interpretive filter of the relationships between language and society’ (Woolard and Shieffelin, 1994, p. 62). We
address the pragmatics of language choice in the songs and highlight the conflict between professionals’ opinion and popular
beliefs, which motivate such choices at various stages of the show. We analyze multilingual performances that combine lyrics
and music from different countries (or cultures) and describe the role of language alternation as a meaning-making resource
and an instrument for constructing local, national, and transnational identities.
2. Research setting
The musical show Golos is part of the internationally syndicated show The Voice. The aim of the show is to find, through a
series of contests (or rounds), a new singing talentda versatile vocalist, who will be granted a contract with an international
record company. Contestants are given professional advice by four expert coaches, who also act as the judging panel. All
coaches are successful performing artists in various genres.
The vocal contest is broadcast on the leading Russian television network Channel One across Russia and the entire postSoviet space. Videos from Season 1 (October 2012–December 2012), Season 2 (September 2013dDecember 2013), and Season
3 (September 2014dDecember 2014), as well as interviews with the contestants and coaches, are available on the Channel
One official website (www.1tv.ru/voice). Golos is currently one of the ten highest rated shows on Russian television. The
audience share of the Season 3 finale on 26 December 2014 was 47.3%, which is an outstanding result for a TV show of this
kind. In 2014, it won a prestigious TEFI award from the Russian Academy of Television for the best entertainment program in
the category ‘Evening Prime’.
Contestants sing covers of famous songs from all over the world. Since the audience of Golos is multi-generational, the
songs are selected to satisfy all ages: recent and old hits in various musical genres, folk songs, and popular songs from the
Soviet era. In striving for the ‘best voice’ title, contestants go through four phases: a series of blind auditions, battle rounds,
knockout rounds, and live shows (quarter-finals, semi-finals, and finals). In the first three stages, it is up to the coaches to
decide who will progress to the next round and who will have to leave the competition. In the live shows, the audience
chooses four finalists and vote for the best voice in the country.
Golos differs from other national versions of The Voice due to its international status. The Russian Federation is a multiethnic state, and some participants come from republics which have their own languages and cultures (e.g., Tatarstan,
Chechnya, North Ossetia-Alania, etc.). The show also welcomes vocalists from different post-Soviet countries (Belarus,
Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kirgizstan, Latvia, and Estonia), even though most of these
countries have their own national versions of The Voice. Finally, contestants from Europe, Africa, and America can also
participate in Golos: for example, Season 2 (2013) featured vocalists from Italy, the Maldives, and the USA, and Season 3 (2014)
had singers from Cameroon, Uruguay, France, and the UK. This diversity makes Golos a perfect setting to explore multilingual
creativity in music (Gritsenko and Aleshinskaya, 2015).
Since the show is broadcast in Russia and targets a mainly Russian-speaking audience, the Russian language serves as a
local lingua franca: it is used by all participants and forms a common base for interaction between contestants from different
countries, including those from Europe and Africa. Songs performed in Russian are warmly met by viewers, and foreign
vocalists choose them to show respect to the host country and to win the approval of the audience. Still, ‘the dominance of
English in the popular music scene’ (Crystal, 2003, p. 101) is manifested vividly and in various forms. English is the predominant language of musical compositions; it is employed by coaches and local contestants to talk to foreign singers; and
English terms and hybrid English-Russian forms are routinely used by contestants and coaches in informal professional
communication and casual talk.
The show is not only multilingual and multicultural. It features different genres as well. With regard to the pop music
domain, the term ‘genre’ can denote a type of music (musical genre) and a type of text (discursive genre). Musical genres, such
as jazz, soul, funk, rock, pop, heavy metal, hip hop, and so forth, are characterized by specific techniques, instrumentation,
context, subject matter, and social function. Discursive genres are linked to different types of domain-specific social activity:
jam sessions, studio recordings, music CDs, music reviews, interviews, professional forums, academic publications, riders,
contracts, etc. (Aleshinskaya, 2013, pp. 427–428). Golos provides an opportunity to explore different discursive genres. It
includes an introduction of the contestants by the show host, contestants’ video presentations with fragments of rehearsals
and key moments of the show, the actual performance of the song, and its discussion by the coaches.
3. Theoretical framework and study material
Research on language ideologies, understood as ‘particular views and beliefs about languages and their links to social,
political, moral and aesthetic values’ (Johnson et al., 2010, p. 241), has gained considerable momentum in recent years.
Ideology has become the crucial concept in the study of popular music, where different aspects of language are ‘ideologized’
(Androutsopoulos, 2010a) in multimodal performances foregrounding local diversity in the complex process of globalization.
E. Aleshinskaya, E. Gritsenko / Language & Communication 52 (2017) 45–59
Back in 1934, the Russian (Soviet) linguist Abayev (2006, p. 5) suggested differentiation between ‘the ideology expressed in
language (as an ideological system)’ and ‘the ideology expressed with the help of language (as a communicative system)’.
Fairclough expressed it from a different perspective: ‘Language is a material form of ideology, and language is invested by
ideology’ (Fairclough, 1995a, p. 73).
Our paper takes into account both dimensions. We explore ideology as a ‘systematic body of ideas articulated by a
particular group of people’ (Storey, 2009, p. 2), specifically, the ideas which inform the practices of professional musicians and
TV viewers, and address the ‘unconscious meanings that texts and practices (for instance, song lyrics) carry or can be made to
carry’ (Storey, 2009, p.4). We also tackle competing ideological representations of the way the world is or should be, keeping
in mind that texts (television, pop songs, etc.) always present a particular image of the world.
Our general research approach has a performative focus. It is shaped by Fairclough’s definition of discourse as language use
and a form of social practice (Fairclough, 2006, p. 27). Following Fairclough, we assume that language use is simultaneously
constitutive of social identities, social relations, and systems of knowledge and beliefs (Fairclough, 1993, p. 134), and we
address the ‘relationships of causality and determination between discursive practices, events, and texts, and wider social and
cultural structures, relations and processes’ (Fairclough, 1993, p.132). To reveal the ideologies underlying the use of language(s) in Golos, we address three relevant discoursesdthe discourse of pop music professionals (coaches and contestants),
the discourse of the audience (TV viewers, forum participants), and the discourse TV officials (the administration of Channel
One), as well as four genresdperformances, rehearsals, interviews, and discussions. Analysis is structured in accordance with
Fairclough’s (1995a) three-dimensional framework, which includes descriptiondthe study of formal elements of the text (e.g.,
language alternation in song lyrics), interpretationdanalysis of how the text is produced and received (e.g., who performs the
song, and who the target audience is), and explanation, which takes into account the broader social currents affecting the text
(e.g., the professional socialization of Russian pop musicians as the reason for language bias). The data were drawn from 95 h
of video recordings of Golos on the official website of Channel One (www.1tv.ru/voice) and http://www.youtube.com/, as well
as the forums on these websites. Following Fiske (1987) and Androutsopoulos (2009), we divided all available texts into three
groups: primary, secondary, and tertiary. Primary texts are the songs performed by the contestants. Secondary texts include
professional discourse on language use on Golos, performance discussions by the judging panel, selected fragments of rehearsals, and interviews. Tertiary texts occur at the level of the audience and represent public responses to the show. This
three-tier structure helps to link three different ‘arenas’ of popular music and show how ‘the tension between globalness and
localness is negotiated within each of these arenas’ (Androutsopoulos, 2009, p. 59).
At the level of primary texts, we examined 556 songs performed by the contestants. Our primary focus was on language
choice in the song lyrics. Most of the songs were monolingualdusually English or Russian, but there were also songs in Italian,
French, Spanish, German, Ukrainian, Hebrew, and a few other languages. Our goal was to find out what motivates the choice of
language at various stages of the show and to describe the language ideologies underlying such choices.
As some of the songs were multilingual, we explored the symbolic meanings conveyed by different languages. Our
assumption was that language choice and language alternation in popular music are ‘indexical of multiple cultural affiliations
and identifications’ (Alim et al., 2009, p.7), for instance, being professional and cosmopolitan or being part of the local (ethnic,
national) and global (transnational) musical cultures. To confirm this assumption, we interviewed professional musicians and
analyzed relevant samples of metalinguistic professional discourse.
At the level of secondary texts, we examined samples of professional talk at rehearsals, the coaches’ discussions of language use in songs, and interviews with participants, coaches, and show organizers posted on the Channel One website
(www.1tv.ru/voice) and taken from other internet sources (see web references). To validate the findings obtained through
‘interpretation’ and ‘explanation’, we conducted five quasi-ethnographic interviews with professional Russian musicians
from Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Nizhny Novgorod who perform in different musical genres. Four online interviews with
rock and hip hop artists (Alexei, drummer in a post-rock band, 31 years old; Ivan, rock guitar player, 20 years old; Alexander,
rapper, 25 years old; Mikhail, rapper, 23 years old) addressed the use of English in professional conversations and the role of
language in identity making. The fifth interviewee was a jazz, pop, and folk singer and one of the finalists of Golos (Tina, 33
years old). The focus of this interview was on multilingual songs, and her views related to language use in pop music in
general. All interviews were conducted in Russian and translated into English.1
At the level of tertiary texts, we explored the contents of the Golos web forums on Channel One’s official website (www.1tv.
ru/voice) and YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/) and some other web forums where the audience discussed the show
(http://otzovik.com/; http://encycl.m-rnagiev.ru). We selected comments on language choice in the songs. We believe that
these public metalinguistic pronouncements manifest deeper social concerns about language and popular culture and shed
light on language ideologies circulating in contemporary Russia.
4. Language choices in songs
Songs are the centerpieces around which the show is built: they are rehearsed by the contestants before each round,
performed in front of the audience and coaches during the broadcast, discussed by the coaches after the performance, and,
finally, evaluated and voted on by the viewers. Unlike many other national versions of The Voice, Golos is very diverse in terms
Quotes from these interviews are used in Sections 4.3 and 5.1.
E. Aleshinskaya, E. Gritsenko / Language & Communication 52 (2017) 45–59
of music and language. It presents songs from different countries and cultures and in a wide range of genres (from mainstream jazz, pop, and rock songs to Italian opera and folk music). In this section, we address the issue of language choice in
songs and highlight the factors which influence it at different stages of the show. We analyze professional opinions on
language choice in songs, compare them with the views of the audience, and observe the language ideologies that shape the
position of each social group.
4.1. Pragmatic underpinnings of language choice in songs
Table 1 summarizes the data on the language of the songs performed in different seasons and stages of the show. All in all,
four types of songs were performed in the show: (1) monolingual songs in Russian, (2) monolingual songs in English, (3)
monolingual songs in a language other than Russian or English, and (4) multilingual songs. The figures in each column
indicate the number of songs in different languages that were performed at a particular stage of the show (blind auditions,
battles, knockouts, quarter-finals, and semi-finals). In brackets, we provide the percentage of songs in each language. The
column ‘Total’ shows how many songs in each language were performed in the given season.
Apparently, there are certain regularities in the distribution of songs in different languages throughout the stages of the
show. The competing languages are English and Russian. In the first two seasons, the total number of songs in English (46.6%)
exceeded the number of Russian songs (41.6%). The gap between the two languages expanded in Season 2, when the percentage of Russian songs dropped by 5% (36.6%) and the percentage of songs in English showed an increase of 3% (49.7%). The
situation changed again in Season 3, when Russian became the dominant language (46% vs 43%). Compared to the number of
Russian and English songs, the percentage of monolingual songs in other languages was low and decreased from Season 1 to
Season 3. In contrast, the number of multilingual songs rose in Season 2, and it remained stable in Season 3.
Although the gap between English and Russian songs is not great, it is significant enough to suggest that the fluctuations in
the number of songs throughout the show are not random. Apparently, the preference for English or Russian correlates with
the stage of the show. In the first two rounds of the competition (‘blind auditions’ and ‘battles’), the percentage of songs in
English exceeds the percentage of songs in Russian. However, in ‘live shows’ and especially in the finale, the situation is
reversed: the number of Russian songs exceeds the number of songs in English. This tendency is observed throughout all
seasons of the show and is especially obvious in Season 3, when the percentage of Russian songs rises from 40.47% in blind
auditions to 71.43% in the finale, and the percentage of English songs decreases from 46.42% in blind auditions to 28.57% in the
finale. We connect this tendency to the social agents who select the songs and evaluate their performance. In blind auditions,
it is usually the contestants who decide what songs will better demonstrate their vocal abilities. In battles and knockouts, the
choice is made by the coaches, who help the contestants to select the songs and decide who will proceed to the next round of
the competition. In quarter-finals and semi-finals, the TV viewers together with the coaches vote for the contestants and
decide whether they should stay in the show. As for the finale, the choice is made entirely by the viewers, who vote via phone
(by text messaging) and select the best performer and the best voice of the country.
The collected data suggest that the audience and the coaches have different preferences concerning the language of
musical compositions: professionals (the vocalists and the coaches) favor English, while TV viewers want to hear more
Russian songs and vote for the contestants who sing in Russian in the ‘live shows’. The language preferences of the coaches
were apparent in many episodes of the show. In the beginning of each season, the coaches sing a song together which serves
as a symbolic introduction to the show. In all three seasons, they selected English songs for this opening performance: Season
1d‘Let It Be’; Season 2d‘Blue Suede Shoes’; and Season 3d‘Come Together’. The voting results for the blind auditions are also
quite telling. During this stage of the contest, the coaches listen to the songs with their backs to the contestants and turn
around only if they like the performance and want the participant to proceed to the next round. The results of the blind
Table 1
Language choices on Golos.
Stage of the show
Blind auditions
1 (2012)
Another language
Two (or three) languages
Another language
Two (or three) languages
Another language
Two (or three) languages
30 (41.67%)
32 (44.45%)
10 (13.88%)
25 (29.76%)
50 (59.52%)
9 (10.71%)
34 (40.48%)
39 (46.42%)
9 (10.72%)
2 (2.38%)
8 (33.33%)
12 (50%)
4 (16.67%)
8 (28.57%)
17 (60.72%)
3 (10.71%)
12 (42.85%)
14 (50%)
2 (7.15%)
0 41
9 (37.5%)
14 (58.34%)
1 (4.16%)
15 (41.67%)
14 (38.88%)
6 (16.66%)
1 (2.78%)
18 (50%)
11 (30.55%)
4 (11.11%)
3 (8.34%)
6 (37.5%)
9 (56.25%)
1 (6.25%)
12 (50%)
9 (37.5%)
3 (12.5%)
12 (50%)
12 (50%)
7 (58.34%)
5 (41.66%)
7 (58.34%)
4 (33.33%)
1 (8.33%)
6 (50%)
5 (41.67%)
1 (8.33%)
7 (53.85%)
3 (23.08%)
2 (15.38%)
1 (7.69%)
5 (38.46%)
4 (30.78%)
2 (15.38%)
2 (15.38%)
10 (71.43%)
4 (28.57%)
67 (41.6%)
75 (46.6%)
18 (11.2%)
1 (0.6%)
72 (36.6%)
98 (49.7%)
21 (10.7%)
6 (3%)
92 (46%)
85 (43%)
16 (8.08%)
5 (2.52%)
2 (2013)
3 (2014)
E. Aleshinskaya, E. Gritsenko / Language & Communication 52 (2017) 45–59
auditions indicate that the coaches vote for English songs far more often than for Russian songs. Table 2 shows the languages
of performances that were approved unanimously, i.e. the songs which all four coaches turned around for in blind auditions.
Only one Russian song was selected unanimously in Season 1 (compared to three songs in English), and none in Season 2
(compared to nine English songs). The figures for Season 3 turned out to be in response to the recommendation of the
producers who wanted to see more Russian songs in the show. Nonetheless, only three Russian songs were voted for,
compared to five songs in English.
The TV viewers, on the other hand, tend to vote in favor of the contestants who sing in Russian, and their vote often
contradicts the coaches’ opinion (see Table 3). Interestingly, in several cases in Season 1 and Season 2, the votes of the audience
‘saved’ the contestants with Russian songs who were given low grades by their coaches in the quarter- and semi-finals. For
instance, in the Season 2 semi-final (2013), Sharip Umkhanov from Chechnya performed ‘Miserere’ in Italian and was highly
praised by his coach Alexander Gradsky, yet he did not proceed to the finale. Meanwhile, Sergey Volchkov from Belarus was
‘saved’ by the audience when he performed the old-time hit ‘Sinyaya vechnost’ (‘Blue eternity’) in Russian. On Dima Bilan’s
team, Andrey Tsvetkov could not make it to the finale with Michael Jackson’s ‘Heal the World’ in English, while Gela Guralia
from Georgia qualified for the finale due to the TV viewers’ support of his version of the Russian rock ballad ‘Put’ (‘The way’).
Analyses of the secondary and tertiary textsdprofessional musicians’ opinions and TV viewers’ web forum commentsdreveal the ideological underpinning behind each type of vote.
4.2. Professional discourse on language choice in songs: the English bias
The language of the songs performed by the contestants has been subject to debate throughout the show. Although the
producers recommend maintaining a balance between the songs in English and Russian, English is consistently ahead. In an
online interview, one of the coaches explains this as the influence of the Anglo-American tradition on the professional socialization of Russian pop musicians:
We are facing a very challenging task. We should make half of the repertoire Russian. We almost fit d we are trying.
Now we do about 45%. It is not easy . A lot of singers [.] grew up on American jazz and pop music and are used to the
English language (Leonid Agutin, coach (Agutin, 2014))
The coaches believe that English songs are better suited for demonstrating contestants’ vocal abilities than Russian songs.
It should be noted that comments of this kind are usually referred to ‘modern’ songs (i.e. songs composed in the post-Soviet
We have a lot of beautiful songs in Russia, but very few modern songs are good in terms of the vocal since our broadcast
format has greatly simplified the musical tastes of the public (Leonid Agutin, coach (Agutin, 2014))
Unfortunately, we do not have enough competitive modern songs in Russian d songs that would allow the contestants
to demonstrate all their vocal abilities. And in such a contest they are absolutely essential (Alexander Gradsky, coach
(Gradsky, 2012))
Musicians emphasize the high prestige of English and the Anglo-American tradition in Russian popular music. For local
musicians, hits in the English language have become a paragon of vocal skill:
English is an international language [.] it is no secret that the dominant culture in singing is that of the English
language . (Tina Kuznetsova, Golos finalist, personal interview)
Yet, the prestige of English is not the only reason for language bias in the pop music domain. Russian vocalists explain their
preference for English by referring to the phonetic and prosodic peculiarities of both languages. They insist that singing in
English is ‘easier’ because it is ‘phonetically more convenient and more musical’ (Tina Kuznetsova, Golos finalist, personal
interview). Sergey Mikhailin, one of the quarterfinalists in Season 3, says that it is difficult to sing in Russian because of the
consonant clusters (like rtch) and complicated word endings:
Singing in Russian is tough. You should pronounce all words correctly, sing through the endings, and put the right stress
. (Sergey Mikhailin, Golos quarterfinalist (Kondratyev, 2015))
From a linguistic point of view, these views are hardly justified. Both languages are stress-timed, and there are no
considerable differences in their syllabic structure (Arakin, 1989, pp. 65–89). The preference for English may be connected
with Russian being less customary for vocalists who have been trained in the Anglo-American tradition and use English in
their everyday professional communication.
Table 2
Unanimous vote in blind auditions.
Season 1
Season 2
Season 3
Another language
E. Aleshinskaya, E. Gritsenko / Language & Communication 52 (2017) 45–59
Table 3
Discrepancies in evaluation results (Season 2 semi-final).
Coaching team: Gradsky
Contestant Volchkov (Russian song)
Contestant Umkhanov (Italian song)
Points given by the coach
Support of the audience
Coaching team: Bilan
Contestant Tsvetkov (English song)
Contestant Guralia (Russian song)
Points given by the coach
Support of the audience
4.3. English in professional communication: rehearsals
Rehearsals are never shown to the public in full because of their highly professional (technical) and sometimes intimate
character, but even short fragments posted on the web reveal the immense prestige of English and its role in professional
communication in the pop music domain.
During rehearsals, contestants and their coaches select and practice songs that will be later performed on stage and
creatively modify them to demonstrate their voice capabilities and to appeal to the audience. They discuss the subtleties of
music and music making and use a lot of borrowed professional vocabulary. Terms of Italian origin are used to refer to vocal
features (falsetto, soprano, tenor, etc.) and music-playing techniques (legato, staccato, crescendo, etc.). However, most of the
terms come from Anglo-American musical genres (jazz, soul, funk, rock, hip hop), and English is used to refer to structural
elements of composition (sample, riff, bridge, intro, outro), instruments, and singing techniques (scat, growl, beatbox, etc.).
Professional musicians explain the abundant use of English terminology as the need to bridge lexical gaps:
English terms characterize musical techniques more precisely. And for most of them, it is impossible to find a counterpart in Russian. (Alexei, drummer in a post-rock band, personal interview)
Even if Russian counterparts do exist, English terms are preferred in professional talk, as they convey specialized musical
meanings. One of our respondents explained the difference between the Russian word zvuk and its English counterpart sound
in the following way:
‘Sound’ [saund] is a more capacious term which implies not so much the sound [zvuk] but an individual quality, a
personal sound [zvuk]. Such as the sound of Sting, the sound of Jackson, the sound of U2.2 (Tina, Golos finalist, personal
As a result of the shared knowledge of musical details and the informal character of communication, contestants and
coaches use a hybrid type of talk where English serves as a lexifier language and Russian as a recipient language providing the
phonological, morphological, and syntactic foundation (Gritsenko and Laletina, 2012), e.g.,: svingovat’d‘to swing’, djazit’d‘to
jazz’, sketit’d‘to scat’, bitboksit’d‘to beatbox’, bandad‘band’, batlid‘battles’, batlitsad‘to battle’, draivovyid‘driving’,
rokeshnikd‘rock’, etc. The examples below represent fragments of informal talk between the coaches and the contestants3:
the coach’s recommendation on how to better perform jazz (1), and encouragement to sing a rock piece (2):
‘It (the song) must be swung’
(IMP ¼ impersonal)
‘Can you (do) something in rock?’
This type of talk facilitates communication and serves as a marker of professional identity for Russian vocalists and
musicians. Remarkably, when we asked them what language (English or Russian) the hybrid terms represent, they mentioned
their foreign origin and local professional status:
I would rather refer it to professional musical sphere (Ivan, guitar player, personal interview)
Hm, good question . Well, I’d say, the terms are English, of course, but [.] we adapt them for the Russian mentality d
this way it is easier and more convenient to communicate (Alexander, rapper, personal interview)
Well . may be English, but Russianized. We alter English terms in our own way . This pattern is quite common now
d not only in rap. Everyone understands this kind of talk (Mikhail, rapper, personal interview)
The original quote in Russian is as follows: “Saunddeto bolee emkoe ponyatie, kotoroe opredelyaet dazhe ne stolko zvuk, skolko individualnoe kachestvo,
personalnyj zvuk. Est’ saund Stinga, est’ saund Dzheksona, est’ saund U2, saund Radiohead.”
The abbreviations for the grammatical terms used in the examples follow the Leipzig Glossing Rules.
E. Aleshinskaya, E. Gritsenko / Language & Communication 52 (2017) 45–59
These quotes indicate that in the Russian pop music domain, English has become a resource for Russian-based professional
communication. It is no longer regarded as the ‘Other’ but has become a part of the ‘Self’.
4.4. The public discourse on language choice in songs: Russian as a symbol of national culture and identity
In this section, we analyze comments from the web forums where TV viewers discuss monolingual and multilingual
performances on Golos (Otzovik, 2016; Nagiev, 2014). They address the issues of language choice in songs, the mission of
popular songs (to entertain or give food for thought), and public beliefs concerning the Soviet vs post-Soviet dichotomy in
popular music. The comments also shed light on how the audience understands the role of language in society and their
perception of patriotism, nationalism, and (popular) culture.
Practically all forum participants believe that there should be more Russian songs in the show and disapprove of the
growing number of English songs. Contrary to the stereotype of popular music as thoughtless and primitive (Storey, 2009),
they emphasize the need to ‘understand’ the song and the importance of an empathic experience:
I would like to hear more Russian songs. English songs do not touch your heart (tatiana21092014 (Otzovik, 2016))
I wish there were more Russian songs in the show rather than the foreign songs which we don’t understand (Irin-Ka
(Otzovik, 2016))
The viewers disagree with professionals’ opinion that Russian songs do not allow one to demonstrate one’s vocal abilities.
At the same time, they admit that Russian songs are more difficult to performdnot because of the phonetic peculiarities of the
Russian language (or its being less ‘musical’) but because the vocalists need to convey convincingly the meanings and
emotions embedded in Russian songs. Behind this view, there is a popular belief that a good song needs to be ‘deep’ in
meaningdi.e. it should not only entertain but also give food for thought. Interestingly, professional musicians and the
audience agree that songs composed during Soviet times were more meaningful and more professional than post-Soviet
songs, which are considered shallow:
There are a lot of beautiful Russian songs which can reveal the strength, depth and beauty of one’s voice. But these are
all Soviet-era songs [.] Russian songs are more difficult to perform because they are deep and need to be sung
accordingly (E. Plankina (Nagiev, 2014))
Forum participants are critical of the English bias of the show and interpret it as the lack of respect for the Russian language and culture. The emotional tone of such comments is rendered by rhetorical questions and exclamation marks. The
opposition of we (our) vs they (them, there) foregrounds wider social and political tensions connected to globalization:
. It is very disappointing that contestants prefer foreign songs. Is it really true that there are no more good songs in
Russia!!! Is it really true that in our country there are no more good poets and composers!!! The coaches did not turn d
not once! d to the songs performed in Russian. Have we indeed got so stuck in all these foreignisms that are ready to
forget the music in our native language? I do not deny that they have good songs there, but the contest is held in Russia. I
am sure that at a similar show in America, they won’t perform songs in Russian. [.] It is just that we no longer respect our
native language and ourselves. Even the signboards in the streets are now in foreign languages (1igrok13 (Otzovik, 2016))
Even the viewers who appreciate multiculturalism and diversity in popular music are critical of the Western bias of the
show and object to stigmatizing the Russian language.
I do not think that there should be no other cultures on the stage. We do need cultural diversity. But nowadays the
emulation of Western culture and Western values is too obvious and growing . The Russian language is being
replaced. Our native tongue is seen as improper. This is not normal . (Irina T. (Nagiev, 2014))
Many comments link language choices in songs to national integrity and patriotism:
It would be great to hear all songs in Russian. It is not nationalism, just the respect for the audience . (Muzhchina
(Otzovik, 2016))
. the beginning (of the show) was good but now it has turned into the English language festival. We should be more
patriotic. It’s very unlikely that in the US they would sing Russian songs at a similar festival (erzia253 (Otzovik, 2016))
This is practically an English-speaking contest. It is terrible! Are we facing the crisis of the national culture?
(Anonym207469 (Otzovik, 2016))
Forum participants resist the imposition of foreign values (Americanization) and insist that the television and other
gatekeepers should do more to support Russian culture:
They intend to Americanize the Russian people altogether. The National Channel One should promote Russian culture
to the mass audience (k2_2000 (Nagiev, 2014))
When it comes to language choice in monolingual songs, the ideologies of pop music professionals and TV viewers are in
conflict. Musicians favor English, which they consider more prestigious, more musical, and better suited for demonstrating
E. Aleshinskaya, E. Gritsenko / Language & Communication 52 (2017) 45–59
vocal abilities. The audience expresses pro-Russian views. They (re)produce the ideology of language as part of national
culture and identity and criticize the dominance of English in Russian popular music.
5. Multilingual performances
Multilingual songs are not very numerous (see Table 4), but they are, no doubt, the highlights of the show. These songs are
very warmly met by the audience and highly scored by the judging panel. Some of them have one melodyda single musical
base with lyrics in two or more languages (e.g., the original text in French and its Russian translation in ‘Le temps des cathedrals’). Other performances combine fragments from different songs and alternate both language and music (e.g., a folk
song in Russian combined with an English language hitd‘Storonoyu dozhd vs Try’).
5.1. Language alternation as a resource of meaning making
Unlike medleys, compiled from parts of several hits which are played one after another and are not connected in terms of
music or meaning, multilingual performances in Golos combine songs from different genres and different countries (cultures),
match the pieces in terms of rhythm, harmony, and meaning and mold them into a single whole. For instance, in the Season 1
finale (2012), Elmira Kalimullina (an ethnic Tatar) and her coach Pelageya (a famous ethno-rock singer) performed a popular
Portuguese fado called ‘Canção do Mar’ (‘Song of the sea’). The song has a fixed accompaniment pattern during interludes,
which consists of a repeated melodic motif created by stringed instruments. The repeated use of this motif in the end (coda) of
the song serves as the rhythmic and harmonic base for incorporating fragments of folk songs in Tatar and Russian.
(3) Elmira Kalimullina and Pelageya, ‘Canção do Mar’:
Verse 2 (in Portuguese):
Vem saber ão
se o mar tera raz
Vem ca ver bailar meu coração
Se eu bailar no meu batel
Não vou ao mar cruel
E nem lhe digo
aonde eu fui cantar
Sorrir, bailar, viver, sonhar
Elmira (in Tatar):
Bakchanyn ber pochmagynda
Min utyrdym uiladym
Uiladym da yashlegemne
Yashlegemne uinadym
Yashlegemne uinadym
Sin sazyn ny uinadyn
Pelageya (in Russian):
Golubushka golubushka
Rodimaya matushka
Ne davai ti batyushke
Chashu zelena vina
I want to know
if the sea will be right
Come see my heart dancing
If I dance in my boat
I’m not going to the cruel sea
And don’t tell you
where I was singing
Smiling, dancing, living, dreaming
about you
In a corner of the garden
I was sitting and thinking
I was thinking about my youth
About my youth I was playing
About my youth I was playing
You were playing your saz
[stringed musical instrument]
My dear, sweetheart
My dear mother
Don’t you give to my father
A cup of acid wine
Table 4
Combining languages in multilingual performances.
Multilingual performance
Number of languages
‘Canção do mar’
‘Une vie d’amour’
‘Le temps des cathedrales’
‘Apologize/Uleteli listya’
‘Now we are free’
‘Storonoyu dozhd vs Try’
‘Get lucky vs Topitsya banya’
‘La valse à mille temps’
‘All around the world/Sari Gəlin’
Portuguese, Tatar, Russian
Russian, Georgian
French, Russian
Russian, French
English, Russian
Russian, invented language
Russian, English
Tatar, Russian, English
English, Russian
Russian, French
English, Azerbaijani
Romani, Russian, English, Latin
E. Aleshinskaya, E. Gritsenko / Language & Communication 52 (2017) 45–59
Ai ne davai ti batyushke
Zelena vina ispit’
Zaprodast on dochen’ku
Na dal’nyuyu storonushku
Oh don’t let father
Drink the acid wine
He will sell his daughter
Somewhere far away
Language alternation can occur in any part of the songdfrom the introduction to within a verse/chorus or the final lines of
the lyrics. For instance, beginning of the song is convenient for making a statement and/or expressing a certain point of
viewdit sets the atmosphere, stirs listeners’ interest, and ‘tunes’ them to the right mood to get the message of the song. A
‘new’ language at the end helps to create the climax and/or emphasize symbolic meanings embedded in the song. Irrespective
of its structural position, language alternation is always meaningful, and the additional meanings thus created are linked to
language ideologies.
A good example of language switching in the introduction is Jacques Brel’s ‘La valse à mille temps’ (‘The waltz of a
thousand times’), performed in the knockout round of Season 3 by Alexandra Vorobyeva, who later became the winner of the
competition. In that season, contestants and coaches were recommended by the organizers to include more Russian songs in
the show. Alexandra began her performance with a ‘prologue’ in Russian written by her coach (Alexander Gradsky). In it, she
‘explained’ why they selected a foreign song. This jocular ‘introduction’ took the heat off the vocally complex performance,
expressed resistance to producers’ recommendations, and conveyed a professional opinion on the issue of language(s) in
popular music, specifically that a song should be performed in its original language.
(4) Aleksandra Vorobyeva, ‘La valse à mille temps’:
Introduction (in Russian):
Govoryat mne, ‘Poi po-russki’
Deskat’ nashinskiy narod
Po-angliyski, po-frantsuzski
Ni bel’mesa ne poimyot
Nu a esli v ihnei pesne
Est’ polyot i est’ dusha
I motivchik interesniy
Nas otsenyat ne spesha
Nash narod umom ne uzkiy
Nash narod ne lykom shyt
I ya znyayu po-frantsuzski
Pet’ konechno razreshit
Etot val’sik Jaka Brelya
Val’sik tysyachi vremyon
Budet vsem ponyaten veryu
I kem nado utverzhdyon
They tell me, ‘Sing in Russian’
Because our people
English or French
Will not understand
But if their song
Is sincere and heartfelt
And the melody is nice
It will be appreciated
Our people are not narrow-minded
Our people are no common trash
And I know that in French
They will allow us to sing
This little waltz by Jacque Brel
The Waltz of a Thousand Times
Will be understood by all people
And will be approved by those authorized
The format of popular songs is linear and goal-oriented, and their melodies (and/or harmonies) are directed ‘toward an
expressive climax which usually occurs shortly before the end of the song’ (Manuel, 1985, p. 166). The closing lines of a song
constitute a coda that may contain improvisations, including vocal ornamentations to the main melody. In this respect, the
coda serves as an ideal place for creating new meaningsdas it was done in the song performed by Georgy Melikishvili and
Nodar Revia (both ethnic Georgians living in Moscow) in the first battle round of Season 2. They performed a popular Russian
song ‘Tuda’ (‘Somewhere’) extending it with a piece of traditional Georgian polyphony from the folk song ‘Imeruli mgzavruli’.
(5) Georgy Melikishvili and Nodar Revia, ‘Tuda’:
Coda (in Russian):
Tuda gde lyubili
Tuda gde zabili
Tuda gde ne zhdali
Coda (in Georgian):
Haralo hov dilo dela
Abadelia hov dela
Delia vrani nani na
Delia vrani nani na
Somewhere where we were loved
Somewhere where we were forgotten
Somewhere where nobody waited for us
In this musical composition, the singers resort to a language that is unfamiliar to most of the audience. The use of Georgian
is symbolic. Its contribution to the content of the song is less relevant than its indexical function as an ethnic identity marker.
E. Aleshinskaya, E. Gritsenko / Language & Communication 52 (2017) 45–59
In fact, the words in Georgian have no denotation; they are ‘filler particles’ (Bailey, 1995), part of a famous ethnic (folk) tune
(Ninoshvili, 2009). The Georgian ending to a Russian pop song allows the contestants to demonstrate their vocal abilities and
‘make ethnolinguistic otherness visible, without impeding the communicative value of lyrics to majority audiences’
(Androutsopoulos, 2010b, p. 39).
Multilingual performances provide examples of innovative and unconventional uses of language which can be linked
to the idea of language as a creative resource, an instrument of pop music aesthetics (like melody and/or rhythm). In the
blind auditions for Season 3 (2014), Dilyara Vagapova (an ethnic Tartar) performed a famous song by the group 50 NIZZA
‘Soldat’ (‘Soldier’) combining three languagesdTatar, Russian and English. The original version by 50 NIZZA has verses and
choruses in Russian and a coda in English. Dilyara started her performance with a verse and a chorus in Tatar (a wordfor-word translation of the original). The Tatar lyrics have Russian insertionsdthe words (in bold type) which have no
Tatar equivalents. Some of them (e.g., patron, vagon, million) serve as the rhyming points of the verse (Sarkar and Winer,
(6) Dilyara Vagapova, ‘Soldat’:
Verse 1 (in Tatar):
Min soldat
Vakytta kalganda ber genə
Yaki ul yaki min
In artky vagon bez bit kup
Min dəülət million
Min soldat
Atyrga min tiesh
Bu mina tanysh esh
Pulya doshman tənenə
eləgergə tiesh
Shushy raga sina əniem
Sugysh kaichan tuktar
Chorus 1 (in Tatar):
Min soldat
Sugyshnyn tashlangan balasy
Min soldat
əni yaralarny tazart
Min soldat
Nik bezne onnytyn sin Hodai
Min geroi
əitegez nindi romannan
Verse 2 (in Russian):
Ya soldat
Mne obidno
Kogda ostayotsya odin patron
Tol’ko ya ili on
Posledniy vagon samogona
Nas takih million
Ya soldat
I ya znayu svoyo delo
Moyo delo strelyat’
Chtoby pulya popala v telo vraga
Eto radost’ dlya tebya
Mama voina teper’ ti dovol’na
Chorus 2 (in Russian):
Ya soldat
Nedonoshenniy rebyonok voiny
Ya soldat
Mama zalechi moi rany
Ya soldat
Soldat zabytiy bogom strany
Ya geroi
Skazhite mne kakogo romana
I’m a soldat [Russian: soldier]
It hurts me
When I have only one
patron [‘bullet’] left
Only it or me
In the last vagon [‘wagon’]
There are a million like us
I’m a soldat [‘soldier’]
And I know my business
My business is to shoot
So that the pulya [‘bullet’]
hits the enemy
It’s a joy for you
Mother war, are you happy now
I’m a soldat [‘soldier’]
A premature baby of war
I’m a soldat [‘soldier’]
Mother, heal my wounds
I’m a soldat [‘soldier’]
A soldier of a godforsaken country
I’m a geroi [‘hero’]
Tell me, of what roman [‘novel’]
I’m a soldier
It hurts me
When I have only one bullet left
Only me or it
The last wagon of a train
There are a million like us
I’m a soldier
And I know my business
My business is to shoot
So that the bullet hits the enemy
It’s a joy for you
Mother war, are you happy now
I’m a soldier
A premature baby of war
I’m a soldier
Mother, heal my wounds
I’m a soldier
A soldier of a godforsaken country
I’m a hero
Tell me, of what novel
E. Aleshinskaya, E. Gritsenko / Language & Communication 52 (2017) 45–59
Coda (in English):
I’m a soldier
I’m a soldier
The judging panel and the audience praised this song very highly, specifically pointing out the rhythmicity of the Tatar
language. However, later in an interview, Dilyara admitted that she had shifted the stress and syllable boundaries of Tatar
words to fit them into the rhythmic pattern of the original song in Russian. She wanted to reinforce the sharp syncopated
rhythm of the original song with the sound of the Tartar lyrics. Interestingly, being an ethnic Tatar from Kazan (the capital of
Tatarstan), Dilyara does not speak the Tatar language. In this performance, she used it as an attention-getter and a means to
articulate her ethnic identity.
The languages most frequently used in multilingual performances are Russian (11 songs) and English (6 songs). They are
used to ‘tell the story’ and/or convey symbolic meanings (connotations). The symbolism of English is based on language
ideologies connecting it to globalization and modern trends. For instance, in the final ‘live’ show of Season 2 (2013) Tina
Kuznetsova combined the Russian folk song ‘Storonoyu dozhd’ (the verse) with the English-language pop hit ‘Try’ (the
chorus). The chorus is often used as ‘a ‘hook’ to catch the ear of the listener’ (Nunes et al., 2015, p. 188). In Tina’s performance,
it entails a pragmatic contrast with the Russian-language verse in terms of rhythm, melody, lyrics, and harmony; it is
characterized by a more intensive instrumentation and is performed in a different language (English).
(7) Tina Kuznetsova, ‘Storonoyu dozhd vs Try’:
Verse 2 (in Russian):
Golova bolit
My head is aching
Ai, chto bolit golovushka
Aw, my poor head is aching
Ne mogu tut bit’
I can’t be here
Ai ne mogu tut bit’
Aw, can’t be here
Oi pro druzhka lyubeznogo Oh, my boyfriend
Ne mogu zabit’
I can’t forget
Ne mogu zabit’
I can’t forget
A moi razlyubezniy
And my boyfriend
Oi zabil pro menya
Oh he forgot me
Chorus (in English):
Where there is desire there is gonna be a flame
Where there is a flame someone’s bound to get burned
But just because it burns doesn’t mean you’re gonna die
You’ve gotta get up and try, try, try
As we see, the Russian folk song tells the main story: a girl is crying in the rain because of her broken heart. The videos in
the background reflect her inner turmoil and pain by showing large blue drops of either water or tears. The instrumentation during the Russian verse is minimal; the musical accompaniment and the sound of rain in the background maintain
the feeling of sadness and suspense. The English chorus brings about a shift in narrative perspective, urging the girl not to
give up and continue her life despite her difficulties. This content shift is enforced by a shift in beat and background
instrumentation, which becomes more intensive and heavy. As the song reaches its climax in the final chorus from ‘Try’, the
background videos turn red and show bright electric-like flames and hearts, supporting the contrast with the Russian
verses. The vocalist’s appearance (short haircut, jeans, and high heels) calls for a modern interpretation of the old Russian
folk song.
When we asked Tina about the reason for mixing such different musical pieces, she explained that she wanted to make
Russian folklore appealing to young people:
I wanted [.] to present folk art in a modern language. I believe it is a hot topic, and we should by no means give up on
our musical roots that inspired all Russian composers, poets and artists. [.] A folk song in a traditional form would be
[.] too exotic for a modern listener [.]. So, to add freshness and originality to the song, I inserted the English fragment
(Tina Kuznetsova, Golos finalist, personal interview)
She also stressed the importance of semantic compatibility in combined musical pieces:
I was looking for semantically suitable refrains. And the song ‘Try’ seemed a good match. [.] It even extended the
storyline of the song in terms of meaning (Tina Kuznetsova, Golos finalist, personal interview)
This ‘extension of storyline’ turned the Old Russian lamentation song (a ‘lost love’ story) into a life-affirming appeal to
resist grief and sadness. The performance brought together two different languages and two different musical forms and
musical culturesdRussian folklore and modern American pop music. The vocalist positions herself as part of both cultures
and employs modern musical arrangement and visual means to increase the appeal of the old Russian song. The use of English
reframes the performance, making it up-to-date and adding a global touch.
E. Aleshinskaya, E. Gritsenko / Language & Communication 52 (2017) 45–59
In multilingual songs, Russian is usually used as a ‘base’ language (Androutsopoulos, 2010b, pp. 23–24) but has indexical
potential as well. Its symbolic function is illustrated by the song ‘Ederlezi’, performed by Busha Goman (an ethnic Roma) in
Season 3 knockouts (2014). ‘Ederlezi’ is a popular folk song among the Romani minority in the Balkans. It got its name from
the festival which marks the beginning of spring and takes place on the same day as the Feast of Saint George in Bulgaria,
Macedonia, and Serbia. The song became internationally famous in Goran Bregovi
c’s version, which was used in the film Time
of the Gypsies by Emir Kusturica. The song is performed in Romani and tells the story of a little boy who is watching how the
others are celebrating the holiday, eating lamb, and dancing. His own family is poor and he has nothing to eatdbut in the end
they are given meat, too, and join the celebration. The vocalist begins his song in Romani, inserts the second verse in Russian,
and sings the coda with elements of Romani, English, and Latin.
(8) Busha Goman, ‘Ederlezi’:
Verse 2 (in Russian):
Blagoslovi Gospod’ Rossiyu
Lord, bless Russia
Matushku rodnuyu
Our dear mother
Matushku svyatuyu
Our saint mother
Hranimuyu toboi
Saved by you
Chorus (in Romani):
O daje
Oh mother
Sa o Roma babo babo
All the Roma, dad, dad
Sa o Roma o daje
All the Roma, oh, mother
Sa o Roma babo babo hey
All the Roma, dad, dad, hey
Ederlezi, Ederlezi
Ederlezi, Ederlezi
Sa o Roma daje
All the Roma, mother
Coda (in English, Romani, Latin):
See Lord
See Lord
Bless e gloria
Bless gloria [Latin: ‘glory’]
See Lord
See Lord
Bless e gloria
Bless gloria [Latin: ‘glory’]
E saint e Rusiya
Saint Rusiya [Romani: ‘Russia’]
Contrary to the traditional motive of Roma music’s ‘transnational homelessness’ (Imre, 2008), this version of ‘Ederlezi’
conveys a strong patriotic sentiment: a Russian Roma blesses Russia as their home country. The second verse in Russian has
the form of a prayer: it foregrounds the idea of local belonging and indexes Russian Orthodoxy as part of Russian culture. The
Latin insertions in the coda (gloria) impart a sacred meaning to the text, while English words (see Lord, bless, saint) create
associations with gospel music. Language alternation and the mixing of different musical genres enables the vocalist to make
a memorable and meaningful performance that was highly praised by the audience and the judging panel.
5.2. Professional and public discourses on multilingual songs: from language bias to language creativity
In the case of multilingual songs, the views of the public and professionals’ opinions do not reveal any controversy or bias.
The discourse of language ‘inequality’di.e. positioning languages as more or less ‘musical’ and language choice as more or less
‘patriotic’ddisappears from the discussions. The focus moves from socio-political to creative aspects, and languages come to
be used as elements of pop music aesthetics.
As we have shown above, language alternation in multilingual songs is always meaningful. It can be used to make a folk
song appealing to young audiences, emphasize one’s ethnicity, express warm feelings toward one’s home country, make an
important statement, or reinforce the rhythm of the song. The vocalists create these meanings by experimenting with linguistic and musical forms, and the results are highly rated:
We decided that in this song (‘Tuda’) there will be an ethnic fragment – a Georgian musical story (Pelageya, coach,
discussion in Season 2, Episode 7)
It is one of those experiments which I highly appreciate (Alexander Grandsky, coach, the song ‘Ederlezi’, discussion in
Season 3, Episode 12)
Both mainstream and minority languages are considered equally effective in terms of expressive potential:
I even felt sorry that Tatar is not a language that is accepted as a major one for singing here. It is so rhythmic d just
stunning! It made my mouth water (Leonid Agutin, coach, the song ‘Soldat’, discussion in Season 3, Episode 6)
Unlike in the case of monolingual songs, the TV viewers warmly welcome not only Russian but also other languages and
E. Aleshinskaya, E. Gritsenko / Language & Communication 52 (2017) 45–59
A wonderful idea to mix different genres and a stunning performance! I love her creative stance d Russian folk with a
modern sound (Nastasya Filippovna, the song ‘Storonoyu dozhd vs Try’ (Golos/The Voice Russia, 2013))
Georgian speech on the Russian stage! Remember, my friends, music has no limits and art has no borders (Tural
Hasanov, the song ‘Tuda’ (CityAngel1408))
Bravo Romale! Russia is not Russia without the Gypsy! (Michael Sapronov, the song ‘Ederlezi’ (Golos/The Voice Russia,
Some comments mention the ethnic tensions of the 1990s and 2000s in the post-Soviet space and bring up the Soviet-era
concept of ‘the friendship of peoples’.
In Tartar, this song sounds fantastic . such ‘friendship of peoples’ in music is always interesting (Catherine S., the song
‘Soldat’ (Golos/The Voice Russia, 2014b))
Tatars and Russians stopped fighting; they now sing together . the result is not so bad, isn’t it? (Bruno OMER, the song
‘Canção do Mar’ (Good extraterrestrial, 2014))
If they read these comments in Georgia (I mean if they still speak Russian there), respect to you for such wonderful
voices! [.] I even remembered my happy Soviet childhood with ‘chitto-dritto’4 . Shall we be friends or what?
(AlexVon AlexVon, the song ‘Tuda’ (CityAngel1408, 2013))
Two language ideologies emerge from the analyses of multilingual songs and their positioning by professional musicians
and the publicdlanguage as an index of ethnicity and national culture and language as a creative resource, an instrument of
pop music aesthetics.
6. Discussion
Research findings indicate that the use of language(s) on Golos is determined by ideological and pragmatic reasons.
Pragmatically, language choice in songs is an ‘outcome of strategic styling within specific social and historical contexts’
(Androutsopoulos, 2010b, p. 20). As a cultural and commercial product, popular songs ‘are likely to be adapted to the requirements of the public(s) they target’, and the language of lyrics ‘can be expected to play an important role in determining
their appeal to relevant audiences’ (Davis and Bentahila, 2008, p. 247). On Golos, language choice becomes a ‘marketing
strategy’ which takes into account the language ideologies of those who name the winners at each stage of the contest. Since
the coaches/judges prefer the English language songs, the percentage of Russian songs at blind auditions and battles is rather
low. In the final stages of the contest, when the opinion of the TV viewers becomes critical, the choice is more often made in
favor of Russian songs.
The language ideologies of Russian pop musicians are shaped by the transnational expansion of the Anglo-American musical
tradition and the role of English as a lingua franca in modern popular music. In this community of practice, English can index
professionalism, convenient melodic and rhythmic structure, and an opportunity to demonstrate one’s vocal range. It is also a
symbol of being modern, novel, and a part of the global pop music community. Because of its crucial role in communication of
Russian pop musicians, English becomes part of their professional identitydi.e. part of the ‘Self’. The TV viewers, on the other
hand, position English as the ‘Other’; they associate it with the expansion of Western (American) values and consider the
language bias in popular music to be a threat to national culture. Although this ideology may not be shared by the entire pop
music audience, it characterizes the online community of Golos and represents the view of a certain part of Russian society.
The link between Russian and national culture and identity is articulated by the audience and the vocalists who work in
the folk/ethno rock and world music genres. These musicians believe that ‘Russia has a great past in the history of global
music’ and see their mission as preserving the Russian folk tradition through creative musical forms (Tina, Golos finalist,
personal interview). The viewers also highlight the beauty of Old Russian songs and take pride in Russia’s cultural heritage:
It would be great to revive these Old Russian lamentation songs! Shivers down the spine! And the voice so wellmatched! Feel proud of Russia . where they had such wonderful songs back then!!!! (Ruslan Putilin, the song
‘Storonoyu dozhd vs Try’ (Golos/The Voice Russia, 2013))
Both the coaches and the audience are critical of the songs (lyrics and music) composed during the post-Soviet years; they
consider the Soviet-era songs more meaningful and more professional. Indeed, most of the Russian songs performed on the
show are famous old hits. The Soviet vs post-Soviet dichotomy reflects not only the idealization of ‘good old times’ but the
opposition of two different sets of valuesdprofessionalism (associated with Soviet popular song tradition) and consumerism
(associated with post-Soviet pop music market). The Soviet Union was not a consumer society, and material well-being was
considered less important than satisfying intellectual needs. In the Soviet pop music industry, there were many talented poets
and composers whose songs have now become iconic. It is generally recognized that nowadays in Russian popular music
there are no figures of equal status or talent:
A line of a Georgian song from a famous Soviet movie.
E. Aleshinskaya, E. Gritsenko / Language & Communication 52 (2017) 45–59
Almost all great composers have either died or are no longer making music d except for the brilliant Alexandra
Pakhmutova [.]. And I see no song writers matching the level of Derbenev, Shaferan, or Dobronravov (Alexander
Gradsky, coach (Gradsky, 2014))
Thus, in the pop music domain, contrasting Soviet and post-Soviet songs may index high standards of pop music-making
as opposed to catering to ‘low taste’.
Another interesting dichotomy concerns the issue of understanding popular music. According to Frith (1996), the Western
tradition associates fun with the body and seriousness with the mind. Machin (2010, p. 19) connects ‘the difference between
listening with the mind and listening with the body’ with ‘the Romantic dichotomy between nature and culture and their
corresponding associations with feelings and reason. Feelings are associated with the body as opposed to the intellect. For this
reason pop music is often seen as simplistic and not requiring intellect. It is not listened to intellectually but physically’. The
public discourse on language use in Golos indexes a different philosophy. The strive for ‘understanding’ and the belief that
songs should be ‘deep’ suggest ‘listening intellectually’ or listening ‘with the mind’. Yet, when the language of the song is
unfamiliar, the TV viewers speak of listening ‘with the heart’ and bring up ‘feeling’ as a mode of understanding. Still, the
comprehension of popular music is represented as an intellectual endeavor (rather than a pleasant experience).
I do not understand Elmira’s language but I hear with my heart the love and kindness . what else do we need?
(101batia, the song ‘Canção do Mar’ (Rudoi, 2013))
I do not know what it was about but I did feel the power of friendship and unity (Marat Kaipov, the song ‘Ederlezi’
(Golos/The Voice Russia, 2014a))
Globalization has evoked an interest in ethnicity as a cultural reference. In popular music, ethnic motives have become
more prominent. Alternating ethnic melodies and lyrics is akin to metroethnicity as cultural crossingdplaying with ethnicity
for aesthetic effect (Maher, 2010, p. 587). Metroethnicity as a cultural performance is usually linked to metropolitan urban
space, yet it is as widespread in the space of popular music. In multilingual songs, the vocalists appropriate different languages and different ethnic melodies and ‘play’ with them as if they were their ‘own’, yet at the same time stress their
‘otherness’. The symbolism of language alternation develops an aesthetic dimension:
I like the idea of pouring the colors of Tatar and Russian folk into the Portuguese song. Very original! BRILLIANT!!!
Bravo to those who thought of it (animaentera, the song ‘Canção do Mar’ (Rudoi, 2013))
7. Conclusion
Language choice and language alternation on Golos are always meaningful, and the symbolic meanings thus created are
shaped by language ideologies circulating in contemporary Russia. These meanings are context-bound. The same linguistic
form (discursive move) may be interpreted in different ways. For instance, choosing a Russian song can be a marketing
strategy (to get more votes from the public) or a patriotic move (to indicate attachment to national values and/or show local
belonging); singing in English can be resisted (as an imposition on national culture) or welcomed (as a creative step to make
an old song sound modern). In this complex process of meaning making, languages can blur and build boundaries (e.g.,
between professionals and the public, between old and new, national and transnational); they can be ‘rivals’ (in monolingual
songs) or ‘partners’ (in multilingual performances). Analyses of the discursive base of musical semiotics on Golos help to
advance knowledge of the role and functioning of language ideologies in Russian pop music and get a better understanding of
Russian society at large.
We are indebted to the vocalists and musicians, especially Tina Kuznetsova, who shared their views and expertise with us
in interviews, as well as Natalia Aristova, Teona Namchevadze, and participants of cigane.clan.su/forum, who provided insights into the Tatar, Georgian and Romani languages. We are also grateful to Eeva Sippola, Britta Schneider, Carsten Levisen,
and two anonymous reviewers for their important suggestions and comments on the earlier drafts of this paper.
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