New East Digital Archive
When Russia came out
10 gay music videos inspired by the fabulous 1990s

Two years ago the Russian parliament gave the go-ahead to a hugely controversial law banning “gay propaganda” across the country. The very wording of the document evoked some of the darkest memories of the Soviet past, when homosexuality was punished by law and ostracised by society. The watershed event marked the beginning of new and uncertain times for sexual minorities — and the return of an almost forgotten state monopoly on private life.

Yet for two decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, this history of sexual persecution was forgotten, and the formerly “sexless” nation rediscovered its hunger for experimentation. Sex of all varieties dominated public life in 1990s Russia. It was all over the TV, where popular evening talk show About That stole the thunder from politics, and in the streets, where adult shops and overly explicit billboards replaced propaganda posters. Sex was in the air. But its most vivid reflection could be found in popular culture, particularly in music, which encapsulated the hopes, dreams and secret desires of the new generation.

We’ve picked some of the most popular music videos which, having once topped the charts on national television, now serve as a nostalgic reminder of a time when Russia was gayer than ever.

Drawing inspiration from the final scenes of Patrick Suskind's Perfume, Flew Away Forever presented itself as the finest masterpiece of the decade, a sublime distillation of Moscow’s smells throughout the 1990s: petrol fumes, wet cement, chewing gums, synthetic fabric and sex. Its shock waves still reverberate across house parties in Russia where playing Nikita's epic hit on YouTube has become a mandatory ritual for evicting homophobic friends.

It's easy to see why Cold Moon became one of the defining tunes of its generation. The turbulent times needed a fitting anthem, and it was found in this somewhat absurd Polovetsian dance where synthesisers seem to be powered directly by lightning bolts, while a charmingly toothless singer tests the strength of his golden leggings and the limits of the human imagination.

After the short-lived success of his androgynous debut Smear with Vaseline, Oscar came back with a rather different mood as captured in this powerful love ballad. Between You and Me was possibly the very first attempt on Russian television to present a homosexual relationship in the paradigm of a classical soundtrack for the broken-hearted, long before Sam Smith recorded his rule-breaking In the Lonely Hour. Two stylishly dressed men, separated by distance and destiny, are searching for unbounded love against a brutal landscape of social norms. An elegant melody, which sounds suspiciously similar to Moby’s Everloving, is gently muted by wind — which sadly doesn't bring any change.

A manifesto of a generation and Vitaly Milonov’s worst nightmare. Despite Tatu’s ubiquity merely 15 years ago — Malchik Gay was pumping out of every unlicensed taxi in Moscow — these days the song's lyrics suddenly sound as heretical and alien as Giordano Bruno's teachings in the age of inquisition.

A self-proclaimed child of sin, Boris Moiseev is now in his early sixties but is still relentlessly touring the country — both as a tights-wearing showman and a member of the ruling United Russia party. Despite the fact that Moiseev has never publicly come out, few people would disagree that he's the unofficial symbol of the gay scene of 1990s. Bursting into the spotlight with his semi-erotic ballet performances, Boris Moiseev soon became a pop sensation, a sort of Russian answer to Elton John. His chart standings went through the roof after releasing this video clip, The Blue Moon, in tandem with Ukrainian singer Nikolay Trubach.

If early 1990s belonged to lycra-clad sexual warriors, then the new decade introduced more subtle nuances to the Russian sexual mainstream. Set against a sterile landscape of glitzy shopping malls, Not Love delves into the lives of a new generation of urban Muscovites, three of whom are locked in an unorthodox love triangle — a woman and two men who have fallen for each other.

Part love drama, part drag-queen makeup tutorial, Ruki Vverh's epic video pays unexpected homage to Terrence Malick in its generous use of dappled branches, harbouring a flamboyant gay couple making out on a park bench with nothing to hide. He Kisses You (On tebya celuet) rocked the music charts back in 2002, when kids were still allowed to watch naked men wear wigs at prime time without fearing their parents would switch over.

A lonely trolleybus drowning in the sea is arguably the least surprising scene in this phantasmagorical video released by the popular boy band Na-Na. Watching Faina, which tried to break all imaginable taboos in one go, requires a bit of patience and curiosity — it's teeming with subconscious cultural echoes mixing ancient mythology, Rabelaisian proportions, Soviet propaganda cliches, and a lot of nudity.

It's almost impossible to imagine Valery Leontiev without his creaky leather shorts — like yin and yang, the two things do not exist in isolation from one another. Calling himself “a reincarnated Casanova” and a national heartthrob, Leontiev stole the hearts of millions of Russian women and men alike with his signature moves and voluptuous sighs. The song tells a story of a castaway sailor washed ashore on an mystical island where sand is made of sugar and the local population is all but sparsely-dressed merry women.

Starring two bald angels from hell, Frida and Angela, the Vice Police paved the way for many other edgy acts that would later jump on board the Russian sexual liberation express. Kissing and hugging each other on stage, The Vice Police did for Russian women what Madonna did for the rest of the world in Like a virgin.

Text: Igor Zinatulin