Let's big dance!
March 30, 2013 9:31 PM   Subscribe

Are you still confused by Ukraine's 2007 Eurovision entry?

Trashy, consumerist, loud, countryfied, super-sized, Gogolian, Verka Serduchka is, to some approximation, Ukraine's Vicky Pollard. Created by character comic Andrey Danilko (b. 1973, also Andriy Danylko depending on language of choice), she is a tapestry of ugly stereotypes, a story of rags to riches, the target of both repulsion and admiration, and an enduring female media personality.

Reportedly, Danylko was born to a poor family in Poltava, in eastern Ukraine (wiki; some local flavor via a travel blog). Danylko was raised by his mother after his father died of lung cancer in 1980. Shy and a mediocre student according to his schoolteachers, Danylko applies to study music and pedagogy, but is rejected, only managing to finish a year of trade school. In the early 90s, Danylko tours Ukraine and western Russia with a character comedy act in the tradition of much-beloved, older, cruftier Soviet character comedians (e.g. in Russian and Danylko's version). An early version of Verka is among Danylko's character sketches, as are a number of other male and female caricatures (e.g. and more and stuff like this).

Crash course in linguistics: many Slavic languages offer speakers a bevy of choices for diminutives (TVT, sorry) and augmentatives (wiki). For the armchair experts, here's Learn Russian the Fun Way on diminutives. "Verka" is a crude, childish augmentative from "Vera," faith. "Serduchka" is an augmentative schoolyard nickname from a typical Ukrainian surname (Сердюк → Сердючка).

In 1997, Verka begins appearing as the host of her own comedy chat show. Verka, in character as a train conductor lady, is visited by various media personalities. The show migrates from Ukrainian TV to Russian TV. The show looks like this. The show runs for a long time. It's vaguely reminiscent of Graham Norton's schtick. (In the aftermath of Eurovision, Danylko would incoherently call in to Norton's show.)

Linguistics crash course, part 2: aside from Eurovision, Verka speaks a kind of broadly Russified Ukrainian… or, perhaps, Russian with a broad Ukrainian accent… or, maybe, a crazy in-between dialect flavored with occasional Ukrainian. Whatever it is, it's ridiculed by Russians, derided by Ukrainian linguistic nationalists, and widely spoken (using various proportions of Ukrainian to Russian) by swaths of people living in Ukraine, inluding Danylko's native Poltava. (Kennan Institute explains surzhyk. Contested Tongues, Laada Bilaniuk's ethnography of Ukraine's contemporary language culture has a lot on Verka and her language, but this PDF manuscript has lots of interesting sociolinguistic detail as well. Languagelog reports on Russian vs. Ukrainian.)

What's a megastar to do but sing? Before long, Verka embarks on a musical career. Widespread acclaim arrives with her fourth album, Kha-ra-sho! (i.e., khorosho with a broad Russian accent). The album is full of cheap, tinny-sounding music and becomes very popular. Several music videos appear: More albums and music videos follow. Verka often works in collaboration with VIA Gra, a popular band whose name is a cheap three-way Russian-Ukrainian-English pun:Around the time of the Orange Revolution (Foreign Affairs PDF), Verka begins to sing in unaccented Russian: Nor is Verka absent from the screen, appearing as a supporting character in a variety of TV productions alongside other well-known entertainers.

In 2003, Verka appears as the ugly sister Brunhilda in a musical version of Cinderella (representative sample). Here's a musical number: Я не поняла ("I Didn't Get It").

In 2005, she appears as the shrewish and commanding Khyvrya (Хивря) in a televised pop-music version of Gogol's "The Sorochinsky Fair," a quintessential Ukrainian farce from his collection of Dikanka tales. (There also exists an opera version of this story, in part due to Mussorgsky, but I doubt it has strong connections to this one.) Note that the historic village of Great Sorochintsy is in the vicinity of Poltava, Danylko's hometown. The musical offers a torrent of Ukrainian folk kitsch and musical atrocity. A couple selections: Ти напився як свиня ("You Are Drunk Like Pig") | ending

This was not Verka's first Gogolian excursion. Several years prior she appeared (sample) as the village moonshine brewer in a musical version of Gogol's Night Before Christmas. (There is also a classic film version of the story, featuring this amusing scene.)

Danylko, rather than Verka, appeared as Cherubino in a trashy TV version of Beaumarchais's The Marriage of Figaro, appearing alongside a variety of trashy aging stars like Filip Kirkorov and Sofiya Rotaru. A bit later he also appeared in a musical based on Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," playing alongside Kristina Orbakayte, Layma Vaykule, Gennadiy Khazanov, and Natalia Vetlitskaya. Perhaps most importantly, he (as Verka) appeared alongside Alla Pugacheva, the dowager queen of Russian popular music, in Chase After Two Hares (Catch Neither) (a remake of a musical Ukrainian farce, previously filmed in 1961).

I promise that all of these people were big in the USSR. Trust me.

In 2007, Verka appears on Eurovision with Dancing Lasha Tumbai. You already knew that. Verka's selection as Ukraine's Eurovision representative was not without controversy: among other things, she was burned in effigy (UKR news coverage). Verka's career, already an intensely politicized sociolinguistic act, takes a hit because the nonsense phrase "lasha tumbai" sounds like "Russia, goodbye!" to people who don't speak English. The Russian St. Petersburg Times covers the controversy. Elsewhere, the press echoes it back and forth. Here's an interview with the artist in UK's free daily Metro. And here's a post-Eurovision summary in PRI's The World. Here's some informed, though not impartial cultural criticism of the Verka phenomenon. Verka was awarded the title of "people's artist of Ukraine" by then-president Viktor Yushchenko (himself no stranger to controversy). To complicate things, here's Verka dancing with Belarusian dictator Sergey Lukashenko. Partisan news organ RT reports on Verka's post-Eurovision bid for Ukraine's parliament. Here's a post-Eurovision music video, EVRO VISION QUEEN. Here's a concert version of the more recent Dolce Gabbana.

Verka's albums can be streamed from this shady Russian site. I'm sure you can also buy them somehow, somewhere.

Since the Eurovision incident, Danylko has had a few TV roles (here as a female genie in "Aladin's New Adventures" and here as Little Red Riding Hood). Generally, his trajectory seems to have stabilized. Verka makes regular TV appearances and also periodically goes on concert tours, taking her Eurovision schtick to the US and Canada. In repetitive Russian and Ukrainian interviews, Danylko himself appears tired, defensive, and muted. Here's a recent interview in English (PDF).

Notably, while English Wikipedia devotes a page to Verka, the analogous Russian and Ukrainian pages are specifically about the character's creator first and the character second. The Russian page is significantly more detailed than the Ukrainian.

NME reports that, earlier this year, Danylko bought Queen vocalist Freddie Mercury's Rolls-Royce at auction and apparently intends to donate it to a museum.

posted by Nomyte (21 comments total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
Oh you are the fucking man. This is all am I going to be doing tomorrow morning.
posted by griphus at 9:34 PM on March 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

My God, it's full of Tsars
posted by fullerine at 9:44 PM on March 30, 2013 [29 favorites]

No, not confused at all.

Still in awe, even six years later. And "Dancing Lasha Tumbai" is on my frequent plays playlist.
posted by jb at 9:52 PM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is a very thorough post.

Still confused...
posted by ShutterBun at 9:57 PM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Me: "Hmmm. This seems like a single link Eurovision YT clip; I should flag it since it probably goes with the existing thread."
SFX: "BRAAAAM" sound from Inception at maximum volume.
VFX: A burst of blue light, BRIGHTER THAN THE SUN issues from the computer screen, as ALL KNOWN INFORMATION about Verka Serduchka flys out at the SPEED OF LIGHT.
Me: "Whoa."
So what I guess I'm saying is great post, dude.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:07 PM on March 30, 2013 [10 favorites]

This post's inception. It only took five and a half months!
posted by Nomyte at 10:11 PM on March 30, 2013 [8 favorites]

posted by k8t at 10:14 PM on March 30, 2013


I recall finding Verka Serduchka a couple of years ago and immediately deciding I must watch all the videos and find out all the things.

Now I can relive that glorious time, and others can too.
posted by louche mustachio at 11:08 PM on March 30, 2013

I uh...wow. Fantastic post, even if I can't possibly readwatch it all.
Seriously, good work.
posted by varion at 11:33 PM on March 30, 2013

I'm still too busy trying to decipher Estonia's entry.
posted by not_on_display at 11:44 PM on March 30, 2013

Five and a half months. Oof.

Well done!
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:51 PM on March 30, 2013

Five and a half months. Oof.

The actual post took two days. I just remembered that I had promised griphus that I'd write one several months ago.

I still owe Westringia F. an FPP about Belarusian ska.
posted by Nomyte at 12:11 AM on March 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

posted by Dagobert at 12:42 AM on March 31, 2013

Дуже добре!
posted by mazola at 1:17 AM on March 31, 2013

Firstly, this is a fantastic post, thank you.

And I bloody loved this when I first saw it on Eurovision, even without any context. This is what Eurovision should be like - completely bonkers, sparkly, entertaining pop that happens to illuminate complex political realities if you look beneath the surface.
posted by Coobeastie at 2:34 AM on March 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am enjoying the hell out of this. Verka's "Chita Drita" has some of my favorite pop lyrics (of any language!) in it:

Я в любви огонь и ночью и днём
Так давай огонь мы этой ночью разведём
Твои спички - мои дрова, очень хорошо!
Разведём костёр любви всем ветрам назло!

Which I am having a rough time translating because I have no idea how "Разведём" is being used in that sentence.
posted by griphus at 6:30 AM on March 31, 2013

Also, Alla Pugacheva -- whose popularity and household namedness during the 80s and 90s I cannot overstate -- has been mentioned exactly three times on MeFi, each time in one of Nomyte's posts.
posted by griphus at 6:33 AM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

wow, just reading that post was fascinating enough. Thanks! will definitely check out the linguistics.
posted by maiamaia at 7:50 AM on March 31, 2013

Which I am having a rough time translating because I have no idea how "Разведём" is being used in that sentence.

It's "we'll set" fire.

Also, Alla Pugacheva -- whose popularity and household namedness during the 80s and 90s I cannot overstate -- has been mentioned exactly three times on MeFi, each time in one of Nomyte's posts.

Let's figure out Pushkin first, mmmkay?
posted by Nomyte at 8:39 AM on March 31, 2013

This is an amazing post. Really totally best-of-MetaFilter stuff. I love the track, but knew none of the background.

Isn't it "let's speak dance"?
posted by bwerdmuller at 9:49 AM on March 31, 2013

posted by jph at 9:27 AM on April 1, 2013

« Older Addio a Enzo Jannacci   |   DEA Trap Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments