The Ukrainian Pop Stars Who Are Refining Pop
The first name that comes to mind when we’re talking about the complicated genre-bending music that is Ukrainian pop of the 2010s is Ivan Dorn. The singer started as ½ of pop duet ParaNormalnyh, and lasted there for three years before quitting in 2010. A year later he returned with his debut solo record “Co’N’Dorn” and what a record it was. During that fateful summer of 2011, everyone from swanky parties to the nearby teenager’s iPhone – was playing Dorn’s instant -classic songs like “Styzaman” and “Bigudi”, tunes that married hooks with brains and packed tons of clever lyrics. “Ne nado stesnyatza” (“Don’t be ashamed”), a lyric taken from “Styzaman”, became his trademark quote but no one at the time were ashamed to admit that they loved his tunes really.
Two years and hundreds of shows later, Dorn returned with a follow-up record, “Randorn”, a mixed collection of genres to say the least. By that time it became clear that Dorn was never going to “play the pop game”, and would rather further his experiments with music, lyrics and image. Hip-hop, house and r’n’b were thrown into eclectic mix, while Dorn himself would take on the personas of Freddie Mercury and Jamiroquai for the album’s tongue-in-cheek trailer. In 2016 he set off on a “Jazzy Funky Dorn” tour, which presented funky-fied versions of his biggest hits, but still didn’t prepare his fans for his biggest risk to date.
The said risk arrived in April of 2017 in the form of his debut English record “OTD” (“Open the Dorn”) and packed next to zero pop songs, opting for all sorts of obscure electronic influences instead, complimented by movie-worthy visuals. The video for the lead single “Collaba”, for instance, saw Dorn running around a house filled with colorful ladies of the night, wearing a leopard miniskirt and a purple wig. His no-f****-given attitude and undeniable showmanship skills helped him create a devoted following, but on the other hand he will always be a victim of numerous “Where did the Dorn we initially liked go?” comments. Luckily by now it’s obvious that Dorn will handle any sort of criticism and will continue surprising his audience, which is about to start growing internationally following his switch to English.
The success story of hip-hop collective “Griby” worked the other way around. They popped seemingly out of nowhere around last fall with two tracks that got everybody talking and dancing: “Intro” and “Cops”. Poker-faced rappers were chanting ironic easy-to-digest hooks on top of club-ready melodies. While the band tried to keep their anonymity to support the hype, it was quickly revealed that the trio was created and fronted by seasoned producer Yuriy Bardash, who managed successful acts like “Quest Pistols” and “Nervy”. To make sure the public would get their it’s-all-kind-of-a-joke attitude, the band recruited comedy vlogger Kyivstoner to open their early videos with short sketches.
Funnily enough, the song that really pushed them into the ears of mainstream audience was the least ironic one, a semi-ballad “Taet Led” (“The Ice is Melting”), released this spring and making its way to every radio station. Does this mean the era of rap parodies is gone and the band is ready to reinvent itself as a straight-faced poppy hip-hop collective? We certainly hope it doesn’t. But whatever the case, the band itself has nothing to worry about: in February they won the “Breakthrough of the Year” award at Ukraine’s main music award show YUNA.
The female squad of Ukrainian pop singers is having a big moment, too. While Jamala has already seen her big debut, bringing a surprise level of sophistication and winning the Eurovision Song Contest last year, there’s already a new popstar on the rise. Her name is Kristina Bardash, but most people know her as Luna. A questionable stage name choice surely: there’s a Russian rock band Louna, as well as a K-pop girlband LOONA, an American 90s dream-pop band Luna and a Belgium eurodance band La Luna. But sound-wise, Ukrainian-based Luna may be the most daring one out of this moon-named pack of artists.
One of Luna’s signature songs is called “Grystnyi Dance” (“Sad Dance”) and it may be the best description of her style in general. Framed by all sorts of groovy electronic arrangements, Luna’s melancholic delivery will give Lana Del Rey a run for her money. Give her debut album “Ma-gni-ty” (“Magnets”) a try if you’re feeling hungry for more synth-based melodrama after a 10th spin of Lorde’s latest offering. We’re yet to find a better break-up line in recent pop than “You don’t like my choker/I’m leaving you today”.