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Russia, you may have noticed, has been in the news, and it will continue to be as the World Cup approaches. But what do we know of its pop scene? It largely keeps to itself, which seems a surprise given the country's size and how it's played such a huge part in classical music over the last 150 years.

Is pop music there just as accomplished? A lot of it is, and the history of pop in Russia is also filled with wonderful facts...

1. Russians love rap as much as anyone in the West

The best-selling album in Russia on iTunes right now is by Jah Khalib, a Kazakh rapper. He's also got the most streamed tune in the country (Medina, above). And perhaps next week, those honours will go to another rapper you might never have heard of - the stadium-touring Basta.

Rap's been huge in the country since the first groups emerged in the 90s, rapping, as one group - Bad Balance - did, about how much they loved graffiti. One of the biggest stars even has a British connection: Oxxxymiron, whose parents left Russia when he was nine and spent several years living in Slough ("One of the most depressing places in the UK," he said in an interview with Vlad TV last year) before studying English at Oxford. Oxxxymiron made his name as a battle rapper, and over 40 million people have watched one of his battles on YouTube.

2. The country's most popular group owes its success to swearing

Leningrad have a simple formula, that’s perhaps responsible for their status as one of Russia's most popular bands. First, they largely sing about drinking ("Why are we gals so sad? There is a man and a glass of vodka. As patriots that's all we need," goes a typical lyric). Second, they release songs in the form of amazing films - their latest, Not a Paris, being an eight-minute clip featuring a housewife who beats up a roomful of ninjas and saves the world from a meteor. Third, they swear. A lot.

Frontman Sergei Shnurov last year told the Economist that swearing keeps the band in tune with Russia's cultural roots. "When everyone [else was] trying to be like someone else, I started looking for a foundation of our f****** Russianness, for something we cannot exist without," he said. He realised that foundation was the very swear word he used in that sentence, and Not a Paris features that word frequently. You have been warned.

3. The first Russian band to make it big in the West was a hair metal group

Gorky Park is a wonderful spot in Moscow filled with restaurants, clubs and the country's best modern art gallery. It's also the name of a Russian hair metal group that achieved success in the US at the end of the 1980s (by success, we mean, they got played on MTV a lot). Anyone who saw one of their videos back then would have got a very strange impression of what Russia was like at the fall of Communism as they suggested it was filled with men who'd modelled themselves on Bon Jovi.

4. The Soviet Union’s song contest had the greatest ever scoring system

Helena Vondráčková
Helena Vondráčková

Russians have always loved song contests, so it was no surprise that in 1977 the Soviet Union launched Intervision - a competition broadcast all around the bloc and meant to rival Eurovision. The first winner was Helena Vondráčková's Painted Jug - a song that sounds remarkably like an oompah band covering ABBA, showing there was little cultural divide between East and West back then. But the best thing about Intervision was its scoring system. If you liked a song, you turned all your lights on, according to Chris West's book Eurovision! A History of Modern Europe Through the World's Greatest Song Contest. If you hated a song, you turned all your lights off. The winner was the one that caused the greatest electricity surge.

5. Russian pop acts have been causing controversy for far longer than Pussy Riot

Russia's second great pop export couldn't have been further the from the hair metal of Gorky Park: t.A.T.u. were two teenagers who achieved worldwide fame and infamy in 2003 with All The Things She Said, an amazing song that spent several weeks at No.1 in Russia and the UK.

But it also caused a sensation because its video featured the duo kissing in the rain behind a fence. They had apparently been 14 when the clip was filmed and it was accused of both sexualising children and promoting homosexuality. Richard Madeley, the TV presenter, called them "sick" and the BBC had to deny it'd banned the video from being featured on Top of the Pops. t.A.T.u sadly disappeared from the charts after two more songs.

6. Putin is apparently an ABBA fan

If you want to get a handle on President Putin based on his music taste, you'll have a hard time. He likes Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals and even sat down with the composer once for a chat in which he expressed admiration for Cats. He also likes ABBA given that he apparently flew Björn Again, the tribute act, to Russia for a private concert, or so the Telegraph reported. And he once sang Blueberry Hill at a charity event in front of Gérard Depardieu, Kevin Costner, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell.

So, make of all that what you will. And Putin's not the only recent musical leader Russia's had. In 2013, the BBC's Steve Rosenberg interviewed Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, and at the end found himself playing the piano so Gorbachev could sing some Russian hits.

7. A World Service DJ helped bring down the Iron Curtain. Allegedly.

[LISTEN] BBC World Service - Russia's First DJ

In the early days of the Soviet Union, some people went to extraordinary lengths to get hold of Western pop, even pressing records into discarded x-rays and trading them secretly, as the Guardian reported. But in the 70s and 80s, things were easier thanks to the BBC World Service. Seva Novgorodsev was one of the BBC's main DJs for the Soviet Union and his shows - a mix of pop hits and light-hearted jokes - apparently had 25 million listeners every week, with Russians searching up and down radio dials until they found a signal that the authorities hadn't blocked.

In fact, he was so well known that when he went back to Russia in 1990, 800 people met him at the airport chanting, "Se-va, Se-va!" Some said his show was so influential he caused the demise of the Soviet Union. "Of course, it's kind of an exaggeration or hyperbole, but the thing is that there is some truth in it," Andrei Ostalski, who was one of Seva’s bosses, told the BBC. "He was a symbol of this curiosity and the way it caused this great penetration of certain Western values into Soviet society, which was sort of deadly for the regime."

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