The Russian crooner Eduard Khil died Monday at the age of 77. Outside of Russia, Khil was known for the 2010 YouTube hit “Trololo”—a 1976 video of Khil sporting a Ron Burgundy-style brown suit, singing nonsense (“lalalalala,” “lolololololol”).* After the video was posted on Reddit and picked up by Buzzfeed, it went viral and Khil was quickly dubbed Mr. Trololo. The video has since garnered more than 12-million views—but many may not realize that when Khil sang gibberish, he did so in place of Soviet-censored lyrics.
What about the man behind the Internet meme? Eduard Khil was, according to a 1997 article in the Moscow Times that is not available online, a Soviet-era star—one of a handful of crooners who rose to prominence during the Cold War through state-sponsored crooning competitions. Khil had his first hit in 1961 with what the paper described as a “toe-tapper,” the lumberjack anthem “Woodcutter.”
As the lack of lyrics in Khil’s 1971 video suggest, the performances of Soviet-era crooners were tightly controlled. When words were actually sung their usual purpose was to spread State propaganda. The YouTube video of “Woodcutter” suggests that the lyrics romanticize lumber workers with lines like “We’re lumberjacks, shaggy brown bears / Blizzards and snowstorms: All of them are afraid of us.”
It was during this period that Russian crooners became associated with communism. As a consequence, their popularity plummeted when the Soviet Union fell and western music became freely available.
Of course, what is old is made new on the Internet. After the YouTube video broke, Khil, this time wearing a more modern suit, was once again performing to cheering audiences. And lest Trololo ever be removed from YouTube, www.trololololololololololo.com now features an embed version of the video on auto repeat, bordered by pattered brown and gold wallpaper.
*Correction, June 5, 2012: This article originally stated that Eduard Khil’s “Trololo” performance was taped in 1971. It was actually taped in 1976.