My typically grim Twitter timeline has recently been gifted a bit of glee, in the form of short clips matching contemporary pop songs with vintage footage of uniformed Soviet soldiers performing folk dances. I am a confirmed context grump and always want historical stuff on the internet to have citations, but these clips crack me up completely, despite myself. To what do we owe this little jig of online joy?
It turns out that the account, @communistbops, now at 120,000 followers and rising, is run by a 17-year-old who lives in the U.K. “I’m doing 20th century Russia for my history A level coursework, and started listening to the Red Army Choir for fun,” he wrote via Twitter DM. “When I searched them on YouTube, I found videos of the dances, so I just decided to put songs like ‘Mr. Brightside’ behind them.” I wondered if he had a background in dance or choreography that helped him figure out how to match the clips with music. “Absolutely not,” he said. “I’m terrible at dancing and have never danced before.”
The student behind @communistbops told me that a YouTube account run in the name of Leonid Kharitonov (a Russian opera singer who died in 2017 and had worked for the choir) had posted most of the footage he uses for his tweets. As time went on, and he looked at more and more of this footage, matchups of song and clip began to come to him naturally: “I’ve watched these videos so much now, I kinda remember which dance moves would go best with certain lyrics.” His favorites so far are “U Can’t Touch This,” “Toxic” (“my friend’s idea”), “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” and “Mr. Brightside.”
I wondered whether his account had political intentions, given the fact that the Alexandrov Ensemble promoted the culture of the USSR domestically and internationally during the Soviet era, but he says any such agenda is in the eye of the beholder. @Communistbops, for him, was simply a lark that got more popular than he had expected. I asked about his use of the “hot young Stalin” image as the account’s profile pic, but he said this was meant as a joke: “I’ve seen people call me a tankie ;) I would never be a tankie, Stalinism is just a no. I’ve only read the Manifesto once and I was 15 and sleepy and I only got into researching Marxism more after hearing about Eric Hobsbawm in a podcast.”
That photo, he said, just reminded him of a young Zayn Malik, which made him laugh.