In TikTok Report, we look at the good, the bad, and the straight-up bizarre songs spreading across the platform via dances and memes.
Black-clad youths bopping around industrial spaces. A moody boy with sunset-blush-colored hair. Converse and sunglasses at the beach. This is what you see in Leon Verdinsky’s TikTok montage of his former life in St. Petersburg, which has the dingy stylishness of a coming-of-age indie film. Deemed by one awestruck commenter as “the best advertisement to go to Russia I’ve ever seen,” the video has been viewed over 5.7 million times since Verdinsky shared it in late April. It has inspired reaction videos of teenagers proclaiming they’re “moving to Russia,” analyses of the country’s dreary aesthetic, and similar montages of other formerly communist nations. (The romanticization of Russia has also prompted legitimate criticism: “I lived in siberia for abt a year, and it wasn’t ‘tumblr grunge vibes’ or whatever,” grumbled one TikTokker.) Comments on the original video hint at a peculiar kind of nostalgia: a few users marvel at how Russia “seems a lot like 1997” or “really hit the pause button on the ’90s”—which is funny, because most of them probably weren’t even alive back then.
The soundtrack to Verdinsky’s TikTok is “Судно (Sudno)” by Molchat Doma, a dour synth pop band from the former Soviet satellite of Belarus. For over a month, “Sudno” has been trending on the Spotify Viral 50 charts (peaking at No. 1 on the U.S. chart in early May) and featured in almost 100,000 TikToks. Some of this traction has been aided by a TikTok fashion trend in which pouty alt teenagers speed through their wardrobes, set to the song’s moody guitars and punchy, strict beat. But Molchat Doma is a phenomenon unto itself. Even a TikTok educating viewers on the Russian poet Boris Ryzhy, from whom Molchat Doma borrowed the song’s bleak lyrics (“Living is hard and uncomfortable/But it is comfortable to die”), has been viewed 1.8 million times. Outside of the app, Molchat Doma’s music has proliferated through odd memes of dancing children and the YouTube recommendation algorithm. The punk discovery channel Harakiri Diat, which may have been the first to upload the trio’s music on YouTube, estimates that its video for Molchat Doma’s 2018 album Etazhi, on which “Sudno” appears, had at least two million views before being taken down this year after a dispute with the band’s former label, Detriti Records. As of now, Etazhi has sold out six times and is currently on its seventh pressing, according to their current label Sacred Bones.
The first video that appears when you search “Molchat Doma” on TikTok portrays a boy emerging from an underground Soviet new wave club, only to spot a girl from the venue and ask: “Wanna make out in front of the Molchat Doma building? (Perestroika style*).” Jakob Akira, the 22-year-old college student behind the video, says he was just riffing on a bit when he created it. “A lot of kids in their early twenties like to alleviate the stresses of modern-day capitalist society by entrenching themselves in a very romanticized version of Soviet Russia and what society might have been like in the ’80s,” he explains.
Molchat Doma is known as “Russian doomer” music and is a staple of doomer playlists on YouTube and Soundcloud. First appearing on 4Chan in 2018, the “doomer” archetype depicts a nihilistic, 20-something male whose despair about the world causes him to retreat from traditional society, although the term’s application has expanded. In contrast to the aging “boomer,” whose contentment is informed by blissful obliviousness, the “doomer” grew up with unfettered access to the world through technology. This influx of information exposed him to the fundamental chaos and meaninglessness of life. Oppressed by this knowledge, the doomer suffers from drug abuse, works at dead-end jobs, and is alienated from friends and family. The harsh greyness of the Soviet aesthetic can be a reprieve from the peppy, hyper-saturated landscapes of consumer America. At least the gloom feels honest.