Mr Trololo: “Music is my biggest hero.”

A forgotten hit from the 1970s – the lyricless song “I’m very happy to be coming home at last” – performed by Soviet-era pop singer Eduard Khil has unexpectedly become a supermeme on YouTube, and Eduard Anatolyevich Khil himself was known as Mr Trololo. More than 2 million views, fans all over the world, and a petition asking him to go on tour as soon as possible.

Eduard Khil is a completely ordinary man. He lives in Saint Petersburg, in Tolstovsky House on the Fontanka embankment, plays in the rock group “Prepinanki” with his son, and is blowing the dust off his Distinguished Artist and People’s Artist medals and putting out feelers for a concert manager.

The tune for the song “I’m very happy to be coming home at last”, which Eduard Khil sings and which you can’t get out of your head, was written by the composer Arkady Ilyich Ostrovsky not long before he died. It was performed by Valery Obodzinsky and Janos Koos, and Muslim Magomayev even sang it on the “Goluboy Ogonek” TV show, although his version did not have the same enchanting “Tro-lo-lo-lo-lo” but sounded more like “Tra-la-la-la-la”.

Only Eduard Khil succeeded in communicating all the inexhaustible joy of coming home. It should be noted that even during the first wave of this composition’s popularity in the 1970s, viewers were delighted by this song without lyrics which was so unusual in Soviet popular music.

The hit was wordless because of a stroke of fate. The original version of the song had words and even a story line. It told of a bold traveller galloping across the prairies to his girlfriend, while she is sitting somewhere a thousand miles away knitting socks for her beloved. Sure enough, the story definitely had an anti-Soviet look to it, and the text was banned.

The clip became popular because of the internet concept of the “troll” (someone who deliberately provokes others and tries to get a strong reaction from them), which people think Eduard Khil is glorifying. And of course, because of the artist’s unusual miming and gestures.

The Mr Trololo clip was first put on YouTube in mid-February. In less than a month it had scored more than two million views (taking into account all versions) and dozens of video parodies, and more than 16,000 fans joined the Facebook group.

European and American admirers have written a petition which has already been signed by a thousand fans. They are asking Eduard Khil to go on a world tour as soon as possible. Some listeners would also be happy to see Mr Trololo at the Eurovision song contest.

Enterprising trend hunters are not sleeping on the job either. They’ve already produced Mr Trololo souvenirs and are actively selling them through internet shops or sites with the same name or are making money through banners:

Eduard Khil only found out about his own popularity the day before yesterday, on 9 March, when he got a phone call from a journalist. Eduard Anatolyevich was pleasantly surprised, but he has not yet realized the scale of his trouble, i.e. his popularity. Answering questions from their “special correspondent” in an interview on the Mr Trololo phenomenon, Eduard Khil was very modest and reserved.

Eduard Anatolyevich, are you comfortable now in this situation of a second wave of popularity? How do you rate it?

I can’t say it’s bad. It’s okay… How do I rate it? A solid four out of five.

Can you cope with a new wave of fame now?

I take it very calmly, and always have done. It’s true. I’ve always been able to take a detached view of myself. You’re popular today, but tomorrow you’re forgotten. It’s not as though I’m 15 any more and likely to swoon for joy.

Today’s musicians have ways of becoming performers that weren’t available in your day. The internet works wonders. It’s given a new lease of life to your song. There are several musicians who have become popular thanks to the worldwide web. Do you think they have it too easy?

I think it’s just a question of different technologies. You still can’t fool the audience, and if you want to be recognized you have to put your heart into it and be professional. An artist should be honest with the public, and that counts for a lot.

This year Petr Nalich will be going to the Eurovision song contest, thanks to his popularity on the internet. Do you know Petr?

Yes, I know about this lad. What can I say? One can only be happy for him. When I started out, you didn’t even dream of such a rapid rise. So I wish Petr success and an excellent repertoire – the one is dependent on the other, and it’s important for artists to remember that. Many young artists are not discerning in their repertoire, which is very wrong.

In my day I put together a great programme for myself, featuring Dunayevsky, Solovyev-Sedoy, Ostrovsky and Andrei Petrov, and a lot of professional composers. Then time goes by, a lot of time, and people fall in love with these songs all over again. I’m proud that these writers’ songs have got a second lease of life after all this time and have even won international recognition. It’s very nice.

Have you already been invited to start doing concerts again?

Right now I’m looking for a good manager. I don’t think it will be a waste of time to do some concerts again.

What if they invite you to go to the Eurovision?

I can’t say anything on that score. But there are still a few challenges I could take on. I think my son and grandson Eduard the Second and I could put together a good programme.

Young musicians and you: could there be some competition here?

Of course not: they’ve got their circle and I’ve got mine. I would rather say more than do them a disservice. After all, the conditions in which Soviet artists developed and today’s conditions are like chalk and cheese. For us, the journey from getting a suit to perform in to the moment when we made a recording was a whole story: we grew with every step. Nowadays it’s much simpler: you go to a studio, pay your money and record a song. You might be nothing in the creative sense, or on the contrary you might be a diamond.

This access to popularity: is it good or bad?

It’s equally good and bad. But I repeat: a public that you can deceive is not worth a thing. That’s why talent and talented performance of beautiful works still comes out on top.

Is it not strange that people who were born much later than the time when the songs you sang were born are now taking such a sincere interest in your work?

I’m not surprised, because this was a professional composition. It was strongly influenced by an aria from The Marriage of Figaro, and it’s very similar in mood. Actually in my day I sang lots of classical things, and Arkady Ilyich Ostrovsky wrote this composition especially for me.

And can you tell us something of the story about the censorship that made cuts to this song in those far-off days?

Jack is riding on his mustang across the prairies to his Mary. She lives in Kentucky and is missing him a lot and knitting socks for him. The Soviet censors could not let such a song through. We tried several more versions, but they were all rejected. Then it was decided to do the song without words, although even so it was all clear: the journey, and looking forward to meeting your loved one. Things like that are always topical. Look how much time has passed, and people still love it. I still believe that the meaning and the words are real. What seemed impossible back then is completely real today.

Don’t you think that the aesthetics of the late 1970s is coming back into fashion today? How can you explain that?

I think these aesthetics are much older – ancient Egypt was already full of these colours and melodies, even though it’s very far off. And they got them from even earlier people: it’s as if culture and aesthetics are passed on genetically. Human thought cannot be stopped, but it moves away from the past in order to push forward.

Eduard Anatolyevich, what does the voice mean to a singer?

For me personally it’s an instrument, and it has to be looked after. Just as a violinist looks after his violin, a singer has to take the same care of his own instrument. If a young vocalist doesn’t take care of his voice, he’ll lose it.

Can you imagine a situation in which you would sell your voice, or give it away, and if so, for what?

I don’t trust stories about evil spirits and I try to avoid them. Everything that has been created has been created by God. Temptation is lying in wait for you everywhere, and that is very serious. In Gorky’s story the hero Danko tore his heart out to give people fire, and that was a serious sacrifice. A sacrifice for eternity. In everyday terms there is nothing worth selling yourself for.

But Rusalochka, the Little Mermaid, gave away her voice for love. Are these sacrifices the same?

Everyone has their own heroes. Every person is a whole world. But Danko’s sacrifice was global, whichever way you look at it.

What other heroes do you have?

Schubert, Mozart, Bach, Tchaikovsky, Glinka and Musorgsky. These people died long ago, but their music creates love, it vindicates life and it gives strength. It gives me incredible emotions, it inspires me, it nourishes ideas. When things are difficult, I put on my favourite music and I literally melt, because it’s the best doctor. I would say music is my biggest hero.

In conversation with Sonya Yanson

This article was initially published on

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