Why Pussy Riot Still Matter

March 13th, 2015: As seen on SONGLYRICS (PDF)

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It seems like it was just yesterday that Nadezhda Tolokonnikova was protesting “Putin’s Kafka-esque machine” with her fellow Pussy Riot grrl crew from behind the bars of a Moscow prison, refusing to eat.

When the collective stormed the alter of the Christ the Savior Cathedral in 2012 with their baklavas thrashing a song called “Holy Shit,” shouting “church praises the rotten dictators” and “drive away Putin,” it was arguably the most punk rock moment of the millennial generation yet, combining just enough stupidity and bullish feminist political art to get the whole world to listen up, once again, to the kind of oppression felt by Vladimir Putin, and his twisted vision of a healthy Russia.

The resulting circus that followed, as Putin’s cronies attempted to squeeze the “hooliganism” vice on these women with “endless humiliations,” with stories of repeated forced gynecological examinations and 17-hour work days, only served to louden the voice of Pussy Riot and its cause. Documentaries rolled out. Amnesty International got involved, calling the women “prisoners of conscience.” Everyone from Yoko Ono to Hilary Clinton voiced support. And eventually Putin freed Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina under a general amnesty three months before they were to be released in March of 2014.

The story could have ended there, but the band immediately kept the ball rolling, launching a legal aid service for people in camps in prisons, Zona Prava, and their own news wire, Media Zone, crusading for basic humanities and freedom of speech.

By no means are these women and Pussy Riot revolutionaries, or rather doing anything with rock or punk that hasn’t been attempted before. And not everyone can be them either. A.) There aren’t enough Putins in the world and B.) that would just sell music as an art form short. But the timing of the Moscow stunt, and their behavior following is Class A.

As the Western world continues its inevitable draw, and they dabble with their first songs in English, their mission is staying intact, branching out into paralleling human rights issues like the recent death of Eric Garner. The resulting Karen O-in-calm-mode seether, “I Can’t Breathe,” was hauntingly effective, rife with lurid imagery and Richard Hell reading the infamous last words of Garner: [LISTEN]

I Can't Breathe

The group could have easily sold out during and after their trial, took some dirty money from some shoe company or something ridiculous and maybe perhaps justifying it by funneling said cash into their cause, but they let certain subsets of society succumb to that on its own. It’s always been cool to stick it to the man, but blind faith in the freedom for Pussy Riot took on its own special breed of celebrity gaudy. Everybody wanted a piece of it. Even Jesus.

Instead, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina are twisting a perfect knife back into Putin with a cameo on the immensely popular House of Cards, offering up toasts at a fictitious White House dinner to basically say everything to a fictitious Putin they want to say to the real Putin: “To Viktor Petrov, whose loyalty runs so deep, he’s given his friends half of the country.” says Tolokonnikova, “Who’s so open to criticism, that most of his critics are in prison, the commander-in-chief who is not afraid of anyone except gays,” adds Alyokhina.

For the appearance on the show, Pussy Riot were asked to write a song, of which rolls out in the ending credits of the episode. Their second attempt at vitriol in English, “Don’t Cry Genocide” is fun little feedback-shit kicker with plenty of f-bombs to balance out its cerebral jabs.

It’s a little much to chew on, “devoted to the militarization of society and to American drones in particular,” said Tolokonnikova to Russian opposition magazine the New Times, but you can’t buy it, and they shove it good and hard down your throat as subtly as they can, in the credit reel of a basically free TV show, which is why people are still listening to what they have to say.

genocide

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