They contain ‘lies’ about the war, are full of ‘LGBTQ+ propaganda’ or are simply ‘hurtful’ to President Vladimir Putin: 4,333 songs and podcasts have disappeared from Russia’s largest music streaming service this year for political reasons. Yandex.Music, similar to Spotify, says it removed the audio on behalf of the Russian government.
It is rare that a Russian company is open about the censorship it applies. Yandex.Music’s announcement, shared with Russian media via a report, shows that the Kremlin is trying to limit the population’s music choice, just as it did during the Soviet Union.
Yandex.Music does not provide examples of deleted audio in the report, but numerous creators have recently reported that their work has been removed from the platform. So disappeared Chervona Kalina, a Ukrainian-language folk song that has become a resistance song against the Russian invasion since the invasion. A whole series of podcasts that regularly report on the war also went offline, including podcasts from the BBC and critical Russian news organizations Meduza and Novaya Gazeta.
Some artists decided to withdraw their music from Yandex.Music. Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour pulled his work from Russian streaming services in protest against the invasion. Russian rapper Face did the same, saying he “doesn’t want to cooperate with pro-state music services.” Yandex, Russia’s largest technology company, has long resisted government interference, but succumbed to Kremlin pressure after the invasion of Ukraine.
Most musicians who openly criticize the Kremlin, including Face but also the 74-year-old Russian pop diva Alla Pugacheva, have left Russia since the invasion. They left because of objections to the war or to escape censorship and persecution. Their performances in Russia have been made difficult for years by the Russian security services, who turned off the electricity during concerts and put pressure on clubs to cancel undesirable performances. Ekaterina Mizoelina, the director of an organization that helps the Kremlin track down and prosecute critics, recently said that artists critical of the war have “no right” to give concerts. “You perform in your kitchen,” says Mizoelina.
The choice of music for the Russian population is even further limited by Western reactions to the war. Due to the departure of Visa and Mastercard from Russia, Russians can no longer pay for foreign streaming services, such as Spotify and Apple Music. The world’s biggest record companies – Sony, Universal and Warner – have also stopped publishing music in Russia. The latest albums of Taylor Swift, Beyoncé and Ed Sheeran are not available on Yandex.Music. Many albums from before the invasion can still be listened to.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russians have become big fans of Western music and do not simply accept the disappearance of their favorite artists. A recent poll of Russian music listeners found that more than 10 percent of respondents still use Western streaming services thanks to Russia’s ingenuity in circumventing censorship. Some listen via VPN connections and pay via foreign bank accounts – Russians have opened en masse accounts in Central Asian countries since the invasion. Others download banned or unavailable music through illegal databases.
The censorship on Yandex.Music does not mean that there are no more protest songs to be found. An anti-war song released this year by Yuri Shevchuk, the singer of the popular rock band DDT, can be heard in Russia. In the song, titled Motherland, come back homeShevchuk sings, among other things: “Don’t go crazy, this is not your war.”
However, there seems to be a sword of Damocles hanging over Shevchuk: a Russian court recently fined him 50,000 rubles (500 euros) for “discrediting the Russian armed forces”. The fine is seen by critics of the Kremlin as a final warning.
But apolitical music is more popular on Yandex.Music and VK Moezika, a streaming service of the social network VKontakte, which is owned by Russian state-owned companies and led by the son of Sergei Kiriënko, President Putin’s right-hand man. Topping Yandex.Music’s chart this week Tsarina, a disco hit by Ukrainian singer Anna Asti about heartbreak. Asti, who grew up in Cherkasy, a city that was bombed again by the Russian army last month, lives in Russia and this year exchanged her Ukrainian passport for a Russian one. She remains silent about the war.
1. ‘Tsarina’ by Anna Asti
Disco hit about heartbreak. Sung by a Ukrainian singer who moved to Russia and took a Russian passport. She is silent about the war.
2. ‘Sponsor of your problems’ from GUF and AVG
Rap about a boy who wants a break from relationships. Sung by a popular Russian rapper who, at the outbreak of the war, spoke of “a hell of a gang”, but has since remained silent about politics.
3. ‘Sever (‘North’)’ by Tkimali and Lolita
Rap about a boy who tries to forget a broken relationship with the help of alcohol. Remake of a song by a Soviet singer, who is on a Ukrainian sanctions list for supporting the invasion and performing in occupied territory.
1. ‘The most honest news’ by Artemi Lebedev
News podcast from a designer who initially spoke out against the Russian invasion, but later traveled to occupied cities in Ukraine and is on a Ukrainian sanctions list.