Last week I was very excited to hear that GooGoosha plans to release some new music. After all, it’s not every day that the daughter of a despot goes into a music studio and cuts an album’s worth of tunes.
For the uninitiated, GooGoosha is Gulnara Karimova, the 39-year-old daughter of Islam Karimov, dictator of Uzbekistan (GooGoosha is supposedly his pet name for her), and it goes without saying that her music is not very good. But it’s not exceptionally bad either - or rather, it’s only as bad as 99% of the music churned out by pop producers in the former USSR. Think breathy-voiced Russian girl pop, only sung in Uzbek.
How times have changed! A mere fortnight ago I wrote about Galina Brezhneva, the daughter of Leonid Brezhnev, whose dreams of becoming an actress were crushed by her parents. In the USSR, the daughter of a General Secretary had to do something respectable, like marry a circus acrobat and drink vodka. Poor Galina: if only she’d been born later, to an Uzbek dictator.
Of course, GooGoosha is not just a pop singer. She’s also a fashion designer, diplomat, philanthropist, businesswoman and (some say) potential heir to the Uzbek throne. But I just like the fact that she hangs out with Sting. All across the former USSR the kids of dictators occupy posts they are eminently unqualified for; but nobody else insists on occupying the pop charts too.
Still, this nepotism is hardly new. It is a commonplace on the post-Soviet music scene. Take Tatar songstress Alsou, for instance, who was 16 or so when she scored her first hits in Russia and later represented the country at the Eurovision song contest. She was pretty yes, but no more so than half the girls you see on the Moscow metro, and she had a decidedly mediocre singing voice. However, her father was vice-president of oil behemoth Lukoil and that’s all you really need to know.
Considerably more talentless - and emerging on the Russian pop scene at the same time - Detsl was a kid rapper who grew long dreadlocks and spoke about “Jah” as if he were a refugee from the slums of Kingston, Jamaica and not the expensively educated teenage son of an MTV Russia executive. Alas, his career declined when he fell out with his dad, who ditched Detsl’s mother for a much younger model. Anita Tsoi, an astonishingly dull performer, was the wife of Moscow’s deputy mayor. I also remember a singer named Yasmin, whose husband owned a massive meat factory, and sold tons of meat to the hungry masses. His meat-money bankrolled her career.
And so on. The interesting thing is that all of these artists actually became genuinely popular, for a while at least, regardless of whether their initial fame was the result of large quantities of money and/or intimidation being channeled at TV and radio stations, etc.
The USSR’s legendary rock underground was also densely populated by children of privilege. Andrei Makarevich, leader of the bearded longhairs Mashina Vremeni, the “Russian Beatles”, was the son of a major Soviet architect who exhibited internationally, while his mother was a microbiologist. Boris Grebenschikov, leader of Akvarium, was the son of Leningrad academics while his band mate, Sevva Gakkel was pure Soviet aristocracy, descended not only from a legendary aircraft designer but also a famous Soviet oceanographer.
Thus, just as pampered rich brats colonized post-Soviet pop music, so too it was a bunch of pampered brats who invented Russian rock music. Their connections not only gave them access to rare foreign music, but also a degree of protection against failure, a liberty of movement that (for instance) a mid-ranking factory manager in Ufa scared of angering the party leadership did not have. It’s easy to take risks on art when there’s a safety net below.
However, at least Makarevich, even Alsou, or - hell - GooGoosha have something resembling talent. The same cannot be said for Ksenia Gorbacheva, granddaughter of Mikhail, who miraculously scored a job on Russian TV some years ago. Meanwhile, Ksenia Sobchak, daughter of Putin’s political mentor Anatoly Sobchak, has now spent almost a decade trying to figure exactly what it is that she does.
Of course nepotism is not unique to Russia or Uzbekistan. Nobody would doubt that it was rank nepotism that got Chelsea Clinton her job on NBC, but her first appearance was panned and nobody would be surprised if she vanished from American TV screens. Likewise Western rock music teems with the unsuccessful offspring of legendary performers. A famous parent can open doors, but if your product is rubbish, the doors will close.
In the former USSR, however, rubbish product isn’t so much of a problem if you have the right connections, since very few hands control the organs of production and communication. Thus GooGoosha makes records and Ksenia Sobchak hosts political debates on TV. I suspect a free media market would kill their careers quickly, or at least make them work a bit harder.
Or maybe I’m just cynical, and these daughters of powerful politicians really are mega-talented überbabes.