Viral video gives Soviet crooner an unlikely comeback

Shaun Walker reports from Moscow on the revival of a 1970s favourite

When Eduard Khil steps on to the stage at a Moscow nightclub tomorrow night, it will be a concert like none other he has ever given. Until a few months ago, Khil, a Brezhnev-era crooner long forgotten by most Russians, mainly gave small recitals for war veterans in dingy townhalls. Now, thanks to the internet, the 75-year-old singer, known online as Mr Trololo, has become an international sensation. Tomorrow, he will take to the stage in front of hundreds of young adoring fans at 16 Tons, a Moscow venue better known for hosting rock bands and international DJs.

The video that went viral, catapulting Khil to the status of an unlikely internet icon, is a 1976 recording of a song called "I'm Very Glad, Because I'm Finally Returning Home". The clip, which has been viewed several million times on YouTube, is at first confusing and then strangely mesmerising.

An orchestral arrangement begins with the camera focusing on a yellow background and metal gates, before Mr Khil strolls into the shot with an inane grin, lip-synching a tune with just "la-la-la" for words. He sports a brown double-breasted suit, a chunky mustard yellow tie and an off-white shirt, the back collar of which is overlaid with a carefully combed mullet. For three minutes the strange noises go on, la-la-las and lo-lo-los to a tune that is remarkably catchy.

It is unclear who initially uploaded the video, which was shot when the singer was a household name in the Soviet Union and regularly appeared on television. The singer himself can't even remember where it was filmed. But the clip's popularity snowballed, and soon there were fan websites, petitions and even T-shirts dedicated to the strange Soviet singer because of the lack of lyrics in the song.

Remixes and cuts of the clip began to appear, as well as dozens of parody versions, uploaded to YouTube by fans who had recorded their own take on the song. The video's popularity took another leap when, hours after picking up an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in Quentin Tarantino's film Inglourious Basterds, Hollywood actor Christoph Waltz performed his own take on the clip on a popular US television chat show.

Khil, who lives in St Petersburg, told The Independent that he first found out about his new-found fame from his grandson. "I was in the kitchen peeling potatoes, when my grandson came running in humming my song. He said, 'Grandad! You're famous in America!'" he recalls. "I came to look and he showed me the video. I was absolutely amazed."

He says that the song, written in 1968, was originally meant to be about a cowboy galloping across the prairie, racing back to his home where his belle was waiting for him. But he and songwriter Arkady Ostrovsky were worried that such controversial lyrics would never make it past the Soviet censor, and so decided to record it as a "Vokaliz" – a vocal arrangement.

"It's a very difficult song to sing. It ranges over three octaves. You have to be in absolutely top form to sing it; these days I can only manage it on days when I'm feeling really good," says Khil. He promises, though, that it will form part of the set at the upcoming Moscow concert.

Inspired by the hundreds of emails he has received from across the world, he also released a video message to his fans, challenging them to come up with lyrics to the song. "We'll all get together some time online and sing it together," he says in the message, which was posted online.

Now a cheerful pensioner, Khil seems to be enjoying the attention. He laughs and jokes down the telephone, often bursting into song. He says the concert in Moscow is nothing special. "I give concerts all the time, it's just that this one has been very well advertised," he says. "Just the other week, for example, I gave a concert for veterans of the Siege of Leningrad. Though there aren't many of them left now."

But, in reality, he had fallen a long way from the height of his popularity in the 1970s, when he was known and loved by millions of Russians, gave concerts at the Moscow Conservatory, and toured across the Soviet Union and even abroad. In the early 1990s, he even had a stint singing in a Russian restaurant in Paris to make ends meet. But now, there seems every chance that he will rise back to his previous heights of fame, or even higher.

"Mr Trololo" joins a growing group of Russian performers who have achieved cult status over the internet. Also notable is Peter Nalitch, who in 2007 shot to fame with his home-made video of "Gitar" a jokey pop song of the singer sitting in a Lada, with lyrics of love sung in pidgin English. Nalitch has gone on to become a fixture of the Moscow concert scene, and this year will represent Russia at the Eurovision Song Contest.

For Khil, it seems the sky is the limit. There are even plans for a tour of America to reach his new fans, though there are a couple of obstacles to that. "There has been some interest – one man called about going to America, but I couldn't understand him as he didn't speak Russian," he says. "My wife says I shouldn't go there, that America is Enemy Number One. But of course things are different now."

Other unlikely stars

Susan Boyle

Piers Morgan and his fellow judges may have looked surprised when Susan Boyle began to sing "I Dreamed a Dream" at an audition for Britain's Got Talent, but it was what followed that was the real shock. As the clip made its way online, her performance started attracting worldwide attention and it has now been viewed more than 100 million times. She has since become an international star.

Lin Yu Chun

He has been dubbed the Taiwanese Susan Boyle, and it is not hard to work out why: like Boyle, Lin Yu Chun (nickname "Little Fatty") does not look like a pop star, but his incredible voice has brought him worldwide fame, at least for the moment. A clip of him singing Dolly Parton's classic "I Will Always Love You" on Taiwan's Super Star Avenue talent show has been viewed almost six million times.

Justin Bieber

With his wholesome appearance and huge fan base amongst tweens, 16-year-old Justin Bieber may be a record company's dream but the Canadian star started out by uploading videos of him singing on to YouTube when he was 12. The clips of him performing cover versions led to him being spotted, and he already has a No 1 album.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

£40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

£45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

Front-End Developer (JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, C#, GUI)

£55000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End Deve...

Graduate C# Developer (.NET, WPF, SQL, Agile, C++) - London

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Graduate C# De...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?