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
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Paolo Nutini performs at T in the Park
music
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
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
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

MIDDLE EAST CURRENT AFFAIRS OFFICER

£27,000-£34,000 per annum: US Embassy: An office of the US Embassy based in Be...

BALTIC CURRENT AFFAIRS OFFICER

£27,000-£34,000 per annum: US Embassy: An office of the US Embassy London base...

IT Systems Administrator

£25000 - £35000 per annum + bonus + bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: IT Sy...

Bid Manager, London

£45000 - £60000 per annum: Charter Selection: Charter Selection are working wi...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor