People creating the past, present and future of the pop culture journey.
Edward Hill is easily one of the most unique YouTube sensations of all time. When a 1966 video of the Russian singer went viral earlier last month, Edward Hill joined the ranks of Susan Boyle, David after the Dentist and that fat kid with the lightsaber as being one of the world’s most watched YouTube videos. Lip singing a wordless song called Я очень рад ведь я наконец возвращаюсь домой (which translates into I Am So Happy to Finally Be Back Home) but better known to fans as Tro lo lo, Edward Hill has gone from being barely known outside of Russia to becoming an international recognized celebrity. So what is the fascination with Edward Hill? Well, simply put, the video is freakin’ weird. His slow and steady movements and his nearly plastic looking head gives the illusion of a mannequin going out for a stroll. With his wide eyed grin and minimal facial movement, Hill’s baritone chant of “Tro lo lo lo” creates a certain hypnotic trance to the viewer which brings people back to watch it over, and over, and over again…even if they liked it the first time or not. Once you see the video of Hill’s performance you are never the same again….sort of like when you watch that video tape from The Ring.
So exactly who is the man behind the Tro lo lo phenomena? Born Эдуард Хиль (which translates to Eduard Anatolevich Khil’) in Smolensk, Russia in 1934, Hill grew up in the heart of Soviet ruled USSR. A gifted vocalist from an early age, Hill studied music at the Leningrad Conservatory, where he graduated in 1960. Teaming up with composer Arkady Ostrovsky, Hill quickly became celebrated amongst the Russian elite by performing, what was considered at the time, to be Russian pop songs. Of course, these songs were far different from what was considered pop music in the rest of the world considering rock n’ roll would not come to Russia for at least another decade. In 1974 Hill was named a Peoples Artist of the USSR and was given the Order of the Friendship of Peoples in 1981. Hill himself taught vocal music at the St. Petersburg State Theatre Arts Academy at the end of the 1970s. However, as a favourite performer of the communist regime, Hill’s career fell apart when the iron curtain came down at the end of the 1980s. By the early 1990s, now a total unknown, Hill found himself working at a café in Paris while managing his son’s rock band, Prepinaki.
Yet Hill would rise like a pheonix out of the flame because, well, you can’t keep a good communist pop singer down. His anomitiy would end when some unknown genius found this forty plus year old footage of the once famous singer and put it up on YouTube. The song, written by Ostrovsky, actually originally had lyrics about a cowboy far away from home who is on his way back to his wife Mary. However, Ostrovsky faced the strict censorship of the Communist party when attempting to publish the song. The Russian government would not allow the lyrics to be published due to the fact that a song about a cowboy was deemeed to be too “American.” Thus, when Ostrovsky handed the song over to Hill, it was Hill himself who came up with the now famous “Tro lo lo lo lo” as a way to inturpret the song, making it well known throughout Russia. Surprisingly, Hill would not be the only singer to record the song singing in gibberish. The song would also be recorded by Russian singer Muslim Magomaev who performed it in the 1965 film The Blue Spark.
Now 75 and living in St. Petersburg, Hill was astonished to learn of his new found cult status when his 13 year old grandson saw the video on YouTube and informed Hill that he was all over the internet. With the song being remixed multiple times, the video being parodied by both amature and professional entertainers, and his face appearing on products such as coffee mugs, t-shirts and mouse pads, Hill has embraced his revival and has become incredibly assessable to international media. Now planning a world tour and releasing a brand new recording and video for his Soviet era ”hit” La La La, Hill is ready to reclaim his former glory. During an interview with the BBC last month Hill spoke of the Tro lo lo phenomena by saying “I’m loving it. People doing parodies. Having fun. It unites them. The internet can share happiness. It connects generations.”
What I think I love the most about Edward Hill’s new found fame as an internet phenomena isn’t that he is the living freak show, or a talentless weirdo, like most YouTube phenomenas, but that he is a retro artist who’s strange Europop performance has captured the minds of millions. Tro lo lo is unintentional performance art at its finest. I know it has captured my imagination and Hill is right. Tro lo lois about happiness. Try to sing it without a smile on your face. Better yet, sing it with a wide eyed blank stare while barely moving your mouth. That’ll but a smile on my face anyways. Edward Hill made my month, and deserves the resurgence of popularity he is now receiving.