AKA MR. TROLOLO
1934 – 2012
He was one of the internet’s unlikeliest YouTube sensations, and in 2010 he had the entire world singing his happy wordless song. His name was Eduard Khil, better known by his moniker Mr. Trololo. One of the USSR’s most beloved singers, Eduard Khil rose like a phoenix from a flame and went from obscurity to international stardom when a strange video of him performing on Soviet television in 1976 surfaced on YouTube, and made him a familiar face on computer screens everywhere. For a moment, the strange Russian singer, with his wide eyes and creepy grin, united an entire world in song and laughter. We all knew his face, and we all knew his song, and we didn’t need to know the words because there wasn’t any. Once you saw the video of Eduard Khil singing Trololo you never forgot it. It stuck in your head forever, kind of like the video from The Ring. It would be a bizarre last hurrah for the strange singer. On Monday June 4th Eduard Khil died of a stroke in his home of St. Petersburg, Russia. He was 77.
Born Эдуард Хиль (which translates to Eduard Anatolevich Khil’) in Smolensk, Russia in 1934, Khil grew up in the heart of Soviet ruled USSR. A gifted vocalist from an early age, Khil studied music at the Leningrad Conservatory, where he graduated in 1960. Teaming up with composer Arkady Ostrovsky, Khil 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, especially since rock n’ roll would not come to Russia for at least another decade. But during an era when Russia was still thought of as a mysterious aggressor in the East, Khil was virtually the Frank Sinatra of Russia. Oddly enough, nobody outside of Russia had ever heard of him, but that’s how Soviet entertainment seemed to work during the era. Nobody knew much about anything beyond the iron curtain. In 1974 Khil was named a Peoples Artist of the USSR and in 1981 was given the Order of the Friendship of Peoples. Khil himself taught vocal music at the St. Petersburg State Theatre Arts Academy at the end of the 1970s. However, when the iron curtain came crashing down in 1991 Khil’s career as a musician came down with it. Although the fall of communism would be considered a triumph for the Russian people, as a favorite performer of the communist regime Khil was considered a symbol of “the old regime” and was ousted from the new Russia. By the end of the decade Khil was a total unknown and working at a café in Paris while managing his son’s rock band, Prepinaki.
But just like Lenin before him, you can’t keep a good communist pop singer down. His anonymity would end when some unknown genius found the strange footage from 1976 and put it up on YouTube. The song, written by Ostrovsky, actually originally had lyrics about a cowboy, far away from home, traveling back to his wife named 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 deemed to be too “American.” Thus, when Ostrovsky handed the song over to Khil, it was Hill himself who came up with the now famous “Tro lo lo lo lo” as a way to interpret the song, making it well known throughout Russia. Surprisingly, Khil 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.
In 2010 Khil, then 75 years old and living once again in St. Petersburg, was astonished to learn of his new found cult status when his thirteen year old grandson saw the video on YouTube and informed Khil that he was all over the internet. With the song being remixed multiple times, the video being parodied by both amateur and professional entertainers, including spots on Saturday Night Live and Family Guy, and his face appearing on products such as coffee mugs, t-shirts and mouse pads, Khil embraced his revival and became instantly assessable to international media. During an interview with the BBC shortly after the video went viral he said “I’m loving it. People doing parodies. Having fun. It unites them. The internet can share happiness. It connects generations.” From interactive cyber sing-a-longs, to recording a revised version of another of his Soviet era songs, La-la-la, to making appearances singing on television programs throughout Europe and Asia, Edward Khil enjoyed his second wave of fame. His final television appearance would be on a Japanese Christmas variety program singing Trololo in January 2012.
Personally, I always had a soft spot for Eduard Khil. Not only will I admit that I love the song Trololo (I can sing the whole thing without missing a “Tro” a “lo,” an occasional “ha ha ha” and I even go high on the “heeeeee”), I found the way that he embraced his resurgence of popularity with a sense of dignity and humor to be quite charming. He got the joke, but also treated his music like a true professional. As an internet phenomenon Edward Khil wasn’t a living freak show, or a talentless weirdo, but that he was a retro artist whose strange Europop performance captured the minds of millions. His 1976 performance of Trololo was unintentional performance art at its finest. Even under Soviet rule Khil understood the joy of music and he was right. Trololo is about happiness. In the summer of 2010 he got people across the world singing and laughing together in perfect harmony. The last time that had been done was with Coca Cola in 1971, and even then it was primarily an American phenomenon. His lyricless song could be translated in any language and any dialect, and was shared across many nations. Not even the most deliberately staged publicity stunt could ever have been as widespread as Trololo. Try to sing it without a smile on your face. That is the power and the joy of Trololo. That is the power and the joy of Eduard Khil.
I am singing Trololo loud right now, and I am singing it proud. Goodbye Eduard Khil, and wherever your journey is tonight I hope you arrive their safely.