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A Friendzone concert, April 2019

The Moscow government sent out warnings that a popular teen band might be dangerous for kids. Even the censors say otherwise.

Source: Meduza
A Friendzone concert, April 2019
A Friendzone concert, April 2019
Pyotr Ivanov / Kommersant

On May 21, Moscow’s Labor and Social Welfare Department sent a memo to various district governments and social welfare agencies recommending that they warn adoptive parents and guardians about the dangers of listening to the teen pop duo Friendzone. The memo followed Moscow ombudswoman Tatiana Potyaeva’s decision to take her concerns about the group to prosecutors and police. Potyaeva told Meduza that she only asked for an expert evaluation of the group’s music. Russia’s communications regulation agency, Roskomnadzor, already investigated Friendzone’s lyrics this year and found no potentially harmful material. Despite its charming high school vibe, Friendzone has faced resistance since November, when complaints from parents’ groups and local authorities shut down two of the group’s concerts.

On April 15, Tatiana Potyaeva, an ombudswoman for human rights in Moscow, sent a request to the city’s prosecutorial office and its police department asking for an expert analysis of music by the pop group Friendzone. Potyaeva told Meduza that she took that step after receiving a letter from six or seven parents (she was unable to recall the exact number) as well as messages from “two ordinary residents of Moscow.” The locals who reached out to the ombudswoman told her that Friendzone’s songs violate children’s rights to a normal life by encouraging suicide, drug and alcohol use, and same-sex relationships.

“There are 15 points here [in the parents’ collective letter] followed by links to the group’s performances. But I didn’t watch them. After I read this, I immediately sent in a request for analysis,” Potyaeva told Meduza. “I am obligated to take action on all the complaints I receive. I am not an expert in this area, though I can form an opinion based on the information I’ve received. Because there is so much noise and interest around this topic, we’re planning to mobilize our whole apparatus after the [Moscow City] Duma hearing and listen to figure out what’s going on.”

Potyaeva added that she has received no additional information from prosecutors so far apart from a message indicating that the timeline of their investigation would be extended.

Prosecutors may not have analyzed Friendzone’s music and videos yet, but Moscow’s Labor Department is already on the move

On May 21, the Moscow government sent out notices warning local officials about the dangers of Friendzone’s work. Specifically, the Labor and Social Welfare Department, which reports to Moscow’s mayor, recommended that district government representatives and welfare agencies tell local adoptive parents and other guardians that the band’s songs and music videos may pose a threat to children.

“I was surprised at the news myself,” Potyaeva said. “The Labor Department can’t provide an expert analysis [of a musical group]. If I were to contact [the mayor’s office], I would go for the Culture Department. But I didn’t reach out to them either. If there is a danger, then it applies to all children. I haven’t been told why [the memos] so clearly pointed to adoptive parents.”

Sources in the Labor Department explained that local prosecutors forwarded Potyaeva’s request to them. The department’s letter goes beyond asking officials to warn parents; it also tells them to “cooperate in the imposition of cancellations on the group’s concerts within the territory of the capital.”

Employees for the Khamovniki, Meshchansky, and Tverskoy districts as well as the social welfare branches of Zamoskvorechye, the Central Administrative District, and the Northeast Administrative District all told Meduza they had not received the Labor Department’s recommendation and were not aware of any dangers posed by Friendzone.

The administration of the Presnensky Municipal District received the memo yesterday. “Now we’re supposed to warn adoptive families,” said Svetlana Komkova, who leads the district government’s guardianship branch. “As usual, we’ll send them a letter asking them to be careful about what their kids watch on the Internet. If Friendzone comes up, block it. There’s no deadline [to send the letters]. A sensible deadline is probably 30 days.” Komkova struggled to say what harm the band’s lyrics and music videos might pose. She explained that she is unfamiliar with Friendzone’s work and likely would not find it worthwhile to change that fact.

Russia’s censorship agency already analyzed Friendzone’s songs and found no signs of danger

In the final months of 2018, a number of concerts were disrupted or canceled, including at least two of Friendzone’s performances. Local law enforcement officers were involved in exerting pressure on the directors of local concert venues. At the time, Russia’s federal Culture Ministry expressed opposition to the cancellations, and Foreign Intelligence Service Director Sergey Naryshkin offered to support the rappers affected using federal grants.

Friendzone’s spring tour passed without any cancellations. The band’s tour manager, Anastasia Zaitseva, told the BBC Russian Service that the group had sent its song lyrics to Roskomnadzor, Russia’s censorship agency, before its performances. Experts from the agency’s Center for Special Investigations and Analyses concluded that the lyrics posed no threat to the health or development of children aged 12 and up.

Kristina Safonova

Translation by Hilah Kohen