‘I’ve moved onto another level of self-perception’ We talked to Andrei Petrov, the first gay rapper ever to create a hit music video in Russian
On December 19, the 23-year-old Moscow video blogger Andrei Petrov dropped the music video for his very first hip-hop track. In many ways, it’s a typical rap debut: A pulsing beat barrels forward as a Rolls-Royce surrounded by people in tracksuits appears on-screen, and shots of exclusive Moscow neighborhoods and fashionable hotel rooms follow. While the video’s scenery is not altogether unique within the Russian hip-hop world, its circumstances are: Petrov is openly gay. He wears heavy makeup and long, glittering nails; his performances forgo the genre’s traditional exercises in machismo for lines like “I’m smoking a big, fat dick — this is no joint.” Petrov’s YouTube channel, where he typically posts makeup and lifestyle videos, already boasts almost a million subscribers.
In July, Petrov was blacklisted by the homophobic and transphobic organization “Pila,” which frames itself as a game in which followers are rewarded for attacking or killing members of the LGBTQ community. For several days after his name was added to Pila’s website, Petrov avoided leaving his home out of concern for his safety. He said he has been attacked for his appearance more than 40 times in the course of his life. A few months later, the blogger came out publicly in a YouTube video, and he has spoken openly about being gay ever since.
While queer musicians like Lil Nas X, Janelle Monae, and Tyler, The Creator have all but dominated of the Anglophone hip-hop world, Petrov’s music video is the first of its kind in Russian to attract extensive attention outside the LGBTQ community: In its first several days online, “Pidor,” named for an obscene homophobic slur, garnered about a million views. Meduza met with Andrei Petrov to discuss his hip-hop debut, Russia’s ban on “gay propaganda,” the country’s future, and what the word “pidor” means to him.
Meduza: Your track has become the first popular rap song in Russian that’s written from a queer angle. What do you think about that?
Andrei Petrov: I’ve read a lot of comments that are like, “I’ve never seen anything like this before” or “Petrov is bringing a new style to rap music,” so this [track] has played a big role for the LGBT community.
Did you direct the music video?
Yeah. I don’t have a producer working above me, and I haven’t signed with any labels. Nobody sponsors me; I hire people myself. In other words, it’s all filmed on my dime and with my own efforts.
For my whole life, people have called me a pidor. People yell that word at me as I walk by, they write it in comments [on my videos]. After the music video came out, and I saw people calling me that once again, I felt happy. For the first time, it didn’t feel bad to me. The moral of the story is that you can call me whatever you want — a pidor, a little bitch — but in reality, you’re a piece of shit who isn’t worth my time. This track is meant to boost the strength and self-confidence of the guys in my community — one of its goals is to reclaim this word. The word “pidor” is offensive, but after this music video, it stops being offensive. It can even become the reverse.
Why hip-hop? Are you interested in the sound, the fact that you’re working with a history of homophobia and masculinity in the genre, or is it just a medium that’s become popular for bloggers in recent years?
Mostly, it’s because that’s the music I listen to. I’m a fan of Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, I listen to Taiga —basically, I adore hip-hop, so I decided that’s the genre I want to sing in. Just because of that.
You can tell by the line “I’m smoking a big, fat dick — this is no joint” that you’ve been following the local scene. That’s a reference to the collabs between Platina, OG Buda, and Feduk, right?
So you wrote the lyrics as well?
No, I didn’t write the lyrics — I just approved them. I have a whole team working for me, and that includes a ghostwriter and a bitmaker. Look, here’s how it was: A ghostwriter can’t just up and write a rap about somebody they don’t know, so I told [the ghostwriter] what I want to see in the lyrics, what kind of water I drink, what kind of alcohol, what brands I like or don’t like. I worked through it so that every line matched up with me, and that’s how it turned out in the end.
Everybody should do what turns out well for them. I’d never worked on writing rhymes, so I had to leave that part to a professional. In the end, it turned out great — this is my first music video, and by morning, it’ll have a million views. Most of the comments — about 90 percent — are positive despite the contents of the lyrics and the video and so on.
Warning! This video contains Russian obscenities.
You’ve mentioned in the past that you’ve been attacked more than 40 times. Aren’t you afraid that the release of this video could aggravate the situation?
I’m used to it by now. This is my reality. I’m prepared for five people to come up to me right now and try to do something to me. I think I’ve done crazier things in life than put out this video.
How has your life changed since you came out?
For the first two weeks, I didn’t notice any changes, but then, after a month or two, I started thinking differently about my partners. Now, it’s hard for me to imagine building a relationship with a partner who hides their orientation, though I thought that was possible before. You know, it’s like I’ve moved onto another level of self-perception and my perception of those around me, and now, I don’t have any secrets to keep from society. I’ve opened up completely.
You’ve said that you realized [you were gay] when you were 13 or 14, so about 10 years ago. Russia’s “gay propaganda” law was passed in 2013. In your observations, has the way society treats gay people changed in that time?
Yes: It’s getting worse. But at the same time, in the last two or three years, something’s started to get better because there’s a new generation growing: There’s content coming in from the West, and people are starting to think more freely. But the previous generations, those fossilized minds — of course, there’s a huge problem where they’re concerned. There are skirmishes every once in a while. I’m talking about the situation over the summer with Pila and the problems with homophobia in Chechnya. These kinds of awful individual situations are still happening. Though if you look at the attitude toward gay people in general, I think it’s improved in recent years. There are more bloggers popping up who support me and speak out positively on LGBT issues — kids from Twitch and TikTok who are 14 or 17 years old. I think this new generation will change many things.
Does the law affect your work as a blogger? Have you had any problems monetizing your videos?
Fortunately, no, I haven’t had any incidents like that. My monetization has been taken away, but not because I’m supposedly propagandizing anything. The only thing is the wackos in my comments who write, “We’ve already submitted a complaint to [the media and censorship agency] Roskomnadzor.” But in reality, nothing like that has happened, and I hope that it won’t. If something does happen, I have attorneys, and we’ll work on it.
Can you picture a future for yourself in Russia? For example, would you stay here if you decide to get married to your partner or if you keep running into these problems?
I don’t see a good future coming in Russia more broadly. I’m not just thinking about my individual future in Russia. This is about you and me and everybody else, too.
Why don’t you see a good future for Russia?
Because the current regime has dug itself in deep. There’s a feeling like there’s no way out that I have and that everybody in this country has. I’m not sure anything will change in the next 10 years or so, unfortunately. Though it’s very wrong to think that way, of course.
Are you working on a full album, or was this a stand-alone single?
No, this is the start of my musical career. I think that next week, I’ll start recording a new track. After three or four singles come out, I’ll put together a good album.
So you consider yourself a rapper?
[Laughs.] Of course, [I don’t consider] myself a real rapper. For that, I’d have to write my own lyrics, my own beats, be into rap since I was 12. I had a classmate who did that, and he could have become an actual rapper, but he ended up going to college, and now there isn’t jack shit left of his talent. I’ve got my own approach — I might not be a real rapper, but I’m going to do my work well. In the future, maybe I’ll even set an example for other rappers.
What do you think: Are there any progressive performers in the Russian rap establishment who would be willing to record a collaborative track with you?
Even talking about that is hilarious. I’ve only just recorded my first single. I’m an absolutely objective person when it comes to stuff like this. In the future, why not, but only after two albums at least.
Is there anybody you like in the Russian rap world?
Skriptonit, Obladaet, Boulevard Depo, and Kizaru — I was really vibing with his last album.
Translation by Hilah Kohen