Ten years ago, Pussy Riot delivered one of the most controversial performances in contemporary music. Wearing colorful balaclavas to hide the members’ faces, the feminist group went to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, in the Russian capital, and played their “Punk Prayer”, a song that makes references to sacred symbols such as the Virgin Mary and mockery of Russian President Vladimir Putin. .
The presentation, which soon went viral, took three of the artists of the collective to prison and brought global fame to the group, which in recent times has tread very different paths from those it was treading at that time.
Released this month, the mixtape “Matriarchy Now” brings Pussy Riot in a less punk version and steeped in a superpop of subtle political overtones compared to songs like “Punk Prayer”, “Make America Great Again” and “Straight Outta Vagina”.
With lyrics full of sexual allusions and female dominance, the tracks on the album – produced by the Swedish Tove Lo, from the hit “Habits” – dispense with the accelerated drums, the torn guitar and the screaming vocals that marked the group at the beginning of their career and, in instead, they give way to electronic beats, dancing synths and grime flirtations in songs like “Poof Bitch,” which features rapper Big Freedia.
It is not today, however, that the group embarks on pop. Although more politicized than current songs, the hit “Make America Great Again”, from 2016, already indicated this other facet of the Russian collective, which defines itself as artistic-activist and is considered one of the main current names of the so-called “riot grrrl”. “, a movement that unites punk to feminist ideals.
From 2012 until now, Pussy Riot has changed its musical style, but not only. If before, its members did not hesitate to cause an uproar with bold protests against the Russian government that reverberated around the world, today their cries are more cautious and avoid leaving any clues to their whereabouts.
That’s because Russia in 2012 and Russia in 2022 are different countries. Or, at least, that’s what Nadya Tolokonnikova, lead singer of Pussy Riot and former member of the Russian collective Voina, thinks.
“We lost our freedoms. Everything is much worse”, says the artist, in an interview by video call. “Today, freedom of expression basically doesn’t exist in Russia. If you say something about the Ukrainian War, you risk being imprisoned for up to 15 years. You can’t even call what’s happening a war, because according to a decree [do governo], this is a ‘special military operation’. People go to jail even for small things like Instagram and Twitter posts.”
Tolokonnikova, famous for staging protests such as the anti-Putin rally at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior — an episode that landed her two years behind bars for “vandalism motivated by religious hatred” — is keeping her current location a secret.
Lucy Shtein and Maria Alyokhina, other members of Pussy Riot, also now live in an undisclosed location and fled Russia this year, as they told the British newspaper The Guardian.
Shtein, who had been under house arrest for more than a year for promoting a protest in defense of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalni – currently in prison -, left the country on a whim and disguised in delivery-delivery clothes shortly after the outbreak of the war. from Ukraine.
Alyokhina, who has been detained more than six times, fled in April when she learned that her house arrest would soon turn into a prison sentence. It was also at that moment that Russian repression against anti-war protesters was hardened.
“People are being arrested and tortured. And their families are losing jobs because they are associated with them. There are also murders,” says Tolokonnikova. “Those who still manifest [nas ruas] they are extremely brave. But not everyone can be, because the price of protest is literally life.”
Tolokonnikova also says that she tries not to think too much about her own fears, several of which come from the period in which she was in prison and, therefore, says she prefers to think about reflecting on what she can really do to protest.
Often remembered more for the activist side than the musical, Pussy Riot collects several controversial acts. Before causing an uproar at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, for example, the collective had already made the news when it appeared in front of St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, where it released colored smoke, raised a feminist flag and played a song with lyrics that affirmed that Vladimir Putin urinates in his pants.
Nowadays, even though the collective continues to promote activism for different causes and actions that collide with the goals of the Russian government, Pussy Riot shows itself more in virtual or in-person acts that are beyond the borders of its country of origin.
In June, some members of the group went to the headquarters of the government of the state of Texas, in the United States, and made an act of repudiation of the suspension of the constitutional right to abortion in that country, hanging, inside the institution, a gigantic banner stamped with the “Matriarchy Now” sign.
“This is a consequence of Donald Trump. When he was president, he appointed far-right Republican justices to the Supreme Court. Now, we see the results of that”, says the singer.
Reacting to these decisions, Pussy Riot opened LegalAbortion, a cryptocurrency fund for donations to organizations that defend reproductive rights such as Sister Song and Naral Pro-Choice America. According to Tolokonnikova, more than US$ 500 thousand have already been donated, that is, more than R$ 2.5 million.
Something similar happened in February, when she and other activists opened UkraineDAO to raise money by selling works in NFT — non-fungible tokens — by women and LGBTQIA+ artists. Tolokonnikova says the income — which already exceeds US$ 4.5 million, or R$ 23.3 million — is distributed to Ukrainian organizations that mobilize support for the country.
“I feel ashamed of my Vladimir Putin’s actions. I would like to say ‘president’, but he is not a president”, says the singer. “He IS the most dangerous dictator on the planet right now. Maybe people don’t know how to stop him, and that would also require moving on a global scale.”
According to the activist, Ukraine has a chance of emerging victorious from the war because it is, according to her, “on the right side of history”. In addition, she says that more and more people have come to understand “the dangers that Putin poses.”
Tolokonnikova also stresses that it is important to separate the Russian leader from the Russian population and criticizes a recent wave of boycott of works in the country. “It even makes sense in the case of pro-Putin or pro-war artists, but you can’t paint all Russians as bad. It’s unfair and can discourage people from opposing the government.”
While Pussy Riot’s main target is, Putin is not the group’s only enemy. They also say they target Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
In early 2020, when the band came to Brazil to play a show, in São Paulo, at the Summer Without Censorship Festival, a poster with the colors of the LGBTQIA+ flag and Bolsonaro’s face next to barrels of toxic waste, weapons and animals Dead was published on the collective’s networks.
In the post, the band promised to put on a show of revolt, “as if it were on top of that ‘head-bust-misgovernment-monument-empty of ideas'”, in reference to the Brazilian president.
“He is anti-feminist, anti-LGBTQIA+, authoritarian and dangerous for the planet,” says Tolokonnikova, who then engages in accounts of a trip she took to the Amazon years ago. She says that she talked to several indigenous people in the region and only heard “terrible things” about the president.
“Farmers are burning forests to make room for cattle, polluting rivers and murdering indigenous peoples. And as far as I know, Bolsonaro supports them.”
In addition to virtual wallets for collecting money, Pussy Riot is also behind the Mediazona website. Founded in 2014 by Tolokonnikova and Masha Alekhina, the platform is an independent communication vehicle, in which texts and podcasts are published without the support of people connected to the Kremlin.
But even with so many militant actions in the virtual universe, Pussy Riot’s current online routine is not just about activism or music. The group also has a profile on OnlyFans, a network that became famous for paid erotic content.
There are hundreds of nudes and videos of Tolokonnikova showing her body and seducing her subscribers, who pay up to US$ 79.80 – or R$ 413 – to see the naked feminists. In several posts, the group explores a fetish in which women are sexual dominators, something that is also present in the lyrics of the band’s new album.
According to the singer, producing pornographic content and declaring oneself to be a feminist are not tasks that necessarily go in opposite directions, contrary to what some activists of the movement say. “If you want to post nude photos, post them. Your body belongs to you.”
As for the pop dive on “Matriarchy Now,” Tolokonnikova says she sees punk as a lifestyle that pushes beyond sound barriers, and explains why, despite so many changes in recent times, Pussy Riot still drinks from its roots. “Being a punk is questioning everything, including yourself. It’s an attitude, a state of mind.”