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'Party like a Russian'

Popular culture meets Prokofiev in singer Robbie Williams’ latest song, "Party like a Russian." Fiona Clark looks at just how close to the bone the song cuts.

It's a good thing perhaps that only about 3 percent of the Russian population can speak English, because if more could they might have understood the lyrics of UK singer-songwriter, Robbie Williams' latest work.

Although Williams told the press he had watered down his original lyrics to reduce offence to the Russian people, those that made the final cut take a pretty strong aim right at the top of the Russian leadership and those that surround it.

"It takes a certain kind of man with a certain reputation

To alleviate the cash from a whole entire nation

Take my loose change and build my own space station

(Just because you can, man)

Ain't no refutin' or disputin' - I'm a modern Rasputin"

No prizes for guessing who he's referring to there.

The backdrop to the lyrics are fragments of Prokofiev's "Dance of the Knights" which he wrote for the ballet of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in the 1930's. I'm not sure how much Williams knows about his choice but according to one classical music analyst, Karen Bennett from the University of Lisbon, it's a dramatic piece depicting the anger and aggression of the Capulet family. She says the drums and brass instruments are used in a military style that is designed to "intimidate the enemy." 

It certainly is a powerful piece that matches the subject matter. The Russian press reported on the launch of the video stating Williams had incorporated sections of Prokofiev's work, but beyond that little was said about the content of the song which goes on to say:

"I put a bank inside a car, inside a plane, inside a boat

It takes half the western world just to keep my ship afloat

And I never ever smile unless I've something to promote

I just won't emote

(Spasibo)"

Money put to good use

While it's impossible to know exactly how much money has been drained out of Russia over the last few years, Deutsche Bank said in 2015 that about $1.5 billion (1.3 billion euros) in cash every month was coming into the UK without being recorded by banks or any other official statistics. Around half of that, the bank said, came from Russia.

Russland Dmitry Medwedew (picture-alliance/dpa/D. Astakhov/Government Press)

Not one to shun the limelight

But what doesn't find a home in the UK or other offshore facilities seems to go to good use in Russia as the opposition figure and lawyer, Alexie Navalny has documented. He recently sent a drone up over the six-meter high fence surrounding Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's country house - or Dacha - which revealed an 80-hectare estate on the banks of the Volga River, complete with ski lifts, cascading pools that lead to an indoor pool house, two helipads, a hotel for staff and a mansion built in the 1700's and renovated to the tune of $482 million. The dacha is owned by a foundation called 'Dar' which is closely associated to Medvedev's wife and a former classmate, according to Navalny, who, while under house arrest, investigates the business and financial affairs of Russian public figures. The funds for its renovation, he says, also came from Dar.

As Navalny notes the salubrious surroundings must have provided Medvedev with the thinking space to come up with his famous line to starving pensioners who quizzed him about when the government might raise their stipend: "there is no money … but you hang in there."

Watch video 02:45

Russians struggle in faltering economy

And Medvedev isn't the only one with a luxurious thinking space. According to Yachtharbour.com six of the top 25 multi-million dollar yachts are owned by Russian billionaires and the list goes on as the price tag descends.

Williams, who was recently paid £1.6 million (1.8 million euros) to perform at the marriage of a Russian oligarch's daughter, has first-hand experience of the lavish lifestyle of the super-rich Russians. So perhaps his choice of Prokofiev was intended to pick up on what musical analysts say is the foreboding nature of the "Dance of the Knights."

Bennett notes that Prokofiev uses fragments of this piece later in the ballet in a more tense and "hysterical" manner that signals the splintering of the family and the tragic ending that is about to unfold.

Maybe Williams knows no party can go on forever, even if the characters he alludes to are oblivious to it.

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