This is part one is a two-part series which will be looking at Husky’s newest track “About Love” and the relationships between music, text, and music video aesthetics. Check part two for “video life,” “collective analysis,” and “final conclusions.”
Buryatian rapper Dmitry Kuznetsov, otherwise known as Husky, released his first 2023 track entitled “About Love” (O Lyubov). In this post, I will conduct a preliminary analysis of the music video, text, and musical of Husky’s new song and musical aesthetics in-line with the theories of multi-semiotic analysis (Baltar et al, 2022), music video analysis theory (Baxter et al. 1985, Cook 1998, Taylor 2007), as well as multimodal discourse analysis, or MCDA (Cara 2017).
Table of Contents [to find each section, use your browser’s search function]
- Some Theory
- Textual Life
- Musical Life
During my Masters education at University of Bristol, I devised a list of components critical to the analysis of the music video from available literature, both historical and contemporary. From that list, some of the pivotal are:
- Behaviours, actions, emotions of in-video personalities
- Worldviews and ideologies exemplified through statements, aesthetics, actions
- Extension of textual syntax through visual and musical aesthetics
- Intertextual (textual relationships) and hypertextual (extension of texts) allusions and relationships
- Expressions of experiences both personal and abstracted
- Meaning creation and “textual semiotic” epistemological creation
- Extension and comments of sociocultural and political discourses
I am most struck by Suarez (2015) and their focus on linking musical aesthetics and text. They reference the “Goodwin Methodology,” sourced from Andrew Goodwin’s 1992 monograph, “Dancing in the distraction factory : music television and popular culture.” In it, he describes the linkage between the aural image and the internally induced image. This then creates a mental comprehension that conjoins the visual and the aural, thus rendering any differentiation in the process of meaning making null and void.
However, it is what occurs within the spaces of this assertion that is most pressing for the analysis of musical aesthetics and the video medium. Goodwin addresses this quandry, “To be precise, the process is one in which an aural signifier generates another signifier, which is visual, simultaneously with the mental production of the signified. What is problematic here…is the question of which signifier attaches to the signified.”
Others have argued along similar lines, Björnberg (1992, 1994) arguing that the music video is more so governed by the textual syntax of the words rather than the opposite way around. While I tend to agree here, the music video draws out of the text a very particular meaning that audiences are ipso facto expected to agree with as viewers, even if just subconsciously. Suarez proposed an “extratextual analysis” approach, where factors that lead to the decisions made in the music video are studied in correlation to their on-screen demonstrations.
This approach dovetails well into MCDA and multisemiotic analytical approaches by foregrounding the contextual parameters that color both the language of the screen, the music, and the textual substructure.
MCDA, as Stefano Cara notes, takes into account how meaning is created across modes of personification and the ways in which meaning is both socially, culturally, and individually created. Yet, at the heart of the theory lies the conundrum that one discourse (argumentation for meaning and knowledge) is not directly antithetical or independent from other meanings and discourses. Thus, “discourses are always intertextually related to and dependent on other discourses” (2017, pg. 6). How is language and meaning personified across the many layers of musical content? Where is the meaning being created, sustained, or challenged? How do we, as viewers and consumers, buy into the process of meaning that society imbues within us from the moment of birth?
A final element is the multisemiotic nature of musical/visual/textual analysis, and the cross relationship between these mediums. In terms of meaning, the “multisemiotic” nature of music is the places in which meaning can be found, a “semiotic” (sign capable of dissemination something) which can articulate meaning. As Marcos Antonio Rocha Baltar et al. addresses, a song is a highly complex medium of multisemiotic convergences. While aesthetically, cadences, harmonies, tempo, and other musical components provide meaning, a lot has to do with the social and cultural implications. As they write,
With the socio-situational component, it becomes possible to analyze the intergeneric interactions, the multicultural and chronotopic (worldview as shaped by external events, time period, and place) interweavings of the song, which manifest themselves in different spheres of human activity.Baltar et al. 2022, pg. 8573
With that all being said, let us jump right into the analysis itself.
The track talks about the complexities of love, focusing on an autobiographical depiction of Husky’s journey towards love. His wife, Alina Nasibullina, and daughter Katya, are seemingly antithetical staples in the existentialist and borderline nihilist rapper’s life. Yet, as this track and another one (Song for K) demonstrate, Husky’s worldview is rapidly changing from only two years prior (i.e., Revenge). Verse one talks about an unmet need for love after his mother left, although this is not quite true as he had a strong relationship with his mother before moving to Moscow for school. Nevertheless, “And now I’m looking for it among the salty crowd” denotes that his search for love is doomed from the start, his depiction of mankind as dogs a prevalent and constant symbol for the hedonistic and self-centered nature Husky sees in the human race.
The chorus is a testament to Husky’s newly renovated worldview, seeing hope in the conception of devotion, he triumphally and humbly beckons us to believe in love. The chorus’ most formative line, “Without love, life means nothing at all. Come to me, don’t be afraid, I won’t eat you,” showcases this dangerous/sensitive duality that lies at the center of Husky’s entire image. A trusting yet forever temperamental demeanor, the selfless core and interiority of Husky’s personality bubbles to the surface. A career plagued with controversy and antagonism, this track exemplifies a new side of Husky that fatherhood and married life has seemingly gestated from within. Turning another corner, Husky’s texts usually never talked about love and yet here we are, at the precipice of a revitalized sense of purpose and self.
The second verse echoes the track’s autobiographical nature. However, instead of pure love, what it does is contextualize the entirety of Husky’s musical and philosophical persona. The first few lines, “Manual cutting knife, Nurturing resentment, I was looking for revenge,” speak to the reason why most of his oeuvre is so caustic, destructive, and violent in tone. He was looking for absolution by fire, retribution for something that the world had taken from him, anger at the God who caused him harm. Yet now, he has reflected and let go of his original raison d’etre and become a, if you will, reborn individual with a refreshed purpose. He had come to Moscow in search of something, first as a journalist then a rapper, yet in the process had become hooked on payback. This forced him into many a dark corner. As the conclusion of the verse reads, “So in search of love I found myself in a war…So I was looking for love, but I woke up in addiction.” This concept of love then is a synonym for fame and success, or perhaps revenge itself. Revenge against the rich, a coopting of affluency in order to dismantle it from the inside out. But he got distracted and instead got hooked on something else, returning only much later to his true intention, his real self mired by external excess.
The track’s musical life is relatively typical for Husky. That’s to say, simple but consistent construction featuring an intro, chorus, usually two verses, and an outro. This is significant because the predominate trend now a days is to not use an outro or introduction but rather have an abrupt beginning or drastically downplay the formal construction of a rap track. Evidence of this can be drawn from the trap genre which tends to operate around an ostinato which is then built outwards and given a flimsy beginning and endings. Artists who use this form tend to be from the younger generations of rappers, predominately the “New School” including those from Big Baby Tape, Yanix, Obladaet, Morgenshtern, FACE, and MAYOT, among MANY others. Further, the track uses many signature elements found within Husky’s aesthetic vocabulary including a constant ticking sound, a syncopated boom bap texture (famous in the Old School tradition), melodies and countermelodies, as well as a very distinctive chorus juxtaposition much like Oksimiron, Noggano, and the group Triagutrika. When it comes to the rap flow, Husky excels at modifying the voice’s timbre and pitch in order to convey meaning and point the listener more towards the meaning or the emotion depending upon the situation.
The track is in the key of A minor, a common key in Husky’s musical output. Generally speaking, most rap tracks are now in minor with exceptions being in major. The existentialist, often nihilistic, orientation of rap tracks use minor in order to encapsulate the listener into this sense of dread, despondency, disillusionment, and general fear of the unknown. But here, I think the A minor is in reference to something else. If one checks the symbolism of key as proposed by Schubert (1806), one sees that A minor is the key of tenderness, sincerity, fidelity, and….love. While others keys like Bb major, G major, and A major denote the joyous sides of love, it is A minor that speaks to the sanguine realism of love’s true nature. Instead of something to exclaim celebration about, love is hard won and something that is as fickle as it is stalwart when found. Husky’s usage of A minor echoes the more Nietzschean perspective of love, something that forever straddles animal eroticism and the disintegration of authentic friendship. Yet, Husky never endorses this but instead is working against this idea, instead seeing love as a restorative, clarifying force for good. Love, in the words of Fyodor Dostoevsky, is something that brings both great fulfillment and great sacrifice. Something not separate from suffering but not all around futile if truly worked for throughout one’s life, “To love is to suffer.”
I want to point you in the direction of two other components in the track of significance due to their placement and aesthetic identity. Firstly, during the introduction Husky uses a more liturgical, sacred-styled choral voice texture. Other rappers like Oksimiron have used female chorus textures in their songs as well in order to invoke a very particular meaning. In Oksimiron’s “Oida,” Oksimiron uses a folk-styled chorus in order to draw him more towards the Russian people, the narod of the pre-Imperial Russian lands. Here, Husky uses a quasi-religious choral sound to potentially harness the sacred theurgy of love, echoing the Symbolist’s conception of love as a spiritually purifying force for the cleansing of one’s soul and reunification with God. Love was also a way of overcoming death itself, purging oneself of all that made them human as to transcend the fabric of the earthly domain and enter into the majestic realm of the spiritually enlightened. Love as sacred service and ultimate selflessness. He also uses a circling A-B-C-E motif during the outro, perhaps an allusion to the wheel of fate or Rota Fortunae in Latin philosophy. A constantly ensnaring, destructive, restorative, regenerative, dispassionate force that does not care one way or the other. A force that binds everyone, who gives both mercy and punishment. The giver of life and the taker of life.