Today, October 7, Vladimir Putin celebrates his sixty-third birthday. To commemorate this occasion, we’re spending a few days here at Useful Stooges looking at Putin – and at a few of his benighted fans around the world. Today: a hip-hop star from Amsterdam.
He won’t turn 21 until later this month, but he’s already become a household name in his native country and raked in a boatload of dough. He’s a Dutch lad who was born Jorik Scholten but who is known professionally as Lil’ Kleine. He’s been acting for ten years; now he’s also a top-flight rapper. He and his musical partner, a 23-year-old who calls himself Ronnie Flex, were responsible for this summer’s #1 hit in the Netherlands, a tribute to booze, narcotics, and hook-up sex entitled “Drank & drugs.” The tune is of zero musical value; the lyrics are witless, reflecting the mentality not of two twenty-somethings but of a couple of rather dim, immature 12-year-olds. Here’s a rough translation of the refrain:
If you want to chill, bitch, no problem, I’ll go there
I’m not coming alone, because I’ve got booze and drugs
I’ve got booze and drugs
On August 23, the song went triple platinum. As of the morning of August 30, the startlingly puerile and amateurish-looking You Tube video had racked up 15,726,795 views.
The population of the Netherlands is 16.8 million.
In August, Lil’ Kleine sat for an interview with the daily Het Parool. He talked about a number of subjects: his childhood in Amsterdam’s Red Light District, where he became accustomed to the sight of junkies shooting up and prostitutes plying their wares; his teenage years in another Amsterdam neighborhood, the Jordaan, where he and his brother lived in a one-parent home, his mother having taken off and left them in their father’s care; his early professional ambitions and activities (he trained to be a plumber and worked for a time as a carpenter); accusations that “Drank & drugs,” which includes the line “all the teenagers are saying yes to MDMA” (i.e. ecstasy) encourages kids to take MDMA (he denies the charge, but says that if you’re twenty or so and have your act together, MDMA “will definitely be fun”); Justin Bieber, whose ability to churn out hits he admires (“I could see myself chillin’ with Bieber”); gays (when he was little he found them icky, but now he has plenty of gay friends); money (“getting rich is now simply the most important thing in my life”); and, oh yes, Vladimir Putin.
For Lil’ Kleine, it appears, is a big fan of Putin’s. He doesn’t really know very much about Putin, but then again he’s honest about the reason for this ignorance: “I have no time to follow the news because I’m far too busy with myself.” Still, he feels confident about his esteem for the Russian president: “Everybody always says, like, Putin is so bad and this and that, but I admire him. He defends his country and stands up for his people.” And he takes on “everybody in Europe and America” by “giving them the finger.” Lil’ Kleine likes that. He’d rather have a drink with Putin, he says, than with Obama.
Details from Lil’ Kleine’s interview spread rapidly. Dutch pop-culture websites and social media were saturated with choice tidbits from Het Parool. A few people tut-tutted over Lil’ Kleine’s remarks about Putin. But the overwhelming majority of those who summed up and shared and quoted from and linked to his interview were plainly just excited to discover all this new personal information about their hero.
Now, why should any of us non-Lil’ Kleine fans care what he thinks? Because countless young people do. Around the Western world, the opinions of chart-toppers like him are saturating the new media and shaping the minds of innumerable young people who (a) are highly impressionable and (b) know next to nothing about the world. As a result, Lil’ Kleine and his counterparts in other countries are immeasurably more influential than any professional political commentator.
Think about it: on any given evening in the United States, the population of which is about 20 times that of the Netherlands, no political commentator – not Bill O’Reilly, not Rachel Maddow, not Megyn Kelly – gets a fraction of the number of viewers that “Drank & drugs” has gotten. On Sundays, Meet the Press is lucky to reach 3 million people. Lil’ Kleine’s comments about Putin may well have been retweeted more times in the course of a few days than anything anybody else has said or written about Putin in a long time.
The truth is simple – and bleak: in the Western world today, callow stars like Lil’ Kleine steer the culture. They can endorse any product and it’ll fly off the shelves. They can put their names on a perfume and it’ll sell like hot cakes. In 2008, young Americans thought Barack Obama was the coolest guy on the planet, largely because their showbiz idols told them so. Their vote helped get Obama elected.
But seven years is a long time in youth culture. Now, Lil’ Kleine says that he’d rather go out for a drink with Putin than with Obama. His gay friends, if they’re better informed about Putin’s policies than Lil’ Kleine appears to be, might not want to join that pub crawl. And Lil’ Kleine himself might change his mind about Putin if he learned a little bit more. (We wonder if he’s ever heard of Pussy Riot.) Who knows? If he found out enough, he might even awaken to the realization that he himself is a poster boy for precisely the kind of Western, American-influenced cultural product that Putin considers emblematic of the decay of civilization and thus feels justified in punishing to the fullest extent of whatever law he feels like putting on the books.
But in the meantime, Lil’ Kleine has sent out the word that Putin is cool. And for hundreds of thousands of young Dutch people who know no more about Putin than he does, his thumbs-up makes – like it or not – a great deal of difference.