“They broke from people to people.” Producer Alexander Kushnir about the phenomenon of “Tender May” and Yura Shatunov

Yuri Shatunov, the lead singer of the Laskovy May group, which gained wild popularity in the late 80s, died on June 23 from acute heart failure. Despite the fact that the high-profile history of this group ended in 1992, it has become something of a national treasure and has firmly entered the cultural code of Russians. At the request of RTVI, the journalist, producer, director of the Kushnir Production music agency Alexander Kushnir spoke about why this happened and how the group achieved such stunning success at the end of the USSR.

Alexander Kushnir is the author of books about prominent representatives of the Russian rock scene, such as “Headliners”, “One Hundred Magnetic Albums of Russian Rock” and “Golden Underground”. Kushnir was engaged in PR for the groups Mumiy Troll, Zemfira, Dancing Minus, Guests from the Future and many others.

“Tender May” as a folk craft

Over the years, the attitude towards “Tender May” has changed dramatically. You can hardly find artists who in 1988 were perceived in one way, in 1990 in a different way, in 2008 they were forgotten about, and 15 years later they are perceived in a third way.

I would talk about the phenomenon and primitivism of the naive folk subculture. At the time of the appearance of “Tender May” there were three niches. One niche is Morning Mail on TV and Good Morning once a week on radio. The official vulgar, terrible, anti-human Soviet stage with the rarest exceptions in the form of, say, Pugacheva. The second niche is rock. And the third niche is the disco groups for the Crimean coast that appeared at that time, and here, it is clear that the Mirage group comes to mind first of all.

Alexander Shogin / TASS

And “Tender May” … I caught this crazy tape attack. He appeared very successfully in the heyday of the cooperative movement. Their reels and cassettes stood in stalls in the most visible place, and there were many such stalls – there were as many as five of them at the Three Stations. In the regions, at the stations in the stalls, “Tender May” played everywhere. They escaped from people to people along the shortest path, bypassing the “blue lights”, bypassing the Melodiya firm. Their music was simple and accessible – everyone immediately understood everything.

They recaptured a huge part of the audience from fans of discos and young fans of the Soviet stage. And, to my considerable surprise, they managed to beat off the unstable part of the public that listened to rock bands – mostly girls of 15 years old. “Tender May” was taken by genuine naivety, intelligibility, self-forgetfulness, piercing. It was an analogue of primitivist art in painting. Folk crafts are not only fishing in the northern seas. As it turned out, “Tender May” is also a folk craft. And, of course, the brilliant composer Sergey Kuznetsov and the brilliant marketing of Andrey Razin.

The difference between the management strategy of the Kino group and Laskovoy May

After Tsoi’s death, the cunning Aizenshpis immediately carried out, as he told me, “a series of pinpoint strikes”: he held press conferences, quickly released the Black Album. And at least a year reaped the fruits of this death (although it is probably not good to say so). The entire first year of “Kino” was in the top, and then began to decline in the year 1993. As for Tender May, their peak, of course, fell on a completely different time, in 1988-89, when everything was in order with Kino.

There were two or three classic albums of “Tender May” in 1988, and then albums began to be released in two categories. Yes, there really were new ones, to which new composers and almost new singers were connected, but at the same time albums were released, the producers of which were cooperative stalls. They just mixed songs from the first three or four.


Already there was a shaft – new composers were bought, contracts were concluded, songs were purchased. Strike while the iron is hot. On the so-called new album “Tender May” half of the songs could be from the previous ones, and almost without changes, with slightly new arrangements – but, of course, they were shoved at the end.

And Razin could not manage all the stalls in the country. He, of course, tried to constantly have some kind of work in the studio or even make live recordings. But there was a very strong element of spontaneous marketing, partisan advertising.

It was a big shovel in terms of pop management and marketing. The management of “Tender May” worked with the heads of trains. They did everything to ensure that this music sounded on the radio from morning to evening on long-distance trains.

Such a different “Tender May”

There were really a lot of vocalists in different compositions, more than ten, and it was important that, until the people dispersed, “White Roses” sounded in the voice of Shatunov. They were selected according to the age principle – roughly speaking, up to 18 years. However, this was not as important as the voice data. First of all, the appearance was important, either similar to Shatunov, or simply quite compassionate.

There were revolutionary technologies in their own way. You know, I recently ran into people who were at the concert of the fake Aquarium group and were sure that this was the real Aquarium. They realized that this was not the case when, only two years later, they saw the program “Musical Ring” on Channel One. And they ran around the apartment and shouted: “This is not the Aquarium! At my concert, a completely different person sang “The Silver of My Lord”!”

The management of “Tender May” generally acted very cunningly. In several stalls at the entrance to the stadium or to the house of culture, they sold cassettes, reels and photographs of the vocalist, where “Tender May” was written in crooked handwriting and there was an autograph. A man bought a photograph for a ruble, which might not even have a surname, and he could well think that this is Shatunov.

The legacy of “Tender May” and Yura Shatunov

The three main characters in “Tender May” – Shatunov, Razin, Kuznetsov – had everything in order with megalomania, and, I must admit, it was not unfounded. One left for Germany, the second tried to do his own projects, and the third partially went into politics.

After 1992, it is no longer necessary to seriously talk about “Tender May”. During the heyday of the Sharks of the Pen TV show, CDs quietly came to us, and when they began reissuing the cassettes of Tender May on CD, then there was another surge in its popularity. The second came with the return of vinyl, and I don’t know how it ended – it’s all more like reflections. A bright story lasted from 1988 to 1992.

As such, Laskovy May had no followers comparable in scope – and at the same time, we can safely say that the Mirage group had followers. If we consider the conditional group “The Little Prince” as a follower of “Tender May” – then yes, there were millions of them. But they are incomparable in scale.

Valery Sharifulin / TASS

In general, in 1992-93 it was just scary to go out into the street. They could shoot during the day. There was nothing to eat. And then a civilized show business appeared with the Ptyuch magazine, Meladze, Matvienko, Ivanushki, the Dream group, Mumiy Troll, Spleen. But then “Tender May” already turned out to be irrelevant.

I do not deny either the talent of Kuznetsov or the talent of Razin. Since I was directly involved in other breakthroughs, from the Trolls to Zemfira, I can see in hindsight how the talent of artists coincided with time. Shatunov’s talent coincided with the heyday of cooperative culture, and it all fell into one place: a talented composer, a talented vocalist and a talented promoter, and all this in the context of wild capitalism.

This formula proved to be effective for five years. I knew big aces from this tape subculture, and they once told me a long time ago that only the first two albums were well bought. Well, the rest, by inertia, but with numbers ten times smaller.

As for the death of Yura Shatunov, any death is hardly a holiday. It’s another matter, it’s easy to assume that a powerful wave of some nostalgic stories will appear, starting from the re-release of albums and ending with concerts with holograms. And I did not believe until the last that the Kino group without Tsoi, like the Doors group without Morrison, would be able to collect full houses. But it turns out that they can.

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