(Turbo-Folk) Songs My Mother Taught Me – Lessons from the Balkan women in my life: Turbo-folk singers

The dynamic between the Balkan mother and the turbo-folk singer is like no other. Akin to a fraught mother-daughter relationship, these women and their music are decried as white trash, whilst their clothing (or what little there is of it) invokes a disapproving stare or worse – the combination shaking head and pout.

(Sometimes the Balkan mother might go further by signing the Orthodox cross on herself and yelling God
help me, but this sight is reserved only for the most serious of mis-haps).

Luckily, being homosexual, I do not need to deal with the nuances of this relationship. In fact, I am lucky
enough that I can look at these women as platforms to learn from. Rooted in that moment of the 2000s where euro-trash reigned supreme, their aesthetic has become one which is close to my heart and provides me with a sense of comfort. And, the sounds of autotuned female voices layered over techno, like Cher on steroids, form a kind of irresistible call. Little musical merit is actually present in these songs but that’s not really the point. The women themselves come from their own hyper-feminine aesthetic, their replicas and emblems rather than people, but it’s this which makes them fun, they’re almost untouchable goddesses who in-fact can be accessed at most European clubs for 20 euros or under.

So, what have I learned from these women and what life lessons can I pass on?

Lesson 1 – Don’t marry someone who will embezzle money. Something that should be a simple lesson in life has only become more pronounced the more I learn about these women, it’s a lesson I shall forever be
grateful to them for teaching me.

Lesson 2 – Do not critique others’ singing on TV if one or more Serbian women are watching (even if you
happen to be a paid judge on this TV show). This, I happen to have learned the hard way. Being subjected to a tirade about the state of modern womanhood and who, or where we should derive authority from (if we happen to be on a singing competition – of which I have never participated in) was not on my bingo card for this year. It might prove entertaining in the moment, but such displays of emotions are rarely good for the body.

Lesson 3 – Try not to sing these women’s songs in the shower. This one I also learned the hard way, whilst
it’s testament to the irresistible pull of turbo-folk music, others in your household might not consider it that way. Consideration is important.

Lesson 4 – Do not, under any circumstances praise these women to other family members unless you are
absolutely certain that they share in your praises. These seem to be a list of lessons I have learned the hard way. What might be considered expressions of fun and life could have deep political undertones (this is the Balkans after all) and unless you are willing to be subjected to laments about your music taste and its national implications, it is best to keep this to yourself.

Lesson 5 – Smoking. The uses of the cigarette in the turbo-folk music video are varied, and I do not have
space to delve into all its implications. But the cigarette for these women is more than just an addiction, it’s an emotional prop – the way one holds the cigarette can be used to symbolise happiness, sadness, self-
reflection. I could go on, but the multitudes of the cigarette have never been clearer to me than when watching these videos.