Regina Spektor: Language as a Means of Love

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Singer-songwriter Regina Spektor has defined her career through lingual mobility similar to how her childhood was defined by cultural mobility.

Spektor was born in the Soviet Union to Russian-Jewish artists Ilya and Bella Spektor in 1980. According to All Music, She trained in classical piano starting at the age of seven. Her family became refugees when Russia allowed emigration for the first time through the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society due to the Soviet Union’s discrimination towards Jews. As refugees, her family traveled to Austria and Italy before moving to the Bronx borough of New York City in 1989.

Musical Training and Russian Inspirations

Despite being formally trained in classical piano, Spektor moved to indie pop after finding that her classical skills wouldn’t get her the success she hoped for. Her early album, “Soviet Kitsch,” features songs focuses on the culture of the U.S.S.R., with criticism of corruption and contempt for capitalism.

Spektor’s song, “Ghost of Corporate Future” from “Soviet Kitsch.”

“Soviet Kitsch” allowed Spektor to express the painful aspects of her childhood. According to Foreign Affairs, the U.S.S.R.’s antisemitic policies made Jews fall victim to poverty, discrimination and pogroms. She grew up, like many Soviet Jews, in poverty. Leaving the Soviet Union at age 9, she was forced to leave her piano.

“[Post-Soviet Union Russia] doesn’t feel like home; it feels like a kind of ancestral land where I’m in love with a culture that doesn’t really exist. My Russia has gone.”

Regina Spektor IN the Guardian

Spektor moved to the U.S. before learning English and struggled with her family being the only Russian-Jewish family in Bronx. She attended a Jewish day school until transferring to a public school in New Jersey. She later attended the Observatory of Music at Purchase College, where she graduated with honors.

Spektor talking about her life as a mom, what her experiences of grief have been like, and growing up in Russia and New York City, U.S.A.

Communicating as a TCK Through Bilingual Music

Spektor’s success has largely come from her ability to engage audiences internationally. As a polyglot, she sings in French, Russian and English and can read Hebrew. Due to lingual fluidity creating the tone for her music, she communicates the intense emotions associates with losing her first home and creating a new one.

While some songs are exclusively sung in English or Russian, others combine verses in multiple languages to communicate a story that cannot be done in just one language. As a Third Culture Kid (TCK) herself, this method is used to express how certain emotions get lost in movement and translation.

Unlike many TCKs, she had one other person who she could always share her struggles with. According to a piece Spektor wrote, her cousin Marsha came to the U.S. a few years earlier and they attended school together after Spektor immigrated.

Spektor’s song “Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)” is sung in both English and French.

Musical Success

Spektor’s musical success came from her associations with the anti-folk music scene in New York. Her music has worked to blend her lyrics across languages and genres. According to an interview with Billboard, she doesn’t believe that genres define her music.

In her early performances, she had immense support from her parents in her musical career. The Strokes helped shape her career by having her as their opening act in their tour. Recently, she’s received an Emmy nomination for her song “You’ve Got Time,” which served as the theme in Netflix’ “Orange is the New Black.”

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