Pussy Riot Singer on How Trump Is Like Putin, His Treatment of Women

"I don't want [Trump's] rhetoric to be acceptable in America and to influence the rest of the world," says Nadya Tolokonnikova

Pussy Riot's Nadya Tolokonnikova is featured on the new three-song EP, 'xxx,' out this Friday. Credit: Vianney Le Caer/REX/Shutterstock

Since he declared his candidacy for president, Donald Trump has blacklisted media outlets who fell out of his favor, threatened to jail his political opponent, promised to purge the government of employees appointed by President Obama and refashioned the right-wing website Brietbart as his own personal Pravda.

Over the last 18 months, Trump has essentially promised his administration would look a lot like those of the autocratic rulers he's expressed admiration for: Syria's Bashar al-Assad ("In terms of leadership, he's getting an A"), Iraq's Saddam Hussein ("You know what he did well? He killed terrorists"), North Korea's Kim Jong Un ("You gotta give him credit") and, of course, Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin, Trump has said, "has been a leader far more than our president has been." (Putin has returned Trump's affection, calling him "a really brilliant and talented person, without any doubt.”)

Nadya Tolokonnikova knows what life is like in a country like that. She, along with several fellow members of the punk feminist collective Pussy Riot, was jailed for staging a protest against Putin at the Russian Orthodox Church in 2012. So she speaks with a specific kind of authority when she warns Americans not to let what's happened in Russia happen here.

"I know a lot of people believe that [Trump] is just a clown, he will not win, so they will not [vote]. But I believe that it's fucking important," Tolokonnikova tells Rolling Stone.

"It is bad for [the] political and social climate in America, and in the world in general, that the candidate for president of the United States openly supports tyrants around the world like Putin or Assad," she says. "As someone who lived in a country where we had this type of guy as president for 16 years, I would say that it's not fun to live in this society. You don't have free speech, you don't have respect for yourself as women – we don't have it."

Tolokonnikova makes her case against the GOP nominee on Pussy Riot's new three-song EP, xxx, out this Friday. The record includes the Trump-skewering "Make America Great Again," the feminist anthem "Straight Outta Vagina" and "Organs," a political protest song in Tolokonnikova's native Russian.

For all her concerns about Trump's similarities to Putin, Tolokonnikova says the single "Make America Great Again" actually grew out of conversations with her collaborator, Ricky Reed (one half of the duo Wallpaper). "I came to his studio in December of last year and I asked him, 'What are your problems with politics? Tell me about your problems.' Basically, our friendship started as political psychotherapy," she says, laughing. "When he told me about his worries about Donald Trump, I was like, 'Yes, of course, we definitely need to solve this problem right now.' Because I believe the best way to solve your problems is art."

It took a while to find the right tone for the song. "Obviously we wanted to say, 'Fuck Trump,' and we were tempted to do that. But we decided at the end of the day we wanted to reach people who are undecided – undecided voters," she says. "So we were trying to write lyrics that were more or less making arguments for why Donald Trump is not good dude for [the] presidency."

In the video for "Make America Great Again," Tolokonnikova, in exaggerated Trump drag, offers a different prescription for American renewal: "Let all the people in/Listen to your women/Stop killing black children/Make America great again."

The first song off the EP, "Straight Outta Vagina," also has a special resonance in the waning weeks of this election: It's a kind of call to women everywhere to seize the power of the pussy. "My pussy, my pussy, is sweet just like a cookie/It goes to work/It makes the beats/It's CEO – no rookie/From senator to bookie, we run this shit, go lookie," Leikeli47 raps on the song.

Tolokonnikova, who was a vocal Bernie Sanders supporter during the primary, now supports Hillary Clinton. "I wish it was a choice right now between Bernie and Hillary, because I believe then we would have a real political conversation," she says. "Right now it's not a rational discussion."

She adds that women in particular should be worried about the threat of Trump if he won. He's a misogynist – it's obvious just looking at him, she says. "I think almost every woman – every woman – knows this kind of face. When I see Trump, I see my prison boss. I see my prison official. I see in his face, in his gestures, in his words, that type of dude who humiliated me throughout my life, and I don't want this kind of person to be the head of country," she says.

"His words about 'pussy,' that tape, it is disgusting. And I have to say, as a Russian citizen, this kind of rhetoric would not surprise anybody in Russia. If this kind of tape would have leaked about Putin, everybody would praise him for doing that. And that's scary. That's scary to live in this kind of society," she says.

"I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't want this kind of rhetoric to be acceptable in America and to influence the rest of the world."