Via YouTube

What we talk about when we talk about Pussy Riot has changed, dramatically, in the years since the group first appeared in mainstream U.S. news in 2012. Back then, three members wound up on trial for an act in which they performed the song “Punk Prayer” in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, leading to their arrest and charges including “hooliganism.”

Up until that point, “Pussy Riot” had remained an anonymous, masked collective, largely focused on radical feminism and using music mostly as an easy means to quickly get a message across. They weren’t really a band, proper, despite how media interpreted their artistic output.

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In the ensuing years, what Americans refer to as “Pussy Riot” has really become the pair of Masha Alekhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova (they even appeared at Fusion’s own Rise Up event last year). And while Pussy Riot was more of a radical art collective before, Alekihina and Tolokonnikova, usually billed under the group’s name, are increasingly doing band-like things together. That’s included appearing at mostly band-populated festivals and now, releasing their first English-language song and music video, “I Can’t Breathe.”

Yep, it’s intended to come across in solidarity with Eric Garner, down to imagery of a pack of cigarettes lying on a fresh grave.

And here’s where we veer into questions over what is appropriate in the act of being an ally. “I Can’t Breathe” certainly intends to come across as a message of solidarity, but it falls short of amplifying the stories of Garner and others like him.

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Instead, it appears to uncomfortably shift the narrative back onto Alekhina and Tolokonnikova’s own experiences. “We’ve known, on our own skin, what police brutality feels like and we can’t be silent on this issue,” they told Buzzfeed.

“Illegal violence in the name of the state kills not only its victims, but those who are chosen to carry out these actions,” the group also told Buzzfeed.  And indeed, Alekhina and Tolokonnikova have experienced police brutality in their home country — but, to put it bluntly, their experiences just don’t correlate with Garner’s and his peers. Despite their own struggles, it is near impossible for the pair to fully understand the experience of a person of color confronting, daily, systemic racism and policing in the U.S.

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The song “I Can’t Breathe” brings up important food for thought. Is the celebrity of Alekhina and Tolokonnikova eclipsing the original message of Pussy Riot, the anonymous, radical collective? When someone does reach that level of celebrity, how should they best use their platform to amplify stories of those without that platform? Where do we wind up on a social action road paved with good intentions but marred with missteps in execution?

What do you think? Check out the song below.

Arielle Castillo is Fusion's culture editor, reporting on arts, music, culture, and subcultures from the streets on up. She's also a connoisseur of weird Florida, weightlifting, and cats.