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t.A.T.u. - "They wailed like sexually frustrated Barbies"

Sat 20 Oct 2007 In: Music View at Wayback View at NDHA

t.A.T.u. In 2003, the Russian duo Lena Katina and Yulia Volkova of t.A.T.u. lauched post-Soviet schoolgirl lesbian chic onto the world market. They rapidly became Russia's most successful musical export. Who can forget All The Things She Said or, in Russian: Ya Soshla S Uma where those high-pitched voices wail demanding lyrics like "This is not enough" while the video plays Katina and Volkova dressed in school-uniform and kissing behind chain-link fences in the Russian rains. It was lesbianism that even Japanese students and New Zealand suburban boys could understand. It was Sapphism for the MTV audience. It was soft enough to appeal to young women dreaming of slumber parties and hard enough to rouse illegal fantasies in the minds of male beholders. It was exploitative. It was sexy. It was stylish. You actually wanted to be a lesbian after watching a Lesbians just had more fun, obviously. And later in t.A.T.u.'s third video, Prostye Dvizheniya, just to reinforce the fairly mixed messages of the group, we got to watch Katina drinking water and reading a book while Volkova masturbated. t.A.T.u. were created by Ivan Shapovalov and his friend/business partner Alexander Voitinskyi, and t.A.T.u. remain the only musical group conceptualised around Internet search terms: "I saw that most people look up pornography on the Internet," said Shapovalov, "and of those, most are looking for underage sex. I saw their needs weren't fulfilled. Later, it turned out, I was right." So 15-year-old Katina and 14-year-old Volkova were pawns in Shapovalov's XXX-fantasy. Originally called tatu (where the Russian feminine possessive and 'that' (feminine) could roughly be translated as 'that girl my girl' or 'I'm in love with that girl' if you really wanted to push things), tatu had to change their name to t.A.T.u. because an Australian group, now lost to music history, was also called tatu. It was a neat bit of globalisation in action. The girls themselves were expertly stage-managed. Stringent rules were laid out for Katina and Volkova. No autographs. Only give brief answers to the press, if at all. They could not speak about their sexual activities or their personal lives. Volkova, for example, was ordered to ignore questions from reporters, frown, and look clearly upset to further the contrast between herself and Katina. Then Shapovalov directed the video. It took Eastern Europe's under-age sex stylings to new heights. The girls moped. They were dressed in school uniform. They kissed. They wailed like sexually-frustrated Barbies. It first screened on MTV Russia and, naturally, gained the viewers award for best video. Then t.A.T.u were released upon the world with an English version of the album and the video.... They sold a million copies in Europe, topped the English charts and tackled America. They were topless for magazine covers. They were belligerently Russian for American chat shows. They were the Russian entry into Eurovision. They were TV reality shows in Russia. But it all began unravelling. They were revealed as not being lesbians. The documentaries showed Shapovalov's methods as controlling to the degree that Volkova and Katina barely appeared on their second album. And, really, that was it. Despite winning more Russian MTV awards, more albums, more compilations, t.A.T.u. were reduced to a long-running reality show of dubious merit. Volkova had two children. Katina studied psychology at Moscow U. But for a moment, it all seemed worth it. With particular Russian directness they had got to a heart of the modern dream: it was all about underaged lesbianism. And they had all exploited it to the max. They were a hit. They were stars. They made millions. "This is not enough" they wailed, and ultimately it wasn't, but for a global instant, it was for all of us. Btw, the Russian version of All the Things She Said is the better video - the English version is just it recut to mask the fact that Volkova and Katina aren't singing in English and it loses something thereby... David Herkt - 20th October 2007    

Credit: David Herkt

First published: Saturday, 20th October 2007 - 5:25pm

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