Graham Reid | | 2 min read
This Russian duo of Lena Katina and Yulia Volkova might have been created and marketed by Moscow producer Ivan Shapovalov with all the ruthless and media-savvy smarts of Malcolm McLaren, but at least they were interesting.
Photoshoots, handholding and interviews suggested the two young girls -- both in their early teens -- might have been lesbians . . . but they played it up with such kitsch-cool you could only smile and enjoy the obvious charade. And be sorry for anyone who took it seriously.
But humourless right-wing media and gay activists who found common ground -- about a pop group?? -- seemed to.
Idiots all of them. This was pop/fun. No more, no less.
What was interesting about t.A.T.u. -- aside from their manufactured quality and inherent sexual attraction -- was that they actually had some synth-pop talent. Both had previously been in the children's band Neposedi (which means fidgety kids) so had were groomed in stagecraft and performance, much like those Disney kids Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears who went on to greater fame (and notoriety).
On their debut album t.A.T.u. did a convincingly dark and rather faithful version of the Smiths' How Soon is Now which emphasised the "need to be loved" aspect. And Stars managed to bring together North African saxophone tones with distorted rap. (A demo for a song about the NATO bombings in Yugoslavia was dropped.)
But most of the album 200km/h in the Wrong Lane -- the English-language version released a year after the Russian edition -- was innuendo-laden and astutley not gender-specific dance pop and, six years before Katy Perry scored with I Kissed A Girl, they delivered All the Things She Said.
The lyrics by Elena Kiper were prompted by her dream of kissing another woman. The English-language version also credits Trevor Horn who produced a number of tracks on the English-language album, which also included Russian-language versions of Not Gonna Get Us and All the Thing She Said and a couple of remixes.
Less confident than Perry's playful and coy I Kissed a Girl ("you're my experimental game", and Perry says she still has a boyfriend), All the Things She Said finds a young girl as a ball of confusion after a declaration of love by (and physical encounter with) another girl.
"I feel totally lost . . . being with you has opened my eyes, could I ever believe such a perfect surprise . . . I'm all mixed up, feeling cornered and rushed . . . I want her so much . . . I can try to forget but it's driving me mad . . . have I crossed the line?"
This was serious stuff -- and driven by a memorable hook and beat.
t.A.T.u. (which stands for, in translation, "she loves her") didn't last long in the spotlight -- the second album was much delayed -- and while they revealed they were never lesbians (hmmm, guessed that already) they continued to support gay rights.
They also -- as did many of McLaren's artists -- disassociate themselves from their manager.
They have continued to perform up until very recently.
So although they didn't set the world alight, but they did leave more than just some suggestive photos behind.
And in All the Things She Said a slice of pop which actually had something more to say than bullshit-coy Oops I Did It Again or I Kissed a Girl.
For more one-offs, oddities or songs with an interesting backstory see the daily updates From the Vaults.