5 years before Katy Perry was batting her fake eyelashes and singing coquettishly about the oh-so-taboo indulgence of a same-sex kiss, two underage Russian pop stars stormed the stage of the MTV Movie Awards with a fleet of girls dressed in schoolgirl uniforms, throwing their fists up in the air riotously and engaging in a massive girl-on-girl make-out session.
“I Kissed A Girl,” scandalous? Oh, how quickly we forget.
When t.A.T.u burst into the American pop scene back in 2002, their dark, brooding dance-pop gems like “All The Things She Said” provided a sharp contrast to what was then a largely R&B-dominated pop landscape. That, and their Sapphic lyricism and controversial on-stage antics (the MTV Movie Awards performance predated the iconic Britney/Madonna/Christina trifecta kiss at the 2003 VMA’s by a few months), which inspired both delight and outrage alike.
Upon Julia’s pregnancy with her first child in 2004, when it was quickly “revealed” that the love between the members of t.A.T.u. was an act–or as some would argue, a performance piece–rather than two girls actually in love (despite the fact that they never claimed to be in their personal lives), critics scowled and wrote them off as fake, predating the arguments that now drone on endlessly on the blogosphere about the “authenticity” of artists like Lady Gaga and Lana Del Rey.
Others charged that the act was nothing more than a quick way to sell records in the form of fulfilling girl-on-girl fantasies. But as opposed to the sugarcoated, guilty-as-charged wink-wink of Katy Perry, there was never anything cheeky about t.A.T.u’s music: Rebellious anthems like “Not Gonna Get Us” and “All The Things She Said” provide an earnest charge for two lovers against the world, while songs like the utterly chilling “30 Minutes,” “Stars” and “Show Me Love” capture the anguish and alienation involved in a more forbidden kind of love. Even one of their most upbeat offerings, “Malchik Gay”–a song about falling in love with a gay man–is far more devastating than the bouncy beats might imply (“I try to keep on hoping for a way, a reason for us both to come in close/I long for you to hold me like your boyfriend does.”)
Though their popularity in America was ultimately short-lived, the band still made an impressive mark with their debut–and in the process, won themselves legions of dedicated fans that found solace in their music.
10 years later, as Top 40 radio in America has moved away from R&B and become increasingly saturated with Euro-infused club-pop anthems, t.A.T.u’s musical legacy has never felt quite so relevant. And perhaps even more important than their music, their message: Across the world, tension continues to mount in t.A.T.u’s homeland, where leaders have only shown themselves to be increasingly intolerant of LGBT equality in their policies, including a recent ban of pro-LGBT speech in St. Petersburg (which Madonna recently protested during her MDNA Tour stop in the city.)
That the group managed to find worldwide popularity a decade prior now seems nothing less than revolutionary.
A few weeks ago, Cherrytree Records announced that the group’s acclaimed debut, 200 km/h In The Wrong Lane, would be getting a full re-release this November in honor of the album’s 10th anniversary, including new remixes and a previously unheard track (“A Simple Motion.”) I had the opportunity to talk to the girls about their debut, the recording process, the music industry, and looking forward at what lies ahead. As a massive t.A.T.u. fan (to nearly embarrassing levels), it was a major treat.
And now, without further ado, a few words with t.A.T.u.
The year: 2002. The planet: Earth. ‘Twas a simpler time. A time when music really meant something. A time when a gorgeous Russian teenage duo dressed in schoolgirl uniforms set the world ablaze with their solid, Sapphic-themed pop classics, including “Not Gonna Get Us,” “All The Things She Said” and “All About Us.”
It was the Time of t.A.T.u.‘s Reign, when we were all truly invincible…and sort of pretending to be lesbians.
But after three incredible studio albums, the t.A.T.u. mega-machine sadly came whirring to a slow finish toward the end of 2010 with their final single, “Sparks.” Since then, the girls have parted ways and thrown in their uniforms to embark on their own solo careers.
While Lena Katina‘s already making her way independently, Julia Volkova has just only begun (having her fun), starting with her debut solo single: “Didn’t Wanna Do It.”