The last thing I remember hearing about the Russian pop group t.A.T.u was that their producer, Ivan Shapovalov, admitted the entire thing was a hoax. If you don’t remember them, part of the controversy surrounding their act was was speculation into their sex lives. Lena Katina and Yulia Volkova were two 18-year-olds thrust into a media machine, with a synthetic queer narrative being given to them by their producer (who is, by all accounts, a pretty creepy, disgusting dude). They performed this role by kissing and being affectionate with one another on stage. I don’t want to release them completely from culpability in participating in this synthetic queer narrative, but both of them have publicly stated that it was not their idea and it wasn’t their decision. Their “girl you know it’s, girl you know it’s” moment came in late 2003, when a Russian TV station aired a documentary, Anatomy of a t.A.T.u, that revealed that they were both straight. I heard all of this secondhand from my friend Debbie, standing in her bathroom and helping her bleach her hair. Debbie was the first person to introduce me to t.A.T.u and had played their single “All The Things She Said” on repeat for months. Even after finding this out she still loved their music.
Lyrics to “All The Things She Said” can be found here.
The story of the song is one familiar to a lot of queer people—two young people meet, fall in love, want to spend every waking moment with one another, but those around them contrive to keep them apart. Sometimes lovers are separated by being sent to another school or to a conversion camp, sometimes one or both of them are murdered. In April an Austin man killed his daughter’s girlfriend and the woman’s mother at the entrance to their home because he didn’t approve of his daughter’s relationship. Queer sexuality is strictly policed, in private and public life, and it is so much worse when you are young.
Apart from the truth of the stage presence t.A.T.u inhabited, there were people who found something in their music. It is the same as when we acknowledge that the Spice Girls were a marketing tool to sell watered-down empowerment to teens that may have accidentally caused some people to believe in “Girl Power” as a personal concept and might have positively impacted their lives. I will be forever grateful for the slow sex jam “2 become 1” for reminding me to “be a little bit wiser” and “put it on, put it on”—if the Spice Girls used protection, so could I. Even things that are created for completely cynical reasons can have a positive impact.
I reached out to my Twitter followers yesterday morning, to find out if anyone remembered t.A.T.u. One of the editors from Tiger Beatdown, Flavia Dzodan, sent me a few live videos from Eurovision, drawing my attention to the lack of close-ups in one video, noting that the producers were afraid of Katina and Volkova kissing. Here is the tweet from Flavia, here is a link to the performance, and this a link to the lyrics in English. Watching the video, whoever was running the cameras did make a concerted effort to avoid placing the two singers in frame at the same time. Which means that the producers were policing and censoring the queer behavior of two straight people, who were being styled as queer by a third straight person to get the attention from the all-important straight male 18-35 demographic. As per usual, queer sex is hidden behind several different layers of censorship. You can see the lesbians, but they have to be played by straight ladies and they must be heavily censored. When they are affectionate with each other they must not progress past kissing, giggling, and hair flips. Anything else would be a little too much like real queer sex, where people don’t just giggle and toss soapy water at each other for hours—they, you know, fuck.
Previously: The Exposure Myth