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Tatu's Teen Queens: Lesbian Tunes By Alexander Bratersky , March 27, 2001


A large truck is stolen from an airport parking lot. It charges down a wintry highway at high speed, apparently paying little or no attention to road signs. A worker dressed in an orange vest tries to stop the vehicle, but is instead run over by it, as it continues on.

Who's behind the wheel? Two teenage girls. But no ordinary teenage girls, mind you. This is the controversial pop duo Tatu, which rocketed to fame this year with their hit "Ya Soshla s Uma," or "I've Lost My Mind," which tells the story of a lesbian love affair between two young girls. And the scene described above is their latest music video - "Nas Ne Dogonyat," or "They Won't Catch Us."

Formed last year by psychologist-turned-advertising-guru Ivan Shapovalov, Tatu became extraordinarily popular among teenage listeners with the release of a single song: "I've Lost My Mind." "I've gone mad/I need her" (Ya soshla s uma/Mne nuzhna ona) go the lyrics, written by television journalist and poet Yelena Kipper, formerly of NTV's "Prok" consumer program.

Despite the song's theme, however, Shapovalov denies that Tatu's Lena Katina, 16, and Yulia Volkova, 15, are artists whose work is as single-themed as a debut song about a lesbian relationship might lead some to conclude.

"This project has many sides," Shapovalov recently told music magazine Neon. "And I don't intend to limit any of them. That's my view of the world and I'm sure that everything Tatu will do in the future will be contemporary, sexy and with a cultish kind of appeal."

Shapovalov need not worry. Katina and Volkova - by granting few interviews, keeping their private lives private and communicating with fans only via e-mail, have already achieved something of the cult figure standing he hoped for.

Nevertheless, despite their reputation for being standoffish with the press, both girls were ready to talk one day late last month. "We wanted to do something original, to be different from everyone else," said Volkova, a smiling brunette, at the Champion entertainment complex, where she is a regular. "I was so happy when I saw the [first] video and said to Lena, 'Can you believe that we're Tatu!'" Volkova and Katina, who were chosen by Shapovalov from among 500 hopefuls at a Moscow casting call last year to form Tatu, weren't total newcomers to music _ they'd both been members of the school chorus.

Katina added that she'd always taken the subject of "I've Lost My Mind" very seriously. "When I sing it, it goes through me," she said. "Before, this kind of love was forbidden, but those people are just like us. Sometimes, I even think that with Yulia [Volkova], I feel more than friendship."

Volkova, who is a student at the Gnesinsky School of Music and wants to keep singing, has a similar emotional reaction to the group's debut single, even admitting that the song made her cry once. "It's a song about love between two girls," Volkova said. "But I think it has some references to suicide, because if a person is alone, he starts thinking about killing himself. It's like we've both gone mad and nobody in the world can help us."

While it's unclear if a song about a lesbian love affair will lead to suicides, many critics apparently feel that the influence of the band poses a threat to its audience of young girls. "Of course, there's been some noise about the lesbian theme," Yekaterina Ignatova, editor of Yes magazine for young girls, was quoted as saying by OM earlier this spring. "And I don't like what Tatu is doing and I don't think it's right to mock these girls this way.

"I don't like this kind of speculation. I don't think it's right to confuse girls this way. It's like with drugs - there are just certain topics that shouldn't be used to make money."

OM, a glossy magazine directed at a young adult audience, even dedicated an article (by journalist Boris Barabanov) to Tatu asserting that bands like this one use a homosexual angle to attract attention. Despite claims of a menace to society, however, psychologist Vladimir Shakhidzhanyan, author of the sex almanac "One Thousand and One Questions About It," said that such influences are minimal.

"The percentage of homosexual relationships isn't going to change," he said. "Can Tatu help to raise the number of lesbians in a society? Of course not."

But the controversy has certainly been a boon for Tatu - the band recently signed a contract with the Russian arm of Universal Studios to record three albums by the end of 2002. The monetary sum agreed upon was not disclosed.

Despite their success, however, the girls are realistic, even cynical, about their stardom. "Show business is a dirty word," Volkova said. "Everyone talks about it, but you have to live there to know. If I'm nice, a good girl, I won't finish first. I have to be smart, be a snake, in order to be successful." Katina is even more straightforward. "Show business is just a pile of shit," she said.

Moscow Times, Moscow, Russia ( http://www.themoscowtimes.com )

March 27, 2001

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