|Their racy video was banned from Top Of The Pops, but their song reached number one. TATU, the raunchy Russian duo, retreated to Moscow, but now they're back and tell DAVID THOMAS why they've dumped the Svengali manager who wanted people to believe they were gay. |
Julia Volkova and Lena Katina, the controversial Russian pop duo Tatu, are posing for a photo shoot. Julia, the dark, sultry one, is gazing in the mirror of a make-up compact. Lena, the curvier one, lies down beside her. In February 2003, Tatu took Britain by storm with their single All The Things She Said, It's video banned by Top Of The Pops, featured the two girls in school uniforms, kissing passionately. Media mayhem ensued, sending tatu straight to number one. Their album 200 km/h In The Wrong Lane sold more than two million legal copies, plus another two million bootlegs in Russia.
Now, Julia is the mother of a one-year-old daughter, Victoria, fathered by her ex-lover, Russian karate champion Pasha Sidorov.
Lena looks forward to the day when she'll be a mother too. Tatu are anything but gay.
'We didn't pretend to be lesbians,' says Lena, 'We just love eachother. We are really close because we have known each other for ten years, so we're like sisters, family. But nobody believed us.'
Julia speaks much less English than Lena, who does most of the talking. Occasionally, Julia delievers the odd crude, but effective remark. 'We never say we are lesbians,' she suddenly rasps in her gravelly voice. 'No, we don't bull****.'
Other people spread plenty of it on their behalf, though; such as their ex-manager Ivan Shapovalov. A child psychologist turned ad man, he recruited the girls in 2000, declaring that, 'The audience always needs new images, For this project the new image was teenage lesbians.'
Shapovalov came up with the name Tatu, which is short for the Russian phrase, 'Tadyevushka lubit tu,' or 'This girls loves that one.'
He made sure the girls were photographed hugging and kissing. He orgaised outrageous stunts- such as his claim, in March 2003, that Tatu would have an under water gay wedding ceremony in a swimming pool in Holland.
At first, the scandal sold records. But the tabloid backlash soon followed. Old boyfriends were produced to prove that Tatu's lesbianism was a con. One young Russian, Anton Khrulev, clamied that Julia had an affair with both him and his brother.
(Picture of school All the things she said in uniforms)
When journalists met Tatu, the girls were uncooperative, refusing to answer questions and walking out of photo shoots. By May 2003, their career seemed over; a UK tour was scrapped, and Tatu disappeared off the radar.
Yet now they're both 20/21, and back with a new single, 'All About Us', a classic pop song that sounds like a 21st century Abba with a chorus that clings like a limpet to one's brain.
It seems a certain hit. And, if that's surprising, so are the girls. Far from being moody, they say 'Hello' sweetly. When I pour Lena a cup of tea she thanks me politely, while Julia asks if it's okay to light a cigarette.
Lena ascribes their former moody attitude to the fatigue of two teenagers thrown onto the pop treadmill. 'People think when we are speaking slow, not telling them much, that we don't want to speak with them. They don't think it's hard to be a singer and have 20 interviews a day. Before, we wanted to be with our boyfriends but we had to do interviews.' she smiles.
'Now it's okay.'
So what happens to Julia's baby?
'She's in Moscow with my parents and two nannies.' says Julia.
Lena adds, 'It's hard, but it's the future for Julia's daughter and my future children. We have to think about what will be there for them.'
These girls are realists, products of the new Russia. They were raised in an unregulates economy that brought poverty to millions while making billionaires of men such as Chelsea FC's owner, Roman Abramovich.
'We were too young to think about money,'says Lena.
'I grew up with my mother and step father, sister and grandmother, in one apartment. I remember standing in line to buy things. I know what it's like not to have food.'
Both girls studied music from six to fourteen. 'We met in a children's band when we were ten and did shows around the world,' says Lena.
They were fifteen when they met Ivan Shapovalov. Says Lena: 'There was a casting: me and Julia were together and Ivan chose us.'
Tatu made the girls famous, but at a price.
'We had no adolescence,' says Lena. 'But the people who were drinking beer and smoking when we were working are still there, while we've achieved a lot.'
When Tatu apparaently finished, the girls returned to Moscow. Julia had her baby, and Lena went to university. 'I'm still studying psychology,' she says. 'When I finish these interviews, I start my exams!' But, after a while, the girls decided they wanted to be pop stars again. With the backing of America's Interscope label, they recorded a new album 'Dangerous and Moving'. Lena explains, 'I couldn't just do nothing. I want to travel, to do shows and record our songs.'
It was not, she insists, a matter of money - but rather about changing the world. 'We want to make people understand that their life is in their own hands. You have to feel here,' she pumps her fist against her heart. 'because to live without love, that's impossible.'
There's something ridiculous, but oddly endearing, about Tatu's earnestness. In the end, though, they won't get back into the charts because of their philosophical significance, but because there babes with a great single.
A few weeks ago, the played a comeback gig at London nightclub. 'It was a real event for us,' says Lena. 'The people were screaming, dancing and singing with us.'
So Tatu are back, they're nice and they're definately NOT lesbians. It's a pity that the first place at which they paraded their new image was a venue called GAY - Glam As You.
Daily Mail, Weekend (UK)