|They're back.... Tatu. |
The brainchild of video director Ivan Shapovalov, Tatu (pronounced "tattoo") is a well-marketed Russian singing duo made up of twenty-year-old Yulia "Julia" Olegovna Volkova, and twenty-one-year-old, Elena "Lena" Sergeevna Katina. This ultra-cute group were a mega-hit in Russia from their beginnings in 2000, thanks to savvy packaging and snappy pop songs. Dressed in schoolgirl uniforms, the teenagers (Lena's the redhead, Julia's the brunette) appeared on stage and in public as (cough, cough) lesbian lovers, kissing each other every chance they got.
The true nature of their relationship is part of the mystery and hype of the package, but nobody can argue the fact that their records sell. Their first album, "200 km/h in the Wrong Lane," was a top hit in Russia in 2001. On the strength of their videos and hit songs such as "All the Things She Said" and "Not Gonna Get Us," they carried their popularity internationally, making the leap from stars on MTV Russia to stars on MTV in the United States.
These days Tatu is touring the world while promoting their second album, "Dangerous and Moving." I recently had the opportunity to sit down with both Julia and Lena and chat about the lesbian rumor, Russia, music, and did I mention the lesbian rumor?
Chaunce Hayden: It's been several years since your last album. Would consider your new album, "Dangerous and Moving," a comeback?
Lena Katina: We're just happy to be back. We think this new album is even better than the first one. So we're really happy. We're playing concerts, so everything is okay.
Didn't one of you just have a baby?
Julia Volkova: I just had a baby! I want more children.
You're known as the wild one. Has being a mom calmed you down a bit?
Julia: I don't know. Ask Lena!
Lena: It's calmed her down just a little bit! Yulia's character is always the same. She's always crazy and energetic.
How old are both of you?
Lena: I'm 21 and Yulia will turn 21 in February.
How different are you from the two young girls who caused such a global commotion during the release of your first album five years ago?
Lena: We're much different, of course! We were only 15 years old during the first album.
Julia: Our point of view on things has changed.
Lena: Growing up is such a process of things changing every day.
Okay, let's just get to it. Are the two of you lesbians or what?
Lena: We never say if we're lesbians. We tell everybody that we just love each other. It was never about being a lesbian. We're just good friends. We're like a family. We're really close to each other. We're like sisters. Sometimes I'm like Yulia's mother. Sometimes she's like my mother. What else can I say on this topic?
During your first tour, you toyed with the lesbian image and the attention you got from it was enormous.
Lena: Yeah, I agree. But it's about the music and the message first. Our image and how we behave is second.
Do you ever get tired of having to clear up the lesbian rumors?
Lena: Yeah. We're a little bit tired of the question. We don't understand why everybody is so interested in this topic.
Why do you think?
Lena: I guess it's the most interesting thing. An artist's private life is always interesting. Everybody sees the artist on the stage, but nobody gets to see how they are in their private life. It's a psychology thing.
Not to mention the fact that men love young, hot lesbians.
Lena: (Laughs) That's a good point. But I don't know if that's true! What do you think?
I think men love lesbians because they hope somehow it will mean a threesome for them. That's just my personal point of view.
Lena: (Laughs) Maybe. I never heard about that! I have some male friends who have told me that their dream is to have a lesbian girlfriend. But I just don't know why!
Do you both still live in Moscow?
From what I see on television, Russia looks like a difficult place to live. Am I wrong?
Lena: It's very difficult to describe Russia because everywhere is different. Moscow is like a separate country. Moscow is Moscow, and then there's Russia.
Where do you find you have the most fans, here in the United States or back home in Russia?
Lena: You know, we have fans everywhere. In some countries we have just one fan, and in other countries we have thousands of fans. But everything is okay. We have fans all over the world.
Russia has changed a great deal since the fall of Communism. Are you too young to remember what Communism is?
Lena: Yeah, we're too young. But our parents remember that. We were born in '84 and '85, we were too small back then to remember.
What do you think of America?
Lena: We like America. Actually, Yulia wants to move here. Personally, I like Los Angeles because it's sunny and warm and the atmosphere is very relaxing. But for me, the only place I want to live is Moscow.
Lena: Of course! Very!
Here's a question for you. Why do so many young Russian women who come to America end up working as strippers?
Lena: I think it's just a money thing. It's hard to find a really good job in Russia. You have to be a highly educated person to get a good job.
One music critic described Tatu as a very scary band. Do you think you're a scary band?
Lena: (Yells) We're not a scary band! We're good girls!
Then why are people scared of you?
Lena: I don't know! Do you think we're scary?
A little. You're freaking me out for some reason.
Lena: Hang out with us for a few days and you'll see that we're not scary! We're just two small girls.
You mentioned earlier that your message is very important. What exactly is your message?
Lena: I will tell you that sexuality is not our message. Our message is to love each other and to respect each other and to be patient with each other. Because in this world, lots of people are mean and greedy and selfish. People think just about themselves. Nobody is sincere. Nobody is innocent. They're not honest. So our message is to be better! Be honest with everybody.
In your new video "All About Us," it seems like you're criticizing the media as well as sending a message about violence toward women.
Lena: We're just showing our reality. It's a pretty violent video. Every day a different young girl gets attacked. It's a problem. So we just want to say you have to be careful in this world. I have a question. Will you speak to Yulia for a couple of minutes? Because I really have to go to the bathroom!
Of course. Take your time. Guess it's just you and me, Julia.
Julia: I don't speak English very well. I'm sorry.
Why do I get the feeling that's going to be more of a problem for me than it is for you?
Julia: It's not a problem. I speak sometimes. If I want to, I speak.
Is English a difficult language to learn?
Julia: Yeah, it's hard. But when I speak to people, I try to learn English.
It's odd that you can sing so well in English, yet have such trouble with the language.
Julia: Singing in English is hard for me too. (Laughs) But I do it!
(Writer's note: Lena returns from the bathroom.)
Any problems with the Russian mafia?
Lena: (Laughs) We don't get involved in politics!
You've already posed for Maxim magazine. What about Playboy?
Lena: They asked us, but we won't do it.
Because they want you to get naked?
Lena: Yeah, and we don't want to be naked.
Does Ashlee Simpson suck as a singer?
Julia: Everybody does their own thing. It's their life. If they want to sing, okay.
Lena: We like all kinds of styles of music. Folk, rock, rap ...We just like music.
How do you feel about American television?
Lena: We don't watch American television.
Lena: First of all, we have no time. And secondly, if we're watching TV, it's usually movies in English in the hotel. But we mostly listen to the radio.
Both of you remind me of Avril Lavigne a little bit.
Lena: Yeah, we're very similar. I agree. But at times we can be very opposite. It's hard to explain. I'm more calm and Yulia is more energetic. When she has more than enough, I calm her down. And when I'm too calm, Yulia will pick me up and say, "Hey Lena, what is wrong with you! Be more energetic!"
Do you write your own songs?
Lena: Actually, we're not writing our own music. We have really good composers and really good lyric writers with us. They are our very good friends. They know everything that is happening with our lives. So they can write the music the way we see the world.
Julia: They write music about our lives, our thoughts, our problems, and the problems of teenagers in general.
What bothers you most?
How's that working out?
Lena: Of course it's hard. I was on the phone with my boyfriend right before this interview. I told him I have to hang up to talk to you and he started to yell, "Always your interviews. Always you're traveling! I miss you! Stay on the phone with me!" But I just hung up on him to talk to you.
He'll get over it.
Lena: He just doesn't get it. But he loves me very, very much. He just wants me to be more with him.
What's the average age of your fans?
Lena: Seven to seventy.
Lena: Yeah, in Russia we have grandparents come up to us after our shows and say, "Hey, girls, we love you so much. You're very good! Can you please give us your autograph?"
I get the feeling you're not going to have too many seventy-year-olds at your U.S. concerts. Just a gut feeling.
Lena: We'll just do our thing and see what happens.
Finally, what's your message to the world?
Lena and Julia: (Yell) LOVE EACH OTHER!
Steppin' Out Magazine, USA