Two female singers kissing in a video. What could possibly be memorable with that?
It must be t.A.T.u. !
For a moment in 2002, Russian duo t.A.T.u. were the most talked about, well the most talked about of anything and everything there could possibly be! Lena Katina (b.1984) and Julia Volkova (b.1985) released the first single from their second album, “All The Things She Said” that Summer and it caused jaws to drop. That is the video did, not the song! Julia and Lena met in 1997 when they joined the group Neposedy, which also included Sergey Lazarev, who would later go on to represent Russia at the 2016 and 2019 Eurovision Song Contest. The girls stayed just two years before deciding to ‘go it alone, together’. They released their debut single “Ya Soshla S Uma” (I Went Mad) in 2000, the lead single from their first long player “200 Po Vstrechnoy” (200km Against The Traffic). Although it failed to chart, the song did pave the way for the album, which also included the singles “Nas Ne Dogonyat” (They Won’t Catch Us) and “30 Minut” (30 Minutes), which broke the top ten on the Russian singles chart.
The album would go on to sell over a million copies in Russia and now that the girls were becoming household names, it was time to capitalise and get writing for a follow up. That came in August 2002 with the new single “All The Things She Said”. Or was it a ‘new single’? In reality, the song was actually a reworked version of their debut “Ya Soshla S Uma” with different lyrics! The world outside Russia was oblivious to that fact but what was picked up on was the video, engineered by the girls manager Ivan Shapovalov. It caused a storm and enormous critical outrage in many countries for promoting underage lesbianism with many banning the video and even the song. When that happens, it can only lead to one thing. Success! The song reached the top ten in 33 countries around the globe and topped the chart in fifteen of those countries, including the UK. The video became the first Russian music video to reach over one billion views on YouTube and the song has gone on to sell over five million physical copies to date.
t.A.T.u. released their second studio album, “200 km/h In The Wrong Lane” soon after. The album topped the charts in many countries across Europe, selling over 800,000 copies in America, two million in Japan and a million in Russia. The girls followed this with the single “Not Gonna Get Us” which went top ten in most countries it was released including the UK and a top spot on the US Dance club songs chart. A re-issue of “30 Minutes” and a cover of The Smith’s “How Long Is Now?” followed. Both were moderate hits across Europe. Although the ‘magic’ experienced with “All The Things She Said” had somewhat worn off, t.A.T.u. were now hot property and more importantly, global.
2003 was a busy year for t.A.T.u. with promoting the album and singles around the world. That Spring they represented Russia at the Eurovision Song Contest with “Ne Ver, Ne Boisya” (Don’t Believe, Don’t Be Afraid, Don’t Ask For). The duo came third with 164 points. The single was included on a remix album that same year, while the girls spent most of 2004 writing and recording for a third album. The first single “All About Us” was released in September 2005 and put the girls back in the top ten in twenty countries worldwide. Their third album “Dangerous And Moving” came the following month. It would prove less of a success to its predecessor selling just 90,000 copies in the US. Two further singles, “Friend Or Foe” and “Gomenasai” were also released, with the former charting in Russia and Italy and the latter only just making the singles chart in their home country.
A greatest hits album was released in 2006 with very limited appeal, but it did include one brand new track, “Loves Me Not”, which was a hit in Russia, Slovakia and South Korea! The following year t.A.T.u released the Russian language album “Vesyolye Ulybki” (Happy Smiles) and the singles “Beliy Plaschik” (White Robe), “220” and “You And I”, all of which charted in Russia. t.A.T.u. had come full circle, with their only assured chart success now coming from their homeland. But Lena and Julia had one more delivery to make before they called it a day. “Waste Management” was their fourth and ultimately, final English language album, released in 2009. The album made the top five in Russia and Mexico, while the lead single “Snowfalls”, failed to even make the Russian top 100. Following a tour in America, Russia and Europe that took them into the early months of 2011, they both announced that the group was finished and that they would pursue solo careers from now on.
Lena released her debut album “This Is Who I Am” in 2014 that included her chart topping debut single “Never Forget” and the hit single “Lift Me Up”. She followed this with “Esta Soy Yo” (This Is Me) in 2016. Her latest album, “Mono”, was released earlier this year (2019). Julia has released a number of one-off singles, beginning with “All Because Of You” in 2011, but without any albums being released. She instead has taken a different path as an actress appearing in a number of films and TV shows in Russia. The girls reunited in 2012 to appear on The Voice: Romania, where they performed “All The Things She Said” and “All About us”. They next popped up in 2016 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Neposedy, along with Sergey Lazarev, who by now had come third at that year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Both Lena and Julia have busy solo careers as well as having families. Julia gave birth in 2004 to a daughter and Lena in 2014 to her husband Sasha Kuzmanović, to whom she had married a year earlier. So far, both members of t.A.T.u. refuse to regroup or perform together again, although there have been a number of internet campaigns to ‘entice’ both to reform. It could happen, perhaps not for another decade or so…the girls still have their school uniforms from the video, so anything is possible!