If you were alive in the early 2000’s and near a radio or TV you probably heard of the band t.A.T.u, a russian girl duo consisting of Lena Katina and Julia Volkova. They burst onto the international music scene if their mega huge hit “All The Things She Said”. While a great pop song on it’s own right (all these years later and it still tops polls on billboard polls) it featured something that was considered very shocking at the time. A same sex kiss between the singers and the content of the song was definitely queer. At the time of the recording of the original Russian version (the much more techno Ya Soshla S Uma/ I have lost my mind) both singers were only around 15 years old. By the time the song was translated into english and re-worked it they were around 16, with their English album’s debut,17. What is important to remember is not only were these two minors, they both spoke very little or no English (Lena speaking some but Julia speaking very,very little at all and learning English lyrics and interview answers by route/phonetically). They kissed and danced provocatively on stage and in videos and answered interview questions in the most lewd,scandalous and provocative ways possible.Often asserting that they were together as a couple or having sex.This was all a creation of their very creepy manager Ivan Shapavolov. He told them what to say, what to wear, how to dance and the two had no control or recourse.
It was speculated that they weren’t really a couple from the moment they arrived on scene.And later on in 2004-ish it was confirmed in their reality show that they were never really a couple nor lesbians as the media claimed they were. The group eventually broke from their manager and went on to record a very good second album, including several tracks that outright deal with bisexuality. Because by that time Julia had confidently come out in Russian media as a bisexual woman.
What coverage the album did recieve always hinged on the whole “not really lesbian/not really queer” and used the queer themed songs as a way to rag on the group, to accuse them of “continuing the faux lesbian schtick” when out of the two one was in fact queer and for all we the listeners knew was singing from experience. While the songs on the second and subsequeint albums are not perfect representations of queerness or with out their problems they were non the less, there, being sung by a queer person.
But due to our societies monosexism this was ignored.While the media and music consumers could easily handle Lena being a monosexual straight woman, the idea that Julia was bi was quickly forgotten or ignored. t.A.T.u and by extension Julia and Lena became the mid 2000’s poster children for the age old biphobic “doing it for attention” and “don’t trust teen/young girls about their sexuality” bits of terrible “wisdom”. Never mind the misogyny there, or the intense biphobia.
So as far as the west was concerned t.A.T.u fell off the planet, only to be mentioned again when the old biphobic “faking it” horse needed a good flogging into a greasy smear and then forgotten about.
So instead of looking back on their long career (something like 12 albums if you count the russian and english versions separate, around 6 if you don’t) and celebrating it as a moment where a queer woman broke through into mainstream pop,with a song about being queer as an important moment in history, we are instead left with mocking headlines like “faux lesbians to perform at olympics” from sites geared towards queer women! This sends one very clear message; bisexuals do not count. You can see other examples of this type of treatment in mainstream pop such as with Lady GaGa. GaGa has come out multiple times as bisexual and as of her most recent release has around 6 songs that directly deal with bisexuality or bisexual themes. Yet like t.A.T.u’s songs of the same nature, “Americano” and “So Happy I Could Die” are thrown in the sapphobic rubbish bin right next to “Loves Me Not” and Julia’s solo career singles, nearly all of which are bisexual in theme.
This erasure of bi women is endemic to the music industry,the music reviewing industry and as places like AutoStraddle and AfterEllen proved with their coverage of t.A.T.u’s brief reunion for the Sochi Olympics, it is endemic in our own community spaces.
So instead of praising a brave, bisexual muslim woman for being out and proud in a country that is actively trying to harm all queer people, all I see, especially since Eurovision and Conchita Wurst’s win is derision of the group for reasons from totally valid (lip synching) to out right biphobic.
Julia Volkova was a bisexual woman when she recorded for t.A.T.u . She was a bisexual woman at Eurovision (both times t.A.T.u went) at the Olympics and right now.
I know for many people my age t.A.T.u was an integral part of coming to terms with our identity. I’ll never forget the pain I felt when I learned that they “weren’t really queer”. The damage done to my grieving heart when the derision and “all girls do that for attention,just like that band”.What made it worse was when interviews were translated and Julia came out as bi, nobody listened. It didn’t matter. She wasn’t the right kind of queer, monosexual. She was played off by so many hurtful tropes, liar, doing it for attention, bisexuals aren’t really queer.
was t.A.T.u problematic in many ways? YES. Undoubtedly so. Is Julia and her solo efforts problematic? YES.
But that doesn’t mean we should let the prevalent misogyny, monosexism and biphobia in our communities,industries and memories over shadow what was a triumph of a queer musician. A pop group, a kiss in the rain that led to Madonna Kissing Britney, Katy Perry,Rihanna,Lady GaGa, Niki Minaj. If a bisexual hadn’t kissed her bandmate in the rain so many of these pop stars wouldn’t be where they are today. For god or ill. t.A.T.u and Julia Volkova helped shape the music and entertainment world we have today.
A Bisexual did that. A Bisexual was the face of that.
It’s time we all overcame this biphobia,misogyny and monosexism and realize that is part of our history. And it should be known.
Also go buy “Dangerous and Moving” it was a freaking great album.