Sunday 25 May 2003

tATu you

Eurovision Latvia 2003 logoI doubt I would ever have heard of tATu (t.A.T.u/Tatu/tatu/TATU—pick your own capitalization and punctuation) were I not a loyal fan of the Eurovision Song Contest, which will screen on the “multicultural” SBS network for the twentieth year tonight. Eurovision is addictive viewing because it combines, as Amanda Keenan puts it, “all the frou-frou, glitz and gaudiness of a cruise ship cabaret… with the I-don’t-want-to-look-but-can’t-help-myself magnetism of a car crash.” Plus a transparently corrupt voting system in which Greece always gives maximum votes to Cyprus, Cyprus returns the favor, the Scandinavians stick together, and the former Eastern Bloc countries don’t seem to have realized the Cold War is over.

This year, with the 48th contest being held in Latvia, SBS is dispensing with Terry Wogan’s commentary because, according to the network, much of Wogan’s cruel but witty repartee is incomprehensible to non-British viewers. Instead, the cruel, witty voiceover will be delivered by Des Mangan, the head comedy writer for a Sydney breakfast radio program and host of the SBS Saturday Night Cult Movie Show. The network tried replacing Terry Wogan two years ago with Mary Coustas (a relentlessly unfunny ethnic “comedian”) and a bunch of drag queens, a strategy that precipitated a record number of viewer complaints and forced them to reschedule the Wogan version. This year SBS is taking no chances, having already promised to repeat the three-hour show, with Terry Wogan’s commentary, next Saturday afternoon.

Despite the overwhelmingly negative response on the SBS Online Forum (sample: WOGAN IS EUROVISION! SHAME SBS SHAME), I have a gut feeling that Des Mangan might be able to pull it off (and that’s not because I regularly watch the Cult Movie Show, an eclectic mix of sixties Italian slash films, Japanese samurai movies, Chinese martial arts extravaganzas, and Korean horror flicks, with the occasional Godard, Herzog, and Suzuki Seijun movie thrown in as a concession to the arthouse set). After all, Des is the guy who attracted his own boatload of complaints for wrapping up a movie about necrophiliacs with the remark “Well fuck me dead!”

Russian 'lesbian' pop duo, tATu (Julia Volkova and Lena Katina)But wait a minute, this entry was supposed to be about tATu (Julia Volkova and Lena Katina), whose debut single, All the Things She Said, I’ve yet to hear. Nor have I seen their “sensational video, directed by… manager and mastermind Ivan Shapovalov” which, according to the SMH, “courted controversy by portraying Tatu as nubile schoolgirls engaging in passionate embraces while being watched from behind a wire fence by a disapproving crowd of stony-faced adults.” A friend (and fellow Eurovision fan) advised me to check out the late night Video Hits show rather than the Saturday morning program which, she said, runs an expurgated version for young viewers.

It doesn’t really matter that I haven’t heard their hit song nor seen their controversial video—what appeals to me about tATu is how effortlessly they’ve hijacked this year’s Eurovision contest with their faux lesbian personae and seemingly limitless repertoire of publicity stunts:

  • A recasting for American consumption of the meaning of their name—an abbreviation of the Russian phrase “tadyevushka lubit tu”, “this girl loves that one”— as “Teens Against Tobacco Usage”.
  • An offer by producer Alexey Monzhnosov to give up his group, “7B”, in exchange for tATu. “Let him [Shapovalov] take “7B”, if he gives me tATu instead. I will turn them into normal girl, marry them to good guys, they will have a lot of children, and lead the Russian teens to the right path at last.”
  • A vow to get married in Germany if they win the Eurovision contest—last year they promised to get married in Holland, at the bottom of a swimming pool, insisting that they were rehearsing how to drink champagne and put on rings under water. (“We have felt that we are a single whole, therefore we wanted to connect our destinies.”)
  • A refusal to do a full rehearsal earlier in the week on the basis of Julia’s sore throat (or damaged vocal chords, depending on who you believe) thus provoking a threat of disqualification from the Eurovision organizers and allowing Shapovalov to wheel in his next protege, Katya Nechaeva, to lead the backup singers. “Ivan says I should be like a Lolita,” Katya explained. “He wants me to make an accent on my young age and sexuality.”
  • A ban by Russian authorities on tATu’s filming their latest video clip—featuring hundreds of young girls in plaid skirts and white blouses—in Red Square after London police had already prohibited Shapovalov from shooting the video opposite the Houses of Parliament.

Needless to say, as Neil McCormick reveals, Julia and Lena aren’t really lesbians.

“It is really funny that the Tatu campaign in the West goes in a very different way to how it went in Russia,” says Artemy Troitsky, a veteran Russian music journalist and DJ. “In Russia, this whole lesbian thing has never been taken seriously. When they’ve been interviewed on talk shows and asked, ‘Are you really lesbians?’, they’ve said, ‘No, it’s a trick, we have boyfriends, we are normal girls, we do this for image.’”

Their “lesbian” antics can be legitimately seen as a cynical marketing ploy calculated to excite tabloid newspaper editors, offend both religious conservatives and gay rights activists, pander to heterosexual male fantasies, celebrate a rite of passage not uncommon amongst teenage girls, exploit anxiety about homosexuality, all with the goal of selling lots of CDs.

Despite all the handwringing about “how low music svengalis will sink in their quest for publicity”, I’d suggest that tATu’s (and Shapovalov’s) most substantial—though certainly unintentional—achievement lies in holding up a mirror to the hypocrisy of a Western culture that condemns pedophilia whilst lionizing teen idols like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, whose tawdry “hooker pop” makes tATu appear chaste and elegant.

Some people get tATu though, as evidenced in this conversation between Word Magazine and Morissey about the duo’s cover of the Smiths’ How Soon Is Now? (on the tATu CD 200 Km/H in the Wrong Lane):

Word: Did you hear t.A.T.u.’s version of “How Soon Is Now?”

Morissey: Yes, it was magnificent. Absolutely. Again, I don’t know much about them.

Word: They are teenage Russian lesbians.

Morissey: Well, aren’t we all?

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Comments

What a relief! I thought I was the only one.

Posted by AKMA on 26 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

tATu fan, AKMA? Or Eurovision devotee? Or both?

Posted by Jonathon on 26 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

As an aficionado of the Eurovision contest you might find this article interesting:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/news/story/0,11711,963573,00.html

Tawdry hooker pop! Wonderful. I haven't read a review of Brittany or Christina that doesn't put them in the same class tATu, yet.

Posted by Dumpster on 26 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

No, “teenage Russian lesbian.” I haven’t heard tAtU (Si has, and commented on them laconically, but I don't recall whether his remarks were favorable). I’ve never understood the Eurovision song contest, which to my benighted outsider’s eye seems to combine the most painful elements of the Olympics, the Grammies, and televised-performance contests.

But then, I’ve never heard Terry Wogan or Des, so they may redeem the phenomenon. Mostly what I know about Eurovision reduces to:

‘ “Teddy Johnson and Pearl Carr's song in the 1959 Eurovision Song Contest? Anybody? . . . Yes, Mao Tse-tung?”

Mao: ‘Sing Little Birdie’? ”

Posted by AKMA on 26 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

who won?

Posted by marcia on 27 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Who won? Turkey, in a typical Eurovision result based more on politics than music. Spain deserved to win by a country mile but both Spain and the UK were punished by the European audience/voters for their support of the US invasion of Iraq.

To be fair, the UK entry wasn't all that terrific but it deserved more votes than the zero that left the UK into last place. Turkey, on the other hand, was rewarded for "standing up" to the US by refusing to allow the Americans to deploy forces from Turkish bases during the Iraq war.

Posted by Jonathon on 27 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Oh man, I wish you wouldn't go away. This site has been an immensely valuable focus for ideas and conversations. I'll cling to the "extended break" phrasing and hope for your return. You'll be missed.

Posted by language hat on 31 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

I, too, hope that your "adieu" is more of an "au revoir."

It's been a pleasure reading you, Jonathan.

Posted by Pascale Soleil on 31 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Whatever happens, tatu is tatu. And i love them so much!!! No one can change that!!

Posted by alyzza on 23 June 2003 (Comment Permalink)

SOIS LAS MEJORES!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by sara on 2 September 2003 (Comment Permalink)

SOIS LAS MEJORES!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by sara on 2 September 2003 (Comment Permalink)

pongan mas cosas de t.a.T.u porfavor las cosas que tienen no son nada con lo que visto gracias ^^escribanmen ami e-mail^^

Posted by andrea on 20 September 2003 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour