T.A.T.U. are Julia and Lena
Feisty brunette Julia and soulful redhead Lena, two teenage girls from Moscow known as t.A.T.u, are the Russian equivalent of pop-meets-Prodigy.
"People love us or hate us but nobody thinks nothing about us," says Lena Katina, the older of the striking singers. Tearing down walls of all sorts throughout the brave new world, t.A.T.u became the most explosive and controversial act in Eastern Europe last year with the scandalous single "Ya Soshla S Uma" ("All The Things She Said"), the story of a love affair, whose evocative video was named MTV Russia's Video of the Year. 200 km/h in the Wrong Lane, t.A.T.u's 2001 debut album on Universal Music Russia, sold more than 1,000,000 copies and t.A.T.u's concert appearances at huge clubs and stadiums draw upwards of 50,000 fans.
Now t.A.T.u's tempestuous teens are readying to conquer America. Just don't expect very close friends and flirtatious Julia and Lena to tone down their bold, fearless sense of freedom.
"Our songs are not silly," says Lena. "t.A.T.u is more sincere, more honest about ourselves and others. We don't shape ourselves for the audience. In Russia, life is not polite. If we don't like something, we say we don't like it. If we don't agree, we say 'fuck you.'"
Even t.A.T.u's pop electronica has an edge. That's what enticed esteemed producer Trevor Horn to work with t.A.T.u on English-language versions of 200 km/h in the Wrong Lane to be released via Interscope Records. Horn, whose credits include membership in The Buggles ("Video Killed The Radio Star"), prog-rock's Yes and the acclaimed The Art Of Noise as well as producer for The Pet Shop Boys, Grace Jones, Seal, Simple Minds and Frankie Goes To Hollywood, compares t.A.T.u's sound not only to Prodigy but also a group he worked with in the '80s, Propaganda.
In the end, however, t.A.T.u is unlike any other in the East or the West. "Russians are not dark but we are not light either," says Julia Volkova. "We have a different view, maybe deeper, because life is more difficult in Russia."
Julia and Lena had already known each other for several years while in another music group when they came together for t.A.T.u two years ago. Both had also studied music formally for 8 years. But that's where their commonality ends.
Julia is an only child of middle-class parents; Lena, the youngest of three, is the daughter of a well-known musician/pop-songwriter father. "We love each other very much but Lena is totally different from me," says Julia, who has also acted in small films. "She doesn't like to party; I like to party. She's more quiet, reads a lot. I don't like reading." Yet the contrasts between sweet, dramatic Lena and energetic, in-your-face Julia complement each other in t.A.T.u
The video for "Not Gonna Get Us" (t.A.T.u's second Russian hit "Nas Ne Dagoniat") has Julia and Lena commandeering a huge fuel tanker, speeding across a snowy Siberian road past anyone who would stop them, triumphant.
"t.A.T.u is about saying what you feel, not what others expect," says Lena. "Be in love. Be yourself. We are."