Thursday, June 12, 2003

The reason for Tatu's appeal (primarily to indieboys and recovering indieboys) -

It took until I saw Tatu's astonishing appearance at the MTV Movie Awards for me to really Get It. Approaching the stage via two separate aisles and singing the opening lines of "All The Things She Said" to eachother across a channel of seated audience, Lena & Julia are clearly making no attempt to mask their distinction of "Them" and "Us". On this evidence, it's of course the 'ordinary folk' that get in the way of their being together.

Then suddenly -


and we are catapulted into the intro of "Not Gonna Get Us" - which could possibly be the best single I have heard released in my lifetime - and Tatu in a flash are onstage, cueing a barrage of school-uniformed teenage girls to flood every aisle in the auditorium, all converging before the stage in what could only be described (and think about that combination of 'only' and 'described') as Anthony Easton did on <"New York London Paris Munich">

as a "grand sapphic revolution...a bacchanal".

But on reflection it appears less of a bold statement of sexual liberation, or of another brash (groan) "fuck-you" to the straight-edgers, or other any kind of sexual expressive device. In fact I see it as an almost complete reversal. It finally struck home to me why "Not Gonna Get Us" was able to pierce straight through me every time I heard it - Tatu are not about sexual liberation but inversion. Why put 137 girls on stage instead of just two? Clearly the event organisers had not thought much of their performance as a duo and felt it needed reinforcing. But why, if we are to be convinced by the strength of the girl's love for one another, should there not be sufficient intensity to constitute a 'performance'? If the White Stripes could convince with less of a powerful connection, why not Tatu? Maybe the distance between them during the opening bars is not symbolic of "Them" and "Us", but instead signifying the distance they feel between eachother within the relationship itself?

In this sense the bacchanalia is all about strength in numbers - that the girls' own reciprocal doubts over themselves and eachother are being placated and shrugged off their consciences by a wall of schoolgirls following their example. They've passed the point of no return, the decision made - to back out now is unthinkable. "Look, LOOK what we've achieved! Look at what effect we're making!" The stunt is symbolic of the aversion, rather than expulsion, of doubts concerning their relationship and sexuality - a necessity for the sake of the girls' consciences, since they are now too scared to go BACK into the mediocrity of the heterosexual world that turned them away. Their sense of rejection so great that they will not allow themselves to be supplicated no matter what level their doubt gets to, because to be misunderstood in a socially-discarded relationship is more comforting than to attempt to permeate a whole world that you feel has already deserted you.

The next day I finally felt coerced into buying the album, something I had put off for months for various preposterous reasons, and it is by the lyrical indication on it that I refer to "doubt" and "decisions". For although it is titled "200 Km/H in the Wrong Lane", it sounds more like they've blown their engine and are coasting over to the hard shoulder, silently debating with each of their individual consciences whether to get out and try to hitch a ride once they reach the road's edge. Embodying this sense of detached despair is "Not Gonna Get Us", the album's breathtaking opener. A sampled aeroplane engine precedes Julia's repeated cries of the title lyric in the chorus, rasping it out as if the plan(e)'s fuel tank has blown and they're about to crash without any hope of survival (if only that this is surely the only way Julia can be certain of her claim?) and she's echoing the phrase in desperate hope of comfort and distraction from the inevitable rather than as an assertive boast of her/their elusion of the discrimation its supposed to connote.

The first instance of a longing for simplicity and acceptance occurs in "All The Things She Said", embodied by Lena's nails-on-chalkboard wail of a confession - "THIS IS NOT ENOUGH!". Given that the context of the song's narrative concerns the perceptions of the outside world make of the couple in question, this shrieked revelation of Lena's implies that no matter how euphoric it may feel to be with Julia, she feels that she needs the security of being accepted and loved by everyone else as well.

"Show Me Love" starts with a telephone conversation between the two girls in which their Russian utterances are preceded by a vacuous gap - the speaker's timidity or reluctance to reply. An obvious and quite superficial instance of 'distance' I know, but relevent nonetheless and certainly lacking no poignancy. The underlining of the distance and doubt between the two is their reciprocal inquiry - "Do you still have doubts/that us having faith makes any sense?". They are still wrestling with the decision to openly refute convention for the sake of their still undefined sexuality, as reinforced similarly in the following track "30 Minutes" - "30 Minutes of bliss, thirty lies/30 Minutes to finally decide". Surely a sexual attraction entails no decision?

"Malchik Gay" is one song that betrays the subversive, brooding tone of the album with its perky hooks and linear, seemingly one-dimensional lyrical format. But, like "Show Me Love", this Euro-Pop sheen is irrelevent, and gives way to the underlying doubt of the protagonist. The appearance of a male Other ("I long to hold you/like your...boyfriend does") in the context of this album - these girls - is indicative of further uncertainty, where the possibility of a U-turn in sexuality for either girl is clearly still a prominent concern - and it scares them both.

But is it a possibility that either girl could be straying back to hetero-territory? Consider the minimal contribution of Lena's vocals on the magnificent cover of "How Soon Is Now?" at Track Five - there is not one line that she sings the lead on. It is, effectively, a monologuous account of Julia's subjective frustration. What makes this doubly significant is that it is the single cover version the pair attempt, and therefore the message of the song is thoroughly received and understood by Tatu's controlling svengalis before it is even recorded. The fact that there has been a conscious choice to have Julia sing all the lead vocal on the track inevitably prompts this listener to think that they have moulded her persona on the record, the role she plays as such, around this widely regarded anthem for the suppressed homosexual.

Consider now the photographs on the sleeve of the record, and particularly how Julia dominates all of them. This can (as my brother suggested) be simply because she is more photogenic, just as it can be taken that she has sung "How Soon Is Now?" because her vocals suited the track more. But I am convinced that her public image has been intended from the outset to be the embodiment of the stereotype of the "indie-unattainable" female. What clinches this is the watermark pictures set on the inside of the sleeve behind the lyrics. Julia is posed blowing a sardonic, disdainful and knowingly ironic kiss at the camera, whilst Lena regards her from across the page, laughing. Whilst Julia entices, teases the unwitting indieboy, Lena is more than willing to take the back seat and allow her lover to represent their combined public persona of 'Tatu'.

This is all summised by the track "Stars", which is the last on the album before the perfunctory space-fillers (remixes and Russian versions, making "Stars" the concluding track in earnest). In effect this is Lena's concluding monologue, as Julia is only present in the mumbled Russian-language inserts, of which of course I cannot understand. Lena yearns to the listener - "Do we belong/Someplace where no one calls it wrong?" - note the prominence of the question mark in that sentence, and parallel it to her final unflinching impugnation of "Are We In Love?". ARE THEY IN LOVE?!?!? Striking home the reality of Lena's personal despair, she even feels she can doubt whether they love each other at all, and the proposal in "Not Gonna Get Us" and "All The Things She Said" of fleeing from all their problems becomes conclusively desolate - they will never belong in either the utopian world they dreamt of nor the 'real' world of rejection and disillusionment.

And we are left hanging on the sublimely empathetic catharsis - "Like the night we camouflage/Denial" - and I can only conclude this is Lena's personal denial. A denial of the outside world, a denial of her conscience, a denial of her identity, a denial towards her lover's affection. Finally, a denial of her own ability to love - whether same sex or otherwise.