The year was 2003. I was 7 years old, and t.A.T.u.’s “All the Things She Said” reigned supreme on the airwaves.
As the lead single from their sophomore album 200 km/h in the Wrong Lane, “All the Things She Said” was in the midst of mammoth global success, substantiated by a number 1 position atop the ARIA charts.
I remember watching the music video on Rage every weekend, and being strangely captivated by the imagery of Julia Volkova and Elena Katina dressed as schoolgirls and pashing in the rain…
Not for the reason you’d initially suspect, though.
Listening to t.A.T.u on my So Fresh: The Hits of Winter 2003 CD felt naughty – rebellious, even – and the perfect soundtrack to my brewing, prepubescent rage.
Way before I was able to grasp the concept of sexuality – and way, way before I was able to accept my own queerness – I think, subconsciously, I was drawn to its subversiveness… Its otherness, given that there weren’t many other same-sex couples pashing in the rain on Rage in 2002.
The queer anthem of all queer anthems, I’d come to remember the track.
In the 17 years that followed, I wouldn’t hear much of the duo – probably due to a frenzied attempt throughout my teen years to repudiate my closeted gayness and erase the majority of queer content from my mind.
Well, as childhood memories often have this tendency of revealing themselves in strange ways throughout adulthood, t.A.T.u came to me in a fever dream a couple weeks back. I woke up at about 1AM, typed the band name into my notes and went back to sleep. (Don’t ask, I simply have no idea how or why.)
The following morning, I came to learn that Julia had Elena executed one of the biggest swindles of the early 00s.
It was in their ‘03 doco Screaming for More – which I obviously hadn’t watched – that t.A.T.u revealed they weren’t lesbians.
The girls’ management team, it turns out, had concocted the faux-lesbianism for an ‘edgier’ look. “I looked at it as my role… like a movie,” Lena would later reflect to the Daily Beast. “We play in a role in a movie. That was my role. I never was a lesbian. I never was attracted to a girl. I never had that.”
To take things one step further, Julia admitted she wouldn’t “accept a gay son” in 2014, while on Russian talk show Lie Detector.
“Two girls together—not the same thing as the two men together,” she said, via Billboard. “It seems to me that lesbians look aesthetically much nicer than two men holding their hands or kissing.”
She then had some choice words to say. “I want to say that I’m not against gays, I just want my son to be a real man, not a fag,” she continued. “I have many gay friends. I believe that being gay is all still better than murderers, thieves or drug addicts. If you choose out of all this, being gay a little better than the rest.”
In response, however, Julia’s counterpart Lena took to Facebook to show her support for the LGBTQ community as an ally: “I am seeing some comments lately regarding my position about LGBT and my religion,” she posted. “I can say one thing: God is teaching us to live in love, to be tolerant and not to judge other people! And I do so! Love is love and it is a wonderful feeling! I think everybody should be free to love who they love and be with who they want to spend their life with!”
Regardless of their position on the homophobe-to-ally spectrum, there’ll forever be a fragment of my being left shook that they went all ‘no homo’ on our asses.
It’s crazy to look back on Julia and Elena’s faux-lesbian efforts through ’02/’03, and even crazier to think I spent 17 years applauding “All the Things She Said” for being one of the gayest anthems of my time, only to find out t.A.T.u just pashed for clout.
Surely they take the crown as the biggest queer-baiting scandal of our time, right?Image: Getty Images / Toni Anne Barson Archive