RIGA, TALLINN - Quite a few rock groups since the 50s have enjoyed using some bogus variation of the "Love us or hate us, but don't ignore us," line to prove their genuine badassness. KISS used it. So did Marilyn Manson, as has the Russian pop duo Tatu, made up of Lena Katina and Yulia Volkova, both 21, which will soon play concerts in Tallinn and Riga.
The truth of the matter, at least as far as Tatu, or t.A.T.u., is concerned, is that theres nothing particularly divisive about its music. At least, there shouldn't be. As the young Russian-American novelist Gary Shteyngart said in The New Yorker back in 2003, when the duo was just climbing the American and British charts: "One of the most debilitating aspects of the New Russia is its popular music, a great deal of which sounds like the soundtrack of a mandatory calisthenics workout. By contrast, Tatu's songsâ€¦are extreme, if in a clumsy heartfelt way."
There is indeed an over-dramatized, pseudo-epic quality to the songs, which probably best reflect the apocalyptic way teenage girls live their emotional lives. If it's a soundtrack to anything, it's to the vicious, disturbed arguments fought between unhappy, lonely 15-year-old girls and their loving and uncomprehending parents.
Still, what made Tatu so controversial and popular in the first place was the group's celebration of lesbianism, along with a peddling of some weird pedophilic schoolgirl fantasy in their video "All the Things She Said."
I don't know how many primetime lesbian kisses it will take before girl-on-girl action stops being shocking. As for the pedophilic fantasiesâ€¦well, at least the girls were legal at the time the video was shot.
Eventually, the girls got tired of playing lesbians. Maybe they also sensed the shock value of their act could only last so long. So, bowing to the realities of the public's short patience with fads, they came out as obnoxious heterosexuals.
Since then, the girls have tried very hard to court controversy. They represented Russia, reluctantly, at the 2003 Eurovision, which they lost. But they played their roles as spoiled celebrities well. They mocked the German candidate. "She looks like she's worn out more men in her life than we have vodka bottles," Katina said. "We would push her straight off the edge of the bed." (She later denied saying anything of the sort.) Then they complained about the vote-counting system. Anything less would have been a disappointment.
Their video from last year, "It's All About Us," shows the hot young sexually ambiguous girls all grown up and dealing with abusive boyfriends. The two girls reach out to each other in a loving sisterly way, tinged only slightly with the erotic. Well, they do say we all go through the homoerotic phase in adolescence. In the end, there's really nothing that distasteful or bizarre about Tatu or anything they have done.
Since Tatu first appeared, Russia has slid a little further away from democracy, a fact that some snarky Western critics may be more inclined to point out than anyone in Russia. (It's a sign of the decline of civilization and whatnot.) The girls don't have any coherent message, or any political agenda. Essentially their music consists of wonderful temper tantrums you can sort of dance to. You could say Tatu is as old as time.
April 11 - Saku Arena, Tallinn tickets 350 - 990 kroons
April 12 - Kipsala Hall, Riga tickets 15 - 25 lats
( 22-36 euros)
Ticket info: www.piletilevi.ee, www.ticketservice.lv