The rumors were true. t.A.T.u. took the stage in Sochi, holding hands and singing the 2003 tune “Not Gonna Get Us.” Unfortunately, they didn’t kiss.
Here's an Instagram of them before they took the stage.
The band, which consists of Yulia Volkova and Lena Katina, is an odd choice for the Sochi Winter Olympics. In addition to the fact that they haven’t produced a hit in years, Yulia and Lena are also controversial gay icons. The band’s name is an allusion to a Russian phrase meaning “this girl loves that girl”—an extremely relevant fact given the gay controversies surrounding the Sochi games.
Here's why this matters:
Because t.A.T.u, a gimmicky, early 2000's pop duo, is literally the most internationally recognizable musical act in all of Russia.
According to the Sochi pre-ceremony lineup, t.A.T.u. is the greatest (and only) producer of Russian culture since Tchaikovsky. t.A.T.u. will likely be the only "modern" "artists" performing at a ceremony that's bound to showcase Russia's world-renowned classical music and ballet. We know that the Russian music industry isn't exactly an international hit maker…but we had no idea that the situation was this dire. For those of you who don't remember (and honestly, we can't blame you) t.A.T.u. skyrocketed to relative fame in 2002 with "All the Things She Said", the hit single from their debut studio album. The track made t.A.T.u. the first Russian act to ever chart on the Billboard Hot 100. The duo went on to compete in the 2003 Eurovision Song Contest and release two more English records, ultimately separating in 2011.
Because of this performance.
In 2003, t.A.T.u. performed their single "Not Going to Get Us" at the MTV Music Awards. The duo stomped on stage, accompanied by an army of "schoolgirls" and what looks like a very basic PowerPoint presentation. As Lena and Yulia's voices get higher, pitchier, and more insistent (can the members of t.A.T.u can actually sing? Does it even matter?), the crowd of dancers strip down, do a few somersaults, and begin to pair up. Everything about this clip, beginning with Amanda Bynes's crazy eyes and culminating in the teen-girl make out explosion, is perfectly on point. Unfortunately, Opening Ceremony Creative Director Konstantin Ernst said that the duo's role would in fact be "a bit-part at best". USA Today reported that "quotes from their songs would be included in a music mash-up during the show." Not even one measly schoolgirl? Sochi, you're such a tease.
Because "All the Things She Said" is actually a really good song.
Seriously, listen to it. It's really catchy! Plus, the entire plot of the music video can be summed up as "O hno, my tiny schoolgirl outfit got soaked in this dramatic rain pour."
And most importantly, because WTF Russia.
So if you just watched the "All the Things She Said" video, you're probably ready to talk about the big gay elephant in the room. t.A.T.u isn't just famous for their hooks—the duo was also aggressively marketed as a pair of lesbian lovers. Ivan Shapovalov, the band' s former producer and creator, apparently came up with the idea for t.A.T.u by visiting various pornographic websites and discovering the Internet's passion for underage sex. Shapovalov figured that combining the young girl factor with an implied lesbian relationship was bound to turn a profit. While Yulia and Lena were eventually "outed" as heterosexuals, they were still perceived as gay icons, both in Russia and around the world.
For a government that's so committed to image control, Russia seems to have a very shaky handle on effective PR. The Sochi Olympics is already being condemned as a site of homophobia and discrimination on account of a recent Russian law that bans gay propaganda among minors. The law, which polices public displays of homosexual affection as well as gay rights activism, isn't just highly offensive—on a practical level, gay Olympic athletes and attendees now fear arrest, discrimination, and intimidation. It doesn't take a genius to draw the connection between issues of gay rights in Russia and t.A.T.u. Showcasing a gay or actively pro-gay band might have been a smart publicity move on Putin’s part. However, t.A.T.u.'s relationship with the gay community is fairly complex, and therefore bound to offend rather than placate. The international community is unlikely to be impressed by a show of pseudo tolerance performed by a fake lesbian duo.
Luckily, with t.A.T.u there's always the possibility for controversy. While the homosexual relationship between the two singers was a fabrication, their support of gay rights is anything but. Addressing the gay propaganda act, Lena Katina told The Daily Beast: "The government not a long time ago made a new rule you can't show that you are gay in public, which is weird—a lot of people from the government with the big positions are gay. Why people can't be free?"