There was always something slightly disingenuous about the single “All the Things She Said,” performed in 2002 by Tatu, a Russian pop duet consisting of Yulia Volkova and Elena Katina. The two girls—just turned sweet 16 and dressed in Britney Spears-esque school uniform (think short skirt, knee-high socks)—kissed, fondled, and occasionally sang their way through the shocking (to some) video.
But we were all duped. They were never lesbians. “I looked at it as my role… like a movie. I never was a lesbian. I never was attracted to a girl,” Katina told The Daily Beast in 2003.
It was all the work of two (male) producers who convinced the teenage duo from the children’s ensemble Neposeda (Fidget) to pose as an “unconventional” couple because they saw huge potential in exploiting the theme of homosexuality. And they were pretty much spot on.
The track hung around in the UK charts for 15 weeks, and at one point even climbed to No. 1. In the US, it broke into the Billboard Top 20. Tatu sold millions of albums around the world, earning gold status in seven countries and platinum in five. Their fee for a concert in Japan hit half a million dollars. “In Asia, we were popular because all porn is based on schoolgirls dressed like we were in the video,” recalled Volkova. On returning to Moscow from Japan, they each bought themselves an apartment.
It was all the work of two (male) producers who convinced the teenage duo from the children’s ensemble Neposeda (Fidget) to pose as an “unconventional” couple.Vitaly Belousov/TASS
But in 2009, at peak popularity, Tatu broke up. After ten years of collaboration, Katina and Volkova decided to go solo.
The tabloid press spilled a lot of ink about what happened to the scandalous group. Ex-producer Boris Rensky said in an interview that Volkova repeatedly called off concerts, including one in California that had taken six months to organize. At the last moment, Volkova refused to fly due to a sudden attack of aerophobia, and the group was blacklisted by US promoters.
At the last moment, Volkova refused to fly due to a sudden attack of aerophobia, and the group was blacklisted by US promoters.Philipp Manuilov/Sputnik
Whatever the case, Katina and Volkova spoke about being horribly tired of each other, yet for a couple of years more they continued to perform one-off concerts for large fees, and even starred together in a chocolate commercial, again in Japan.
By now, the “girls” were 23-24 years old, Volkova had two children from different men, and lived with neither. “I gave birth, got my stuff together, and carried on working,” she said.
It wasn’t long before Volkova recorded a couple of her own singles (at first still trying to keep up the lesbian image), took a role in a Russian horror movie, and launched a line of footwear together with Italian designers.
This continued until 2012, when she found out that she had thyroid cancer and needed surgery. She did not make the diagnosis public, so everyone assumed that Yulia had become hoarse from cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. “I hid it because some things shouldn’t be a PR stunt. I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me,” she finally broke her silence on the TV show Secret for a Million in 2017.
Volkova found out that she had thyroid cancer and needed surgeryEkaterina Chesnokova/Sputnik
During surgery, her thyroid gland and the tumor were completely removed, but her vocal nerves were damaged and she lost her voice. Recovery took three years and included operations in Israel and Germany. The doctors said that the damaged vocal chords could not be repaired. In the end, it was possible only in Korea. “After the operation, there was a month when I couldn’t make a sound. Even 2-3 months later, I was still afraid to start talking,” she said. But start talking she did. And even took up singing again.
Katina’s life post-Tatu unfolded without any such major dramas, but she did go through an internal crisis. “You know, I really thought we [Tatu] were such cool stars. I was sure that even if the duo split up, producers would be lining up to work with me and Yulia. But that didn’t happen,” Katina told the Russian version of OK magazine. “It was a slap in the face and a sobering lesson. It was tough, I didn’t know what to do. I even thought about going back to college to get retrained. I have a diploma in psychology, but don’t want to work in that field.” Despite being one herself, she started going to a psychologist, and then decided to stay with friends in Los Angeles for two months. And didn’t go back.
Katina gave birth to a son, recorded an EP in Spanish, and toured Latin America.Global Look Press via ZUMA Press
In 2013, Katina got married to Serbian rock musician Sasho Kuzmanovich, and the couple had two weddings (one "Serbian" in Slovenia, the other "Russian" in Moscow). She gave birth to a son, recorded an EP in Spanish, and toured Latin America. A remix of her English-language single “Never Forget” by Dave Aude topped the US Billboard dance chart.
In 2017, she moved back to Russia to regain her popularity at home, and started singing in Russian again.
But don’t forget to breathe. That’s what I wanted to tell you.
When you love, love. When you love, love.
But don’t forget to fly.
That’s what I wanted to tell you”
Yulia Volkova and Yelena Katina perform before the opening ceremony of the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, 2014.Anton Denisov/Sputnik
Ever since Tatu’s breakup, press rumors have surfaced now and again that Volkova and Katina are set to reunite. And every time, these rumors are met with hundreds of enthusiastic (albeit ungrammatical) comments like: “OMG tatu back!!!!!” Yes, it looks like their return would be doomed to succeed.
But as Katina herself has made clear, “The door is closed.” True, there have been attempts to get the band back together, but they ended in tears. At joint press conferences, the pair preferred to set up shop at different ends of the room and take questions separately. And even if they did resurrect Tatu, the lesbian act would not be on the menu.
In 2014, Volkova said (her own words in English): “It seems to me that lesbians look aesthetically much nicer than two men holding their hands or kissing. I want to say that I’m not against gays, I just want my son to be a real man, not a fag.” And that’s despite the fact that Volkova was long an icon of the LGBT community in Russia.
As for Katina, she wrote on Facebook (again in English): “I can say one thing: Love is a wonderful feeling!”
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