Tatu has followed me around for 10 years: from nearly arriving just in time for my first same-gender pangs to keeping me company in my car rides filled with nostalgia for youth’s reckless-heart days, Lena and Yulia and I have been through it all. I first heard about Tatu from my friend Asya, who immigrated to the U.S. aged 12, but whose heart never left the motherland. She had returned from her annual summer stay in Moscow in time to start our first year in college, and in the few days beforehand we were making the most of the concrete floor of her outdoor patio, pretending we were sunning on a more supple beachfront. Although the summers of my late teens were filled with enough angst, lust and SAT prep to satisfy Ivanka Trump, the atmosphere around Asya’s yearly culture updates was intoxicating with possibility and held an onus of importance in the course of our meetings.
She sticks one of her new acquisitions into the stereo and in Russian I hear, “Nas degonyat”…. “Not gonna get us” and the song instantly cuts to my quick.
I turn to Asya with the creeping suspicion that the duet consists of two hoarse-throated earnest young Russian women talking about their tryst and ask her if the throbbing song is about them trying to run away. In her debonair air, and on behalf of the alleged tolerant attitude of her countrymen, she answers “Yes, they’re lesbians and everyone knows it.” Incredulous, I wonder out loud, “it’s not taboo, they’re still popular, how can this go on?” and inside my heart is racing and I want to know more but have run out of questions to ask.
In the U.S., Tatu’s strikes big in 2002 with “All the Things She Said”, while the title “Not Gonna Get Us” gets a little lost in translation. In reality, Nas Ne Dogonyat means, they’re not going to “catch up to us”, not going to “catch us”… with the other lyrics, being even more raw, poetic, desperate.
“Just tell me, It’s the two of us from now on. Only by the lights of the Airfield. We’ll run away They’re not gonna get us Further from them, Further from home”
Hardly a year passes, and I am shocked that these rogues, my idols are on the biggest media platform in the world. They appease the appetites of predictable straight guys, the remainders of the “bi-curious Real World” generation of women and a whole cross-section of lesbians everywhere by performing in their typical naughty style on the MTV Music Awards… surrounded by thousands of clones, pulsating to the same freed and unruly Sapphic inclinations.
In my life, a few more events transpire in light of TATU. I follow my then best friend and simultaneous crush to Santa Barbara to join up with the rest of our badass Eastern European posse for Halloween. The two hetero roommates and my good friends who go there decide to buy catholic schoolgirl outfits, one to dye her hair black to be the foxy, hot Yulia and the other to pleat her fine Russian blonde tresses to embody the romantic and diffident Lena. Each time TATU played, they would improvise a dance- once they even kissed to the surprise of the friend in Yulia’s character! This must have fulfilled the fantasy of many a Physics peer of hers, but created a startling contrast to my inability to drop enough hints to my crush, much less to pursue her in the open.
Tatu continues to skirt though my life in other ways. Before I was out in Junior year, I gave an “informative” talk in a required lower-division Speech Class about touring Moscow. Even through college my hormones had the best of my wherewithal and so my informational poster contained a marginally non-lewd photo of them and this did not do wonders for my grade. It’s in hindsight you learn that at that age, while you thought you were leaving the others guessing, it’s the peers, but and especially the professors who are onto you.
Under the surface, I’ve been having doubts about whether they were a couple the whole time and yet, I didn’t like when they were called out for being fakes (even for their genuine lack of a real romance) or called cheap. Yes, their producer, Ivan Shapovalov was a psychologist and had studied the emotional patterns of child porn prowlers and yes, Yulia had been pregnant, and they were so over-the top that it couldn’t be real! But, they spoke for those of us who couldn’t express our girl-loving selves, made gay girls cool (I am with you on that Ms. Etheridge), made damn-addictive tunes and just happened to become the most successful Russian act to date.