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The Week Ahead

t.A.T.u's persona gets the ink

May 26, 2003|Geoff Boucher

One of the stranger stories in the pop world recently has been the Russian duo called t.A.T.u. (pronounced "tattoo"), and on Saturday night they will step into their brightest U.S. spotlight with one of the coveted performance spots on the MTV Movie Awards.

Perhaps you haven't seen their video, but if you have, you probably remember it: It shows the two nubile members, 17-year-old Julia Volkova and 19-year-old Lena Katina, scantily clad, kissing and cavorting against the musical backdrop, which has been described in these pages before as a "Prodigy-meets-Dido affair." Suffice to say, the sapphic themes of the group's persona generate more talk than their music. The story is that the two girls fell in love at age 15 and then answered an audition call by Ivan Shapovalov, a former child psychologist and advertising executive who is their manager, songwriter and image shaper. He has been described by some as a Svengali but, considering there's plenty of speculation that the romance is merely a stunt, a better comparison point might be Malcolm McLaren, who provided much controversy ammunition as manager for the Sex Pistols.

But is all publicity good? Depends who you ask. This month Spin magazine put the duo at No. 16 on its list of "20 Sleazy Rock Moments" and the MTV News has said Shapovalov makes "Lou Pearlman look downright virtuous," a reference to the former Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync mogul who has been repeatedly sued and accused of strip-mining young acts.

Rapper 50 Cent and Pink are also on the MTV show (which tapes Saturday at the Shrine Auditorium and airs June 5 at 9 p.m.), a nod to the potency of the booking. At MTV, the booking falls in line with the show's tradition of high-curiosity acts (Kelly Osbourne) and edgy content (one year its "best kiss" award went to Sarah Michelle Gellar and Selma Blair in "Cruel Intentions").

Worse than sharp words, though, are flat sales. t.A.T.u's album, "200 Km/H in the Wrong Lane," has sold 504,000 copies in the U.S. and peaked at No. 13 on the national charts in February but has fallen to No. 119 since.

The duo abruptly canceled a British arena show that had been scheduled for the beginning of this month, prompting scathing press coverage about their dismal ticket sales and a lawsuit by promoters who claimed the group's management bungled the planning and also made bizarre requests -- among them a call for the venue to have 300 young teen girls in school uniforms on hand, according to the BBC.

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