Can t.A.T.u. turn shock into sales? How the Russian teen duo is making waves -- and enemies -- on the talk show circuit
Never mind the U.N. Security Council: The real flashpoint for renewed tensions between the U.S. and Russia may be late night TV, thanks to import pop duo t.A.T.u. While pushing their hit ”All the Things She Said,” Russian teens Julia Volkova and Lena Katina — who profess to be lesbian lovers and include sensuous kissing, hand-holding, and fondling in their videos and live performances — have broken promises and burned bridges at both NBC’s ”The Tonight Show” and ABC’s ”Jimmy Kimmel Live.” ”I’m so pissed off at this whole thing,” says Kimmel executive producer Daniel Kellison. ”They’re lip-syncing phonies. I think ‘t.A.T.u’ might be Russian for ‘Milli Vanilli.”’
Kellison is upset that Volkova and Katina backed off on promises to smooch on-camera on last Wednesday night’s hour of the anything-goes show. But the night before, the tonier ”The Tonight Show” was equally irked that the teens DID swap spit after vowing not to do so. “The Tonight Show” ended up cutting away to the group’s backing guitarist for the full 25-second length of the kiss. ”The record company made an agreement at the time of the booking for the girls not to french kiss,” says an NBC spokesperson. ”The girls broke the agreement, which the ‘Tonight Show’ found unacceptable.”
Meanwhile, the teens had a demand of their own for ”The Tonight Show” staff. They wanted to lip-sync to a recorded track, according to a source familiar with the performance. Bookers, though, insisted the girls sing live, which they did. But on ”Kimmel,” the girls never sang a note, according to Kellison, who says the pair skipped rehearsal and ended up miming to a DAT. ”They showed up 15 minutes before the show, with all sorts of attitude, all sorts of tantrums,” says Kellison. ”And then they don’t even kiss! The whole thing was a farce.”
t.A.T.u.’s label, Interscope Records, had no official comment. But a source close to the group denies that they lip-synced on ”Kimmel.” ”The band did sing, along with using augmented vocals as many groups do,” the source says. ”But it sounds like the real issue is that they didn’t kiss and Kimmel is mad. There was a lot of horndog leering about the kiss, and the girls got pissed, so they didn’t do it.”
TV producers may be upset, but fans seem pleased by what they’re seeing and hearing. t.A.T.u’s debut album, ”200 Km/H in the Wrong Lane,” is riding high at No. 20 on the Billboard album chart after nine weeks in release. And their latest stunts can only help boost future sales. ”Even when they said they’d kiss and then they didn’t, that’s great. They played up their own image and then didn’t go through with it,” says Pete de Graaff, music director of Orlando Top 40 station WXXL. ”People are so desensitized that anything that cuts through the clutter helps to set them apart.”
t.A.T.u are next set to perform on Fox’s ”Mad TV” (March 8), NBC’s ”Last Call With Carson Daly” (March 13), and a rerun of CBS’ ”Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn” (March 13). For those who want even more, there’s always the ”All the Things She Said” video, which MTV seems to have no problem playing — lip-synched or not.