t.A.T.u (referencing the phrase, This Girl Loves That Girl in Russian) were formed in 1999 between singers Julia Volkova and Lena Katina after splitting off from the group Neposedy, which had formed in 1997. Joining them on instrumentation were Sven Martin (Keyboards and Mixer/Arranger), Troy McCubbin (Guitar), and Roman Ratej (Drums).
Julia and Lena would be managed by Ivan Shapovalov until they split from him in 2003. By March of 2006, drummer Steve Wilson and bassist Domen Vajevec would join the duo with Wilson replacing Roman Ratej. The group continued making albums through 2009 before the duo quietly split by 2010 to pursue their own solo projects and making it official in 2011. Since then, they have made sporadic appearances together including most notably at the Sochi opening ceremony of the Olympics in 2014.
Although primarily known for their public stage “gimmick” that being portrayed as actual lesbians, both Julia and Lena later came out as not being lesbian in a 2003 documentary (although later Julia referred to herself as bisexual), which led to some public backlash primarily from media writers. The duo countered the negativity by stating that their songs were intended to convey LGBT messages as a means of speaking for those people and that it was Ivan Shapovalov who pushed the duo towards the lesbian gimmick.
With that out of the way, let’s get onto the meat of the duo and band: their songs. See which cracked my Top 20 list and why. Some of these selections are the Russian versions, which I preferred to their English counterparts, unless noted in the actual countdown.
20: Snegopady / Snowfalls From the Album Vesyolye Ulybki / Waste Management
I prefer the Russian version as it caters more towards the trance, keyboard synth sound for its background push as opposed to the heavier percussion of the English version. The lyrics also paint a better image of two upon a roof as it snows while tying into the sky/space theme that’s heavily alluded to throughout the album.
19: Vremya Lumy / Time of the Moon From the Album Vesyolye Ulybki / Waste Management
A solid song largely hinging upon its driving pulsating beat that kicks it off before transitioning to a harder bass sound. The vocals in the chorus by Lena add to the ethereal nature of the track itself, almost calling to mind Thom York, the lead singer of Radiohead.
18: Robot From the Album 200 Po Vstrechnoy/200 km/h in the Wrong Lane
Representative of the heavy trance sound and one of the closest pure dance club style tracks the group would come up with. In a lot of ways, this track would help formalize the experimentation to come on their 3rd album and it has one of the catchiest choruses the group came up. Hard to not bop your head to this even if you don’t know any Russian at all.
17: 30 Minutes / 30 Minuts From the Album 200 Po Vstrechnoy/200 km/h in the Wrong Lane
I love the soft, sentimental sound of the piano keys throughout that calls to mind a lot of the piano driven female singer/songwriter material from the 1990s and 2000s. The vocals and lyrics remain pretty steady throughout but the song works as one of their softer tracks considering most of the genre styles they lent themselves towards.
16: Malchik-Gey / Malchik Gay From the Album 200 Po Vstrechnoy/200 km/h in the Wrong Lane
One of the few overt tracks aimed at gay males (with the title serving as Gay Boy itself) and much like Robot it’s heavily trance/dance club focused and upbeat and catchy. The Russian version’s lyrics tend to run a little more realistic and slightly darker and I like that its bluntness isn’t as hidden as the English language version.
15: Loves Me Not From the Album Dangerous and Moving / Lyudi Invalidy
One of their stronger songs referencing the dilemma of a bisexual caught between two loves. The instrumentation makes this a better track than 30 Minutes for me with a catchier chorus and an evoked image that paints a different picture than most groups could ever cover.
14: 220 / Sparks From the Album Vesyolye Ulybki / Waste Management
Another song that heavily leans on the trance sound and reminds me a lot of the background music that accompanied Bjork’s tracks. Both tracks are nearly identical in this instance but the Russian version has the vocals sounding more natural and both Julia and Lena in their comfort zones.
13: Gomenasai From the Album Dangerous and Moving / Lyudi Invalidy
I love this track. It’d be higher if it weren’t somewhat simplistic compared to some of the other songs ahead on this list. I’ve heard varying things regarding the track itself from Julia not wanting to sing on it at all to the track being an apology to Japan after the group canceled several tour dates set for the country. The strongest aspect of this song are the vocals and something about them, especially Julia’s, just hits me in the right spot.
12: Ya Tvoya Ne Pervaya (I’m Your First) / Show Me Love From the Album 200 Po Vstrechnoy/200 km/h in the Wrong Lane
One of the most intriguing tracks because the Russian version depicts a lover experiencing another’s first time/their struggles to accept what happened while Show Me Love, the English counterpart, flees and depicts more of a general show me you’re in love with me depiction that almost ruins the point of the original song. I greatly prefer the Russian version for the lyrical changes and because it strikes a much heavier mood throughout. The percussion is also stronger and adds to the song’s aggressive nature whereas the English version comes off as more of a pure pop song.
11: Beliy Plaschik / White Robe From the Album Vesyolye Ulybki / Waste Management
The synth work and buildup to the chorus really works and you can’t really go wrong with either version. The lyrics of the Russian version make much stronger references to abortion and the disposal of the fetus along with the self thoughts related to the act whereas the English version prefers to try and tip-toe around that message (at its best it almost refers to it but doesn’t get close). As a result, the English version is catchy but the message is far more muddied up so I prefer the Russian version again.
10: Sacrifice From the Album Dangerous and Moving / Lyudi Invalidy
One of their few tracks that heavily features a more conventional guitar and American style pop song arrangement and it works so well. It’s a great little romantic pop song with their usual catchy chorus although the high reach of the vocals may not be for everybody. The unique arrangement is largely why the song is here though.
09: Fly on the Wall From the Album Vesyolye Ulybki / Waste Management
A very catchy pop song reminiscent of their first album albeit with lyrics that paint the picture of a stalkerish obsession. It’s one of the songs that would be tailor made for an English speaking audience, especially Americans. The vocals and deep bass largely carry the instrumentation behind the track, which is interesting as the song kind of lacks a pure melody yet remains quite catchy.
08: Running Blind From the Album Vesyolye Ulybki / Waste Management
The trance background beat seems to come right out of a 1980s soundtrack which immediately takes the song into an arresting. The lyrics are slightly deeper than normal for their English tracks and I adore the heavy synth beat. The high echo effect on the vocals may annoy some but I find it apropos for the song itself. I liken the song as a marriage of pop music melded with a lighter Trance sound from the early 1990s.
07: Perfect Enemy / Novaya Model (New Model) From the Album Dangerous and Moving / Lyudi Invalidy
A song more closely hewing to something that a band like Nine Inch Nails would produce around 1990/1991. A heavy, darker synth beat accompanies a bit of a colder, robotic vocal performance from Julia which helps the song pop more than it probably would otherwise. The percussion helps transform the track into something which wouldn’t feel out of place in a television show advert or even a movie trailer. While the vocals sound a bit more robotic on the Russian version, this is one of the few songs that I prefer its English version instead.
06: Friend or Foe From the Album Dangerous and Moving / Lyudi Invalidy
Largely driven by a unique bass groove, this song gets carried by its chorus and reminded me a lot of Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know. While the lyrics are somewhat simple, it helps aid the song with a really catchy chant-along chorus and is reminiscent of their song Gomenasai, which is also featured on the same album.
05: Kosmos (Space) / Cosmos (Outer Space) From the Album Dangerous and Moving / Lyudi Invalidy
Both versions are outstanding although I tend to prefer the English version simply because the vocals, especially the highs in the chorus, are simply superb and its the rare instance where the lyrics themselves have a deeper/better resonent meaning in relation to the song itself compared to the Russian version. With all that said, the Russian version contains a deeper, better bass sound and the vocals sound more polished and natural but I still prefer the English version.
04: You and I From the Album Vesyolye Ulybki / Waste Management
A catchy, melodic, beautiful little gem of a song and I love the beauty behind the vocals from Julia and Lena throughout. It’s basically one long massive hook that never quite hits ear worm status yet remains irresistible all on its own to the point that one could easily memorize the lyrics by their 3rd listening of the song.
03: Not Gonna Get Us / Nas Ne Dogoniat (They Won’t Catch Us) From the Album 200 Po Vstrechnoy/200 km/h in the Wrong Lane
This song sounds like something straight off of Prodigy’s “Fat of the Land” album circa 1997 and it is catchy as all get out. It does a great transition throughout from the heavy bass beat to a brief piano interlude back to percussion/bass into an upbeat, fun chorus. Julia in particular stands out vocally and kills it through the entire song. I love both versions equally although the Russian version paints the picture of two lovers running away from their families better via the lyrics.
02: All About Us From the Album Dangerous and Moving / Lyudi Invalidy
It is all about the chorus for me on this song, one of their catchiest and one that has been an ear worm in my skull since I first heard it. It’s a captivating little song with arresting vocal performances especially from Lena throughout referencing the media and their own trials and tribulations as singers and performers. Maybe my favorite Lena vocal performance in t.A.T.u’s entire catalog and it’s just such a perfectly crafted, smooth flowing song from start to finish carried completely by the vocals. If you only listen to two songs, make sure this is one of them.
01: All the Things She Said From the Album 200 Po Vstrechnoy/200 km/h in the Wrong Lane
One of the few songs in their catalog that I think the English version just slays the Russian version. Everything about this song is perfect from the lyrics, especially the chorus, to the musical instrumentation starting right into the percussion/bass driven beat behind the vocals. The repetition/echoey feel of the phrase, “Nobody else, so we can be free,” right into the chorus is so well done and the chorus is as memorable as anything put out in the entirety of the 2000s. There’s a reason that this song is instantly recognizable and it’s easily their top song and deserves its place in the top spot at number one.
So there it is, the top 20 songs of t.A.T.u. as chosen by yours truly. Do you agree with the list? Do you disagree? Any glaring omissions that you thought I overlooked and/or ignored?