Using lesbianism in modern music entertainment. "All the things she said" by t.A.T.u.
Queer Theory deals with the difficult issue of defining oneself as homosexual, e.g. the process of 'coming out', and therewith being often confronted with society's intolerance. It also discusses the process of self-discovery and building an own identity and comes along the obstacles people have to overcome in order to lead a happy life, integrated and tolerated by society. Music was used in several ways to depict the problems of coming out as homosexual. Therefore, it is said in a proposition in Playing it Queer by Jodie Taylor that, "Music allowed me to perform gender and express sexuality in multiple ways that were unavailable to me in daily life. […]".
Nevertheless, the manner that t.A.T.u. used became reason for great discussion among society. Since their first song All The Things She Said had been published, critics questioned the truth behind the affection between Lena Katina and Julia Volkova. Therefore, this term paper aims to ask for t.A.T.u.'s purpose of using the issue of homosexuality in their music. Either there really was the aim of explaining how to get through the process of coming out and then living as homosexual person or t.A.T.u. was just using that image for commercial purposes and branding.
Table of Contents
2. The Queer Theory by Adrienne Rich
3. Analysis of the Song All The Things She Said by t.A.T.u
3.1 All The Things She Said – Lyrics
3.2 All The Things She Said – Music Video
4. Comparing t.A.T.u.’s purpose: image or self-discovery
Passionate kisses, provocative performances on stage, whimsical and crazy – those are, among others, the notions connoted to the Russian Pop Duo t.A.T.u., which gained a lot of popularity in the beginning of the 2000s. The band consists of Lena Katina and Julia Volkova who both still have been underage when their career reached its climax; hence it caused a lot of polemic discussions worldwide. They gained the attention of several theorists of Queerism because in their songs and music videos, t.A.T.u. is fighting against society’s apparent intolerance of homosexuality. Queer Theory deals with the difficult issue of defining oneself as homosexual, e.g. the process of ‘coming out’, and therewith being often confronted with society’s intolerance. It also discusses the process of self-discovery and building an own identity and comes along the obstacles people have to overcome in order to lead a happy life, integrated and tolerated by society.Music was used in several ways to depict the problems of coming out as homosexual. Therefore, it is said in a proposition in Playing it Queer by Jodie Taylor that, “Music allowed me to perform gender and express sexuality in multiple ways that were unavailable to me in daily life. […]” (3).
Nevertheless, the manner that t.A.T.u. used became reason for great discussion among society. Since their first song All The Things She Said had been published, critics questioned the truth behind the affection between Lena Katina and Julia Volkova. Therefore, this term paper aims to ask for t.A.T.u.’s purpose of using the issue of homosexuality in their music. Either there really was the aim of explaining how to get through the process of coming out and then living as homosexual person or t.A.T.u. was just using that image for commercial purposes and branding.
Adrienne Rich is one of many theorists, who had a hypothesis concerning homosexuality among women to describe the difficulty in today’s society identifying oneself as lesbian. This theory will be portrayed in detail in the first chapter. Having explained Rich’s hypothesis, it will be applied to the lyrics and music video of t.A.T.u.’s #1 world hit All The Things She Said, which they became famous for. Additionally, people’s reactions and affections to the song and its influence to the listeners will be investigated. The next step is going to be a comparison between whether or not, t.A.T.u.’s appearance was used for fame or really for themselves as a way of self-discovery. Hence, the effects of the lyrics and the mood evoked in the music video will be a prominent issue in answering the question for t.A.T.u.’s purpose, which finally will be discussed in the last chapter.
The polemic consists of whether stereotypes were used to become famous or to announce their sexuality. In order to achieve a well-detailed analysis, literature concerning the area of interest will be taken into account. Additionally, there is going to be an explanation and description of own thoughts and opinions.
2. The Queer Theory by Adrienne Rich
Adrienne Rich is one of many researchers, who have developed theories concerning homosexuality and its origin. In her essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence”, Rich utters her basic assumption that heterosexuality is not inherent to women. Instead, women are forced to be sexually orientated towards men and thus, here heterosexuality is rather seen as an institution created by men and imposed on women (cf. Rich 633).
To support this idea, Rich describes her thesis on Kathleen Gogh’s “[list of] eight characteristics of male power in archaic and contemporary societies” (638) to reinforce women’s oppression during history. Women were refused from their own sexuality by means of medical interventions such as the removal of the clitoris, infibulation, restrictions of masturbation and harsh punishment by female adultery, in some cases with the consequence of being executed (cf. Rich 638). Thus, females were subdued by men and were not even able to develop their own sexuality or sexual desires. Instead, women were seen as human beings existing only for men’s satisfaction since sexual violence, such as rape in marriage, sexual violation of daughters by their fathers as well as their brothers causing incest, were tolerated. Besides, women were held captive at home, thus, the male power was ensured via the prevention of women’s movement (ibid. 639). Another characteristic Gough enlists and Rich uses is the view of women being objects that can be used in male transactions. Men used to utilize their daughters or even their wives as gifts or they arranged marriages for their daughters in order to guarantee a good life for them and, in particular, to depict men’s power over women (ibid.). Beside those inhuman interactions by treating women as objects, females were also used for facilitating trades. Here, women were supposed to wear clothes that evoke sexual arousal in men, thus, the partners are content to agree the deal (ibid.). There are more characteristics of male power and all of them illustrate very well how men have influenced women’s behavior and their development over time. On the one hand, men take over control by means of physical force such as the former explained medical interventions; on the other hand, they had also great influence on women’s consciousness as lesbians were punished very harshly and they were forced to serve for men’s satisfaction and thus, to be heterosexual. Heterosexual romance was rated as the only possible interaction among human beings. Beginning in their childhood, women were forced to believe that the only possibility for developing love (besides the love among family members) is between a man and a woman. In every fairy tale and every other children’s story, the only sexual tension or relationship has been between a man and a woman, with no exclusion. Beside literature, also in media, including films, radio, music and television, homosexuality was avoided and instead, heterosexuality laid on focus. Lesbianism was banished from literature and media. There is no evidence that lesbians did ever existed as no one wrote about it or rather if there was a proof, lesbianism was described as a disease that had to be medicated (ibid. 648). In fact, one can find lesbians described in writings but, nevertheless, a love between women was not taken serious but rather as erotic entertainment for men.
As Rich does not agree to the assumption that heterosexuality is congenital, she states an alternative by which the oppositions hetero- and homosexuality can be better understood. She fights for the essential notion that both, hetero- and homosexuality have to be regarded as a preference or choice (ibid.). Thus, every human being would be able to decide whether they want to be sexual orientated towards a same-sex person or towards a person of the other sex. Therefore, Rich differentiates between two terms. On the one hand, she explains the term lesbian existence, meaning that lesbians should not be banished out of history and that they do really exist (ibid.). With the definition of lesbian existence she also includes the meaning of it for society and for lesbians themselves in the past and the present. As lesbians have been seen as “[…] female versions of male homosexuality […]” (ibid. 649), lesbian existence aims to outline the indispensable want of lesbians to get an own identity independent from male. Thus, it involves the beginning of fighting against the erasure of lesbian reality and a compulsory way of life, including the breaking of a taboo (ibid.) On the other hand, Rich explains “a range […] of woman-identified experience” (ibid. 648) under the term of a lesbian continuum. Here, Rich includes not only the sexual desires towards other women but also, in particular, the strong bondage among women in fighting against male authority and the “sharing of a rich inner life” (ibid. 648 – 649). Hence, she argues that all women “exist […] on a lesbian continuum” (ibid. 650 – 651) of which all of them were permanently moving in and out. By explaining that every woman feel their first sexual sensation directly after birth while being nourished with the mother’s breast, continuing by nurturing the own infant and experiencing intensive affection while caring for an old woman being on her deathbed, she underscores her basic assumption that heterosexuality is not inherent but is being forced on women since birth (ibid.). Therefore, Rich includes in her analysis of a lesbian continuum not only the experiences among lesbians but also those of women who identify themselves as being heterosexual arguing that “[b]iologically men have only one innate orientation […] while women have two innate orientations […].” (631).
The last aspect Rich comprises in her essay is the existence of a double life among lesbians outlining again the effects of male tyranny throughout history. Although women have had sexual desires towards other women, they were forced to suppress those emotions “[…] in order to survive economically […]” (ibid. 654). Moreover, some women want to have children and do not want to risk that their children will have to suffer also such oppression and marginalization by society due to their mother’s homosexuality (ibid.). By suppressing the feelings towards other women, they enable the children a life tolerated by society and hence, being integrated. Nevertheless, they have to endure “[…] blocked options, broken connections, [and] lost of access to self-definition […]” (ibid. 657).
In “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” Adrienne Rich gives an overview about lesbian existence and women experiences with their sexual desires, either towards men or towards women. Since decades, women suffered from male authority and hence, they had not the possibility of self-discovery. Therefore, she tries to turn the readers’ view from seeing lesbianism as a disease to the notion that men are destructing female human beings due to their suppression and to the realization that there really exist lesbians.
3. Analysis of the Song All The Things She Said by t.A.T.u.
“What people think about us, we don’t give a sh***” (“t.A.T.u. CNN Interview 2004”) – with such statements the Russian girl group t.A.T.u. caused a great sensation in Russia, America and Europe in the beginning of the 2000s. Provocation and homoerotic performances in videos and on stage drew attention to Julia Volkova and Lena Katina, who formed the pop duo. Both, being underage, supported their popularity by the depiction of caressing each other, which provoked a great shock among the population nearly worldwide. Acts like kissing each other on videos and on stage and being temperamental on TV provides the apparent breaking of taboos.
The girl group was founded in 1999, after having been casted by the music producer Ivan Shapovalov. The idea was to create “a girl group whose image would depend heavily on illicit sexuality” (Heller 196) and hence, two young girls who pretend to feel intensively attracted by each other where illustrated. The pop duo gained more and more supporters and achieved big success in Russia with the result that the album 200 KM/H In The Wrong Lane” was reproduced as an English version in 2002 and published in Europe and America (cf. Heller 196). This album includes also the song All The Thing She Said that achieved #1 of music charts.
3.1 All The Things She Said – Lyrics
All The Things She Said – this is the song with which the girl group t.A.T.u. gained huge success in Europe and later also in America (Heller 196). It is a work that was translated from the Russian version ‘Я сошла с ума’ into English, published 2002, and that was the first single of the album 200 KM/H In The Wrong Lane (ibid.). Here, the musicians invite the hearer to get a closer look at the lyrical I’s disarranged thoughts and feelings considering the apparent marginalization from the society due to their sexual orientation. Lyrically, it is not only an illustration of the love between two same-sex persons but, in particular, it is a depiction of the lyrical I’s doubts about the correctness of having feelings for a person of the same sex. Therefore, it is shown through the eyes of two lyrical Is.
At the beginning of the song, the hearer is thrown directly into the situation because it starts with the chorus in which “All the things she said, /…/ [are] Running through the [lyrical I’s] head … .” (Galoyan line 1, 3). The repetition of these phrases during the chorus and the fact that there are uncontrolled thoughts within the mind creates an atmosphere of disorientation and confusion. The evoked attention gets the hearer to want more information about the lyrical I’s state of emotion and mind. Therefore, this issue is elaborated in the following verses of the song. Both lyrical Is underscore their feelings of being helpless, lost and totally confused due to their inner struggle against the feelings they have for each other. Since homosexuality is apparently not welcomed in society and causes marginalization, they try to arrange their emotions in order to break the bars by which they feel imprisoned. Nevertheless, this attempt is effortless as one of the lyrical I sings “/…/ can’t block you out.” (ibid. line 18) and only “[wants to] fly to a place where it’s just you and me” (ibid. line 19). It is depicted that both lyrical Is at first cannot decide whether to admit to oneself that they love a person of the same sex or to ignore those feelings in order to get the integration in the society. Their goal is to decide in which direction they have to go to reach happiness. In the second verse, the inner struggle of both becomes more acute, intensifying the effects of society’s condemnation. They feel imprisoned and observed (ibid. line 40, 44). Still, they now admit their feelings for each other saying, “’Cause I’m feeling for her what she’s feeling for me” (ibid. line 45). Towards the end of the song, one lyrical I asks her mother for help whereas the other lyrical I prefers to seek for help from the father to get an answer whether their behavior is correct or not (ibid. line 71 – 76).
On the basis of the content, the song is structured in three verses and the chorus, which is repeated three times. The chorus creates a frame of the song, enforcing the process of finding the right way of living. The first two verses consist of eight lines, which are dividedinto four lines per singer (ibid. line 13 – 20). This conveys the impression that the two singers are outlining their conflict with their sexual desires individually, portraying the effects of being observed, constrained and sentenced by humanity and, by contrast, the consequences in the own life of being in love with a same-sex person.
To enhance the mood of disorientation, confusion and helplessness, the choice of words is relevant. Through language, everyone gains access to the insights of the lyrical I’s mind and this gives assistance in understanding their thoughts. As a consequence, all those persons who chose to be homosexual have the possibility to identify themselves with the lyrical I to find an own interpretation of correctness and truth in their pursuit of happiness. In order to offer this possibility to a great number of human beings, t.A.T.u. decided to make use of easy language, using simple and mundane words. This is emphasized by the use of several abbreviations through the whole lyrics. “/…/ I’m /…/” (ibid. line 13) instead of ‘I am’, “/…/ it’s /…/” (ibid. line 14) instead of ‘it is’ or “/…/ can’t /…/ (ibid. line 18) instead of cannot are just some examples to depict the reduction of the phrases’ segments. Another aspect that is to be taken into consideration is the fact that Lena Katina’s and Julia Volkova’s aim was not only to address to a great number of people, but also, and principally, to appeal to teenagers who are possibly trying to hide their sexual desires (cf. “Behind The Scenes”). In the age of puberty, adolescents are generally innocent and have mostly none or rudimental experiences of life. In search for an identity, some of them come to struggle with their sexuality due to maybe yet unknown sexual desires. Therefore, Julia is singing in one verse, “I’m in serious shit /…/” (Galoyan line 13) and using abusive expressions in the hope for teenagers to feel more identified with the girl group and in order to give support to those who might feel lost in their personal development. This abusive expression was, nevertheless, mostly censored since it was not adequately to be presented on media (cf. “t.A.T.u. – All The Things She Said”). Asking the parents for help is another connection made to the youth. And also here, the colloquial expression for ‘father’ is used since the lyrical I calls him “Daddy /…/” (Galoyan line 74).
Another aspect used in All The Things She Said is the use of two significant images underscoring the lyrical I’s despair of being dropped in and feeling the intensive need to escape and feel happy again. The first metaphor is featured in the chorus and is therefore, an extended metaphor. The lyrical Is are trapped in a conflict due to their apparently inappropriate sexual orientation. Regarding the lack of help and being disoriented, their thoughts are “[r]unning through [their] head[s] /…/” (ibid. line 3). ‘Running’ is perceived as a fast physical action that should not take part of thoughts in the mind. It evokes an atmosphere of restlessness, disorientation and helplessness. The lyrical Is do not seem to be able to overcome the obstacles and so they cannot get their thoughts straight. This metaphor also evokes the need of fleeing.