Before I knew my own identity as a pansexual transgender woman, before I really even knew what it was to even question my own identity, I heard that voice while watching WrestleMania XIX.
Yes, I’ve lost my mind…
Out walked then-Women’s Champion Victoria, accompanied by ECW legend Stevie Richards, to defend her title in a Triple Threat match against Jazz, another ECW alum and bonafide badass, and Trish Stratus, one of the greatest performers in the Divas era of women’s wrestling. I recognized the melody right away, as she had a generic, legally distinct version of the song for her entrance in WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain, but the real McCoy hit different for reasons aside from the obvious. While the version she used jumped from the chorus right to the synth solo, there was something different about this song. Teenage me, hormones and all but with the kind of sensitivity that comes from being raised by three mothers, couldn’t quite put my finger on why.
Then, upon learning the name of the song, I looked up the music video for “All The Things She Said,” Russian title “Ya Shosla S Uma,” by t.A.T.u.
My reaction was twofold. A muted part of me was like “woo, girls kissing, this is great!” Because what teenage boy wouldn’t think that? But there was more to the story. The song was about forbidden love, about the kind of affection that some believe should only happen behind closed doors, if at all. It’s about processing feelings and mixing them with what you’ve been raised to believe, and given that I was confirmed Lutheran in a tiny Podunk town with 1,000 residents and six churches in it, things hit a bit close to home. And again, this is before I figured out a damn thing about myself.
I’ve gone on record saying that wrestling has introduced me to so many bands, and in particular the soundtracks for the SmackDown! vs RAW games helped to shape my musical tastes into what they are today. I was at the point in my musical journey where I was past the point of hating the popular bands just because, and was branching out beyond just heavy metal. But still, this 2000s pop anthem was hitting differently.
Musically speaking, it’s a four-chord pop song. D flat, C, F, A flat. Guitars, synths, a drum machine, a simple bass line. The lyrics, as mentioned earlier, are concerned with what the others think, what am I thinking, and am I losing my mind? This is rather pedestrian in pop music today, but cast your mind back to 2002, when this song first was released. This is over a decade before Obergefell v Hodges, this is a few years before the blatant rainbow capitalism we see today. Hell, we were only just starting to see LGBTQ-themed media like The L Word and Queer as Folk, and those were on premium cable.
As far as its use in WWE goes, it was used while Victoria was a heel (villain). In an interview with Fightful, she revealed that WWE only licensed the song for a year, beginning with the Armageddon pay-per-view in December 2002. After that, and on streaming services (curse you, licensing fees), a generic soundalike is used in the song’s place. On the May 24th, 2004 edition of RAW, well into Victoria’s babyface (hero) run, she began using Hood$tars’ song “Don’t Mess With,” featuring a then-unknown Nicki Minaj laying down bars.
So is this WWE using the old trope of a villain being different, ostracized, or something that we dare not speak out loud? Granted, in the Divas era of wrestling, there was always a nudge and wink of girl on girl action for titillation’s sake, but there’s not much in Victoria’s WWE run that would suggest her playing for the other team. To her credit, Lisa Marie Varon, the woman behind Victoria, was afraid that the song would cast her persona as a lesbian, especially given how some fans tend to see the characters on TV as dialed-up representations of the people portraying them. When WWE made her visuals in her entrance Titantron video creepy and unsettling, it gave a bit more credence to the evil lesbian trope. Varon was a bodybuilder and a fitness model before turning to wrestling, a point that was used in her first storyline in WWE.
By pointing this out, I don’t mean to demonize the WWE or its creative team, but I have to wonder if they were really paying attention to what they were setting Varon up for. Yes, it’s a great song they gave her, but there’s far more than meets the eye, especially the one coming out of her hand in said video.
The irony here is that, the same year that WWE licensed “All The Things She Said,” they landed in hot water following a “commitment ceremony” between Billy Gunn and Chuck Palumbo that was admitted to be a publicity stunt. The company even got GLAAD involved to do things right by the community. But I digress.
“All The Things She Said” can’t be talked about without mentioning the controversy which befell the band. A year after the duo split with their producer and Cowell-esque figure Ivan Shapovalov, the jig was up, as it was revealed that Yulia Volkova not only had a boyfriend, but was pregnant. And twenty years later, the feelings of the Russian government towards LGBTQ+ folks are… the less said, the better. But were the girls just using the lesbian storyline for attention? After all, going back to her Fightful interview, Victoria herself didn’t want to represent a community she wasn’t a part of, and didn’t want to be accused of being a “fake lesbian,” much in the way that Yulia and cohort Lena Katina were.
In an interview with The Independent in 2008, Lena shed some light on the intent behind the song, stating:
“If boys like boys or girls like girls, so what? We’re all people – we tried to show people that there’s no need to pressurise or ostracise people because of it. The situation is still bad but it has got better.”
Yulia then throws her two cents in, adding:
“It was our teenage years. You have to try everything. It felt at the time like it was real love – it felt like there was nothing more serious… Now when you look back at it of course it’s ridiculous. We still sleep in the same bed sometimes. But it doesn’t mean we stay up all night having sex,” she says. I look the other way, trying my best not to conjure up a mental image. “We just have very close, friendly relations. Though we do still sometimes get drunk and kiss each other. But it’s just fun between friends.”
Before we go dismissing the girls as faking it till they made it – and given the lasting success and influence of the song, oh boy did they make it – sexuality is a fluid thing, and can change over time for a number of reasons. At the time the song came out, the girls were barely adults, and who knows what the influence of their native Russia had on things. I’m not trying to insist that the girls from t.A.T.u have been queer all along, as that’s their story to tell, but what I am suggesting is that their story is one that rings true for so many people, whether they end up coming out or not. In so many words, the fact that this singular pop song from a Russian duo resonates with so many people, even in the face of all the gaga and the public outcry, will forever define t.A.T.u.
The song has seen covers from Halflives, Poppy, and Seraphine, and the more aggressive Fernando Garibay remix still makes its way to dance floors from time to time. While the singers of said song, as well as its usage throughout the last two decades, have not gone without a few bumps in the road, we can still celebrate “All The Things She Said,” as so much has changed since its premiere, save for a certain dictator in the singers’ native country. It is as central to the scene as any other song, as it highlights being on the outside looking in, and all of the struggle that comes with it.
To quote the song, it’s about that moment when one asks, “Have I crossed the line?”