Tuesday, September 07, 2004

'Stoking the star maker machinery behind the popular song..'
When my photographer and I hit the door of Edge nightclub Sunday night, it initially appeared that a terrible marketing error had been made.
Our assignment was to cover a rising Ukrainian girl group, a trio called Nu Virgos. Formerly VIA-GRA (get it?) the new name was the result of, shall we say, copyright
concerns. It seems that Pfizer Inc. didn't appreciate the coincidence that VIA-GRA is also a Russian acronym for ``vocal instrumental ensemble game''. At least that's how Nadya, Vera and the newest member, Svetlana explained it to me the day after their six-song Edge showcase.
But Nu Virgos' target audience is presumably teenage girls growing up too fast and testosterone-ridden heterosexual males, the same kind of 18-34-year-olds that subscribe to the likes of Maxim, Playboy and Penthouse.
Yes, it's safe to say that Nu Virgos - who have also posed for the Japanese
edition of Playboy - are not targeting gay males, which is what Edge was
packed with when most of the media arrived.
Cher, Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler or Judy Garland, they aren't. They are melodic pop singers packaged as porn stars, a cross between another Russian sex-sells-songs group tATu and a spicier Spice Girls. The brainsirens of a producer named Dmytry Kostiuk and a songwriter called Konstantin Meladz, Nadya and Vera and an earlier Nu Virgo named Anya who was replaced by Svetlana after she became pregnant, were selected from 1,000 Ukrainian women craving a shot at show business.
Their current single and video is a saucy, irritatingly catchy ditty called Stop! Stop! Stop!. The video is heavily pixilated in Hong Kong, and hints at more than is ultimately delivered and emphasizes the "tease'' in striptease.
But my misgivings about Sony Music's marketing strategy were unfounded. Most of the sweaty, bare-chested males mysteriously and suddenly evaporated as the techno mix
music ceased and show time approached.
More media - mostly photographers and video crews - packed the stage lip and three enthusiastic middle-aged Russians, two women
and a portly guy who kept bellowing "Wow! Wow! Wow!'' between songs stood on chairs and competed with the emcee as cheerleaders.
Nadya, Vera and Svetlana put on a well-choreographed, enthusiastic show. In fact, Nadya almost pulled a Janet Jackson as she flounced and bounced through Kill My Girlfriend, but fortunately her well-designed support structure took the strain and there was no Justin Timberlake as an enabler.
It was hard to tell from my vantage point, but she may have had her freebie lingerie from the Private Shop in the Hong Kong International Airport to thank.
Upon their arrival Sunday the three had been treated to a HK$10,000 each ``Nu Virgos Shopping Tour'' in four pre-arranged duty-free stores courtesy of the Airport Authority and Sony. This drew more than 20 media types and featured the
strongest security I've encountered since covering a President Jimmy Carter appearance or trying to fly from Los Angeles with a one-way ticket to China on the second anniversary of Sept 11.
Seven stern-faced airport security guards - three women and four men in identical Men in Black suits - surrounded and kept pace with the temptresses as they were guided from Baccarat (no purchases), to Fendi (Sevtlana eyed, but didn't buy several pricey bags that resembled mutant furry caterpillars) to the unmentionables store where they and the photographers were finally in their element.
``Very small! Very small!'' squealed Svetlana as she stroked her hips and flaunted a pink and black thong and matching bra for the flashbulbs.
``Do you need to try it on?'' snickered one guy from a Chinese language publication.
She and the others demurred, but purchases were made there and more suitable duds were tried on and wrapped at the final destination, an upscale Sino-fashion shop called Shanghai Tang where tourists Sam and Ruth Glauber of Long Island, New York, watched with fascination and not-a-little bemusement.
``Who are the models?'' Ruth asked as Sam began furiously photographing Nadya.
``A Ukrainian pop group,'' I explained as Sam elbowed his waythrough the authorized press to document Svetlana who was vamping while trying on a floor length Chinese
robe. ``They're called Nu Virgos.''
``Never heard of them,'' Ruth said a little dismissively. ``What is their music like? Just noise, I'm guessing. Enough pictures. And this place is too pricey. C'mon Sam! We've got a plane to catch, honey!''
Sam pulled himself away from focusing on Vera, who had caught his eye as she caressed herself with an expensive red silk blouse for the lenses.
``Tell Sam the blonde is named Vera!'' I shouted as she hauled her husband out toward the departure zone.
``So finish!'' barked an impatient burly Russian handler who had been assisting the airport folks. The voice of authority had spoken and was obeyed. Shopping bags and photographers in tow, the three headed for the Harbour Plaza hotel in Hong Kong
where we would meet for a post-concert group interview early Monday afternoon.
With the assistance of a local Russian-English translator, Galina Papakule, and wearing not much more than they had the night before, Nu Virgos up close and sort of personal were the only featured attraction at the Harbour Plaza other than a salon conducted by a former Kashmir prime minister about a India-Pakistan
foreign ministers meeting. It wasn't hard to tell who was there for what.
Solemn looking, formally clad East Asian men and women went in one direction while casually clad, mostly young adults with cameras and tape recorders and Nu Virgo CDs and press kits clustered a floor above and waited a brush with Ukrainian pop
``She says, `I'm Svetlana,' ''Papakule said by way of introductions."'I am ambitious, emotional and a very happy person.''
Nadya was introduced as ``a person of limits she can go into depression or be very happy very quickly. She says it is either black or white for her.''
I considered suggesting medication, but Nadya looked like she was in a ``white'' mood at the moment and I didn't want to spoil it for her or the rest of us.
`` `I'm Vera. I'm very happy and we want to conquer the whole world!'
Other tidbits I gleaned were that prior to becoming Nu Virgos, Nadya was a former primary school English teacher, Vera majored in accounting and Svetlana has been singing all her life, once starred in a Ukrainian stage musical and hoped that her status as a new Nu Virgo would be permanent.
There were also the hardball questions, like the one from a local radio reporter who wanted to know, ``What makes a woman sexy?''
Svetlana, in a blue jean mini-skirt and plunging purple leopard and floral print bustier that would be the envy of any Wan Chai hooker, volunteered that ``it will come naturally. If you have inner sexuality you will, of course, be very sexy.''
Vera tossed her blonde mane back, briefly adjusted her horizontally striped black and white micro-mini skirt, smiled and added:``You need to relax and let emotions rule you.''
Wise words, I thought. But free posh lingerie doesn't hurt either.

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