Tarkan Tevetoğlu - more commonly known as Tarkan - is a huge pop sensation in Turkey. His albums regularly sell millions of copies.
Born in Alzey near Frankfurt on October 17th, 1972, Tarkan grew up in Germany. When his father decided to relocate his family back to his homeland in Turkey in 1986, Tarkan began to study Turkish classical music in Karamürsel. His family moved to Istanbul in 1988, where he continued his high school education and music lessons. His road to fame began when he refused to return to Karamürsel with his family, and decided to remain in the city and prepare for university entrance exams in 1990.
Most commentators term 1991 as his 'Year of Destiny'. Unable to pass the exams, and only managing to find small-time music jobs, Tarkan was on the verge of returning to Germany. However, that year he met music producer Mehmet Söğütoğlu who signed Tarkan to his record label, Istanbul Plak, resulting in the release of Tarkan's first album on 24 December 1992.
His début album Yine Sensiz (Without You Again) sold 600,000 copies and an estimated 400,000 pirate copies. Sales surpassed a million when it was re-released as a CD in 1993. His second album A-acayipsin (Oh - You're Something Else) sold 450,000 just 10 days after its release. It eventually sold more than 2,000,000 copies in Turkey and 750,000 copies in Europe. This was a first-ever feat for a Turkish performer.
In 1994, Tarkan spent time in the USA to learn English where Ahmet Ertegün (the Turkish founder of Atlantic Records) persuaded him to sign up with Atlantic. The music mogul had first seen Tarkan perform in Istanbul, and before he passed away in 2006, Ertegün had quietly been preparing Tarkan for an American career.
In 1997, after a 3-year break, Tarkan released his third Turkish-language album Ölürüm Sana (I'd Die For You), and on the tour that followed he filled the Hippodrome in London, the Bataclan in Paris, and the Arena in Berlin. This album broke all record sales in Turkey. It sold over 4,000,000 copies. When the album's single "Şımarık" (a.k.a The Kissing Song/Kiss Kiss/Chanson Du Bisou/Besos) was released in 1998 in Europe after it reached the ears of a French CEO for music label PolyGram (which became Universal), it reached No. 1 in Belgium and No. 3 in places like France, and hit the top ten in Norway, Switzerland, and in his old home, Germany.
He won various accolades for the single, including being presented with gold discs at Cannes Midem and by Universal Germany. The song topped the Billboard Charts Hot 100 lists worldwide, resulting in close to 4 million units sold, while the music video was in steady rotation on international music markets including MTV and MCM throughout Europe.
In 1999, the French branch of PolyGram/Universal decided to license a compilation album of Tarkan's songs from his previous two albums for the international market. The sales of that album, simply titled Tarkan, brought him an award for best selling artist at the 11th annual World Music Awards in Monaco in the same year. The album also became a hit in Latin America in 2000 when the self-titled album was released on that continent with a Universal Latino ticket. It was certified platinum in Mexico and gold in Columbia, as well as making gold in France, Holland, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Sweden. Meanwhile, his signature song "Şımarık" was translated into many different languages across the globe in order to accommodate international demand.
He followed with summer releases Karma in 2001 and Dudu (Woman) in 2003, signalling an experimentation with more ethno-fused electronica pop. The Dudu EP won Tarkan best foreign selling artist in Russia when it reached over a million sales, and also cemented his superstar status in his domestic market.
In terms of sales and popularity, Tarkan is the biggest star of the last decade in Turkey, spreading his success across geographical and musical boundaries. His songs have become contemporary pop standards and his image has garnered interest and endorsements of many brands.
Tarkan was the face of Pepsi in Turkey and was the official mascot of the Turkish National football team for the 2002 World Cup. He also released his own perfume range entitled "Tarkan" at the start of 2004.
However, during 1999-2000 the music artist was relatively silent outside of Turkey. In his silence, many other artists recorded cover versions of his song "Şımarık", including Stella Soleil in the USA and Holly Valance in the UK. He broke that hiatus in 2006 with Come Closer - his long awaited English début album - creating new fans outside of Turkey since the 1999 era.
He is one of the very few European artists to attain chart success in Russia, Latin America and across the European continent in his native language - as well as becoming a cultural icon in his homeland.
The modern face of a country aspiring to bridge the East-West divide, Tarkan is Turkey's first international pop star.
1. This article was last updated in 2006.
2. Pictures are courtesy of Papaconcert.
3. See the comprehensive Making Moves documentary for more details about Tarkan.
4. Click here for Universal Germany's official biography on Tarkan (in pdf format).