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Friday, December 30, 2016

The Purpose of Poptimism [3/3]

Editorial by Mark Mayhey reporting from London, UK

Turkish pop pastime Tarkan is without a doubt the unique product of nineties Turkey. And that's the problem. His brand in today's ubiquitous fragmentation of taste wouldn't have taken off, or fantastically nose-dived, as it did a decade ago. Times that seem, and indeed were, different ages.

Hoised up in the ragged fabric of a once golden potential now passed, his Harbiye shows this year came off as a public relations exercise by the abrupt delay of a planned pop album release and the tactical retreat to a classical album instead. And the media silence - however reverent - was deafening.

Even a symbolic award presented to Tarkan for his tribute album to age old classics failed to pack a poptist punch: Six years ago when he swept the board with awards for his 2010 pop album, his rare attendance at award shows had generated major buzz. This year the media's reaction was respectfully subdued - if not positively mute - when Tarkan popped in at the annual Golden Butterfly Awards to accept the gong for his classical cut.

Singer and part time celebrity Tuğba Ekinci - who will be most remembered as "that woman" who hijacked Tarkan's 2010 acceptance speech at the 38th annual Golden Butterfly Awards - wondered this time around what a middle aged Tarkan still "shaking his ass" would look like.

Popularity, being the "in" thing, is as brief as a butterfly's lifespan. And the purpose of poptimism is not to deal in historical artefacts or music archaeology. It deals with the prescience of the present. But ditching pop at a time you can no longer produce is undoubtedly going to make you look like a rat deserting a sinking ship.

Undeservedly, Tarkan's ship "Cuppa" hit a blindside of icerberg proportions. Instead of capturing the mood to caricature the homogeneity of pop, it became the victim of it. Initially silent against the critics, the singer waited to gauge public reaction at his Harbiye shows. He apparently got his answer.

Now, instead of a pop release, the public may see a Turkish classical album 2.0 hit the stands first. If it ever materialises out from speculation and rumour, will a classical sequel be welcomed as a maturing man's retrospective look back upon his youth? Or as a forced retreat from being hoisted on his own petard in 2016?

Kurt Cobain is proof that when legends consume themselves, what was real is often lost. Cobain loved Abba, wasn't from Seattle and didn't invent grunge, but who cares? Ultimately what endures is what we believe. What will endure from Tarkan's legacy is what will matter in the long run, not a blip on his current chart successes. That's the power of pop, but its greatest pitfall, too.

Dig deeper beneath the hype, and nothing is real. In this, pop mirrors life. The reality is that your past is not your own. Through the veil of nostalgia and simple nudges, your friends, colleagues and strangers can change your recollections in ways you will never realise.

Universally music works much in the same fashion: The quality of output of Turkish pop music in the nineties has warped the memory of that era for its generation. Far from being more free and gentle, it was one of the most violent and economically dismal of Turkish times. Yet a generation hears the music and links it to better times where none existed.

Moreover, has the world ever been perfect? It never was, it never will be. For some it might be great to go back in time to a Turkish past where pop was king, but it would be a momentary highlight. For the majority of people throughout history, life was hard, short and at times, brutal. The greatest time of human history is now, even if your memory tells you different.

Perhaps our species today is far from nailing the task of becoming a prosperous, harmonious civilisation. At times it can feel like 2016 has been a bad year: Global terrorism flaring, refugee crises, climate change, race-related shootings - to name a few of the gloomier headlines. And from David Bowie to Alan Rickman to George Michael to Carrie Fisher, Death has focused on pop culture's royalty with the greedy consumption of a crazed fan.

Still, if you had the chance to be reborn in any era, one of the smarter, more prudent choices would be today; right now. Look forward, and we are on the verge of great discoveries, as great as the first time our ancestors grabbed a tool, or the moment pen was put to paper. If progression is an expression of hope, then like a good song we should be hopeful and fearful in equal measure.

Tarkan at his progressive best is still what made him the Tarkan of the nineties. Today he is a middle-aged, married man, but on stage he continues to bare his bones, and ours - a superb Tarkan jam is still moody, still sexy, still flawed. He is part of the rare breed who continues to be an expression of hope, because he shows that being of the moment means believing in the moment.

Every generation - and every artist of a generation - will attest that the easiest thing to break is the human spirit. But as the discovery of the best of Tarkan's tracks will tell you, the hardest thing to break is the human spirit, too. What else is popular culture's catalogue a testament to, if not that fragile reality.

Real is as real does. A reality we learn, like pop, which is changeable, disposable and yet enduring.

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