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Friday, July 14, 2017

Tarkan: Lightning in a Green Bottle

Editorial by Mark Mayhey reporting from London, UK

For a beleaguered and besieged music business Tarkan is living proof that money can still be made in an industry dominated and decimated by streaming and freeness. The bad news, however, is that Tarkan is the artist you cannot manufacture. He's a one-off. Which was apparent from the start."

Since 1992, Tarkan has held Turkey in the velvet grip of a remarkable voice. It was first showcased by public broadcaster TRT in a career-defining and reputation-sealing new year performance that was witnessed by millions watching live on television, and then crowned by the opening of music station Kral's own MVAs where Tarkan was the first recipient of Best Male Pop Artist.

It was a gong that was going to become known as Tarkan's award; every other male artist to receive it was in effect holding it in trust for the man who broke the mould of Turkey's pop industry. If we were talking about a global music industry such as America, Tarkan would be lauded, applauded and awarded across the globe. As it is, in Turkey, Tarkan is a "freak".

He is not normal, at least, in terms of his achievements. Breaking album sales records in 2017 in Turkey is in and of itself a miracle. High-ranking music label execs and producers privately echo this sentiment: Tarkan is an anomaly, label-proof, and - more importantly - a beacon of hope for the industry.

For a beleaguered and besieged music business Tarkan is living proof that money can still be made in an industry dominated and decimated by streaming and freeness. The bad news, however, is that Tarkan is the artist you cannot manufacture. He's a one-off. Which was apparent from the start. And which is apparent today. His domination is inevitable, resistance futile. He is, after all, singing in a musical landscape he helped to create.

It's something a Tarkan fan learns by rote: Born in Germany and raised in Turkey, Tarkan has achieved multi-platinum status with album and single sales in excess of millions. It's an achievement made all the more remarkable since only a handful of his songs recorded in a double digit career of hip shaking smoothness are sung in English.

From the moment Tarkan became a household name in Turkey, musical friend and foe alike have wondered whether he would make an impact internationally. You can't contain lightning in a bottle, it was obvious Tarkan would break out of his borders; it was a question of when and how, rather than if ever.

To everyone's surprise it was a Turkish track - a one-hit wonder that influenced Europop more than we admit and helped open the gates to Latin music in America, but America - where real international stardom lies - eluded him. Tarkan never really recovered from wrong song choices and broken contractual promises; somewhere between 2001 and 2006 the realisation dawned that he had peaked. Since 2003, every album after became a little more sales-conscious, a little more stripped of the raw immediacy of making music without forethought and with all the rushed passion of foreplay.

But despite the inevitable law of diminishing returns Tarkan's unique star persona remained strong because it hasn't been replicated. There is no singer in Turkish pop that is the Tarkan of his generation. A singer who can overcome setbacks in the face of ubiquitous adversity, by going dark into a studio to come out shining bright.

Although not always. This time last year, things looked different for Tarkan and Turkey. It was a turning point of sorts for both; while people power was storming over tanks rumbling across the Bosphorus, Tarkan was asking people to whoop and stamp and shout.

For the first time in modern Turkish history a military coup flopped - and so did a Tarkan track. If you ignore his English album venture, "Cuppa" was the first real track that failed to ignite the populus' imagination since he entered Turkish pop's lexicon.

The failure was relative to Tarkan's previous successes. It still notched sales, was a top five entry and for any other artist would have been considered a hit. The music artist's diehard core stubbornly took it to their hearts, but ridicule was widespread. It generated organic buzz for all the wrong reasons. People scratched their heads over the lyrics. It failed to reach number one in airplay.


When the song you drop drops you in it

What "Cuppa" did when it was digitally dropped - especially with the cringeworthy message attached that was so unlike Tarkan you almost doubted he wrote it - was show listeners a faltering in musical judgment. In a business that has roughly halved in value, Tarkan provides living proof that there is still money to be made in recorded music - if you get it right. It works as long as the product is good and the reputation unsullied.

But against all expectation to see a musical version of Tom Cruise (aka a star in slow-motion career meltdown), Tarkan did what he does best, and a year down the line he's back from the brink to silence his critics. But the absence of "Cuppa" from his 2017 album is as loud as a summer beach club hit.

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