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Friday, September 22, 2006

A Definition of Success

Tarkan Needs to Go Back to School
Analysis by Mark Mayhey reporting from London, UK

The definition of successWhen I first arrived to my journalist post in Istanbul, Tarkan was everywhere. On the television screen, on the radio, his latest musical instalment "Dudu" was playing out of every music shop lining the Beyoğlu boulevards. It seemed he was a permanent fixture in the hearts and minds of the Turkish people.

He was the Turkish definition of success.

And yet, today it seems a different story.

Turkish musicians and media alike began a barrage of criticism from the moment Tarkan's debut English language album was released in the first part of this year, polarising the Turkish public. Rolling Stone's first 2006 Turkish edition had a tongue-in-cheek critique of Tarkan from a usually more objective colleague, emphasising that Tarkan needed to be "saved".

Since April, the Istanbul nightclub scene has avoided Tarkan's songs like the plague. The Turkish Riviera and club-med scene repeated old songs, but none of the new for this summer's flow of Russian and German tourists.

With the album Come Closer, did Tarkan ironically move away from his formula for success?

We can't ask the artist this question. Retreating from the public eye after a series of sold-out shows, and with the TV show he mentioned before his summer Kuşadasi concert failing to materialise, all is quiet from the Tarkan camp.

And as the silence rings out loud in the streets of Istanbul - the latest disappointment for his second single in Germany echoing the abysmal sales of his album in Turkey - I ponder another question. What happened? Has Tarkan lost his touch?

Walking Fine Lines

In a career spanning over a decade, Tarkan has managed to walk the fine line between respected artist and trashy pop heart-throb. The most important indicator of how far his star has shone comes from comparing him with his Turkish contemporaries such as Kenan Doğulu, Çelik, Rafet el Roman and Mustafa Sandal, who are simply not, as his fans will hotly argue, in the same league.

As it was for me, many people come to these other artists through their interest in the green-eyed pin-up boy. And not just Turkish artists, either. Peruse through foreign press releases and you'll find many regional artists from Greece, Ukraine and the Balkans using Tarkan's name or labelling themselves as the "new" Tarkan, hopeful to score a hit in international charts, or even just attempting to catch a ride on a google buzz wave about the star.

For example this month, in a series of Swedish concerts a recent Eurovision winner repeatedly gave statements at the end of every concert to the foreign media that she wished to duet with Tarkan and another Eurovision winner, Sertab. It immediately made the Google news headlines, in English.

And in the Turkish gossip columns Tarkan is still common fodder. When Tarkan is silent, they regurgitate old news. The latest is that he has secretly married his long-time partner female lawyer Bilge Öztürk...again.

Even opposing camps will agree that Tarkan is still in the Turkish A-list commanding mega bucks.

Tarkan Fania

His fanatical fanbase is still going strong, too.

When I read Ali Yildirim's "Passion" article on Tarkan, it spoke to me in volumes more about the fans rather than the artist.

Trawl through the cyber world and check out the Tarkan community. It is still there, still rooting for its favourite artist, who believes that his music has brought them closer together and changed their perspective on life.

So, why hasn't this translated into the successful sales that Tarkan has achieved constantly with his Turkish language albums?

Lost in Translation

My personal view of his English album is a positive one. The quality of the album is obvious, and musically it is on par with Western standards. It is certain that not many other Turkish artists, only the 2003 Eurovision winner Sertab comes to mind, could produce an album to this standard.

But, even though I have his complete 2001 Karma album on my iPod, I only have two or three of his English songs on rotation.

It is not as original as his Turkish works, or as ground-breaking. Tarkan chose a safe route, covering himself in already proven successful beats, but covered with only a very light Turkish dressing. In a project that probably pushed him to the edge, it wasn't edge enough. It leaves the listener thinking that these songs have all been heard before, lyrically and muscially it is too pat for my Western ear.

Nevertheless, lesser albums have won awards and been successful.

A Definition of Success

Tarkan needs to go back to schoolIf you can put across a clear message about what qualities you are "selling", you are more likely to be successful. The album asked many questions which the artist and his music company failed to answer or to sell.

The artist's official site by the music company has failed to deliver on many points. Slow to update, and with lacklustre efforts, even the official guestbook has now shut down due to lack of moderation and upkeep from the content owners. When I contacted official sources for the reasons, they cited closure due to the "mass of messages in the system".

There has been no clear stance either from Universal Germany or the Tarkan camp about how they wanted the album to be viewed.

Tarkan mentioned in the TimeOut Istanbul interview that "it is a colourful album spanning rock and pop", but what exactly does that mean? Is that what Tarkan's music stood for?

While his first single from the album managed to enter the top twenty in the German single charts, his second single only managed a top fifty place. The two singles released are the two that least reflect the sound of the album.

Something too broad in perspective, may fail to have one at all.

In this way, it wasn't promoted properly. The right people didn't believe in it. Now, Tarkan is hoping to revive interest in the album in Germany, with a series of concerts later this year.

But for the moment it seems that Tarkan needs to "go back to school" and redefine himself, to recapture his own definition of success once more.

The views in this article are those of the author alone.
Read more Mark Mayhey articles on Tarkan >>

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