Singing in the Changes
In January, Turkey's Department of Culture and Tourism gave a press conference to unveil its new global advertising strategy for the "modern face" of the country. What this translates to us on foreign ground is "those adverts we're going to see on CNN", and unsurprisingly the Pope's recent visit and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk are to be part of what has been coined as the "Sympathy" campaign.
The German company that is undertaking the multi-million dollar ad campaign also acknowledged Tarkan at this briefing, detailing that the singer's successes did more to promote Turkey than any other artist of his - or any other - generation.
It is no secret that during the years 1999-2002 Tarkan helped to change the image of Turkey abroad. And with the singer's more recent moves into the international music market, Tarkan knows all about changing faces.
How Do Tarkan's Moves Come Across?
As pre-Tarkan concert excitement in Holland was growing last week, hip and young Dutch radio station FunX aired a frank interview with the Turkish crooner, detailing his thoughts on girlfriends, global warming and the Grammies. The recent report on the youth radio station is revealing in many ways.
It seems that he has already taken notes from the failure of his 2006 English language release in Europe, and is looking to reshape the album for America. I had written about Tarkan's choice of the German music market as his bouncing platform on to the larger music scene as relegation to Europop trash - and with his 2006 release now simply spun to look like some large testing ground for America - the radio report seems to indicate that Europe was never really on the agenda.
Yet, in the thirteen minute interview, I was hard pushed to exactly understand what was on the singer's agenda.
Tarkan is looking to re-define himself. He wants to be "modern", and yet more simple. There is nothing wrong in re-defining yourself, Tarkan has changed his image a lot in accordance with the concept of his albums. However, for the first time he is moving away from his own native language and genre, and his fans aren't sure whether he is doing it to create a whole new genre, or simply doing it to become part of the American crowd.
It would have been a clever spin to promote Tarkan as some little league singer going off with his oud strapped to his back to teach America some new sounds, but it is becoming more apparent that we are simply witnessing the Americanisation of the artist. Add to which the fact that the perceived American colonisation of the East is a sore point in some parts of the world today, and it seems such a strategy - however misconstrued by joe public - will only aid to lose Tarkan points.
And listening to the Dutch interview, it doesn't seem that Tarkan knows it, either.
Will the Real Tarkan Please Stand Up?
In the interview Tarkan also indicated that hip hop had "left a huge influence on him". It's logical to wonder, therefore, whether it is only Tarkan's move into English that has fans turning away, or his move away from pop to hip hop. To some Tarkan isn't Turkish enough, to others he is slowly deserting the pop genre, and to all of these queries there were no real answers in the interview.
A singer should change - it's called maturing - and then translate this into his work, with fans, like greeting a parent back from their travels, dying to see what has been brought home to them. But we always expect this to be the artist's own take on the world as he sees it. For a fan, listening to a Tarkan album should be like looking through his eyes for an hour or more. Although I have remarked positively about his English works, this key concept is missing from his 2006 album.
If the singer is to develop successfully, he has to show his fan base that regardless of the packaging, it is still the singer they know - and love - underneath.
The Turkish Album is Key
As Tarkan himself admitted in the Dutch interview, his Turkish album is "his thing" and the release of his latest Turkish work will show fans whether Tarkan has lost track or is right back on it. If the artist miscalculates and his Turkish album is panned as just a by-product of the new "American" Tarkan, following the English album's flop, we may soon witness his first Turkish album flop, too.
For whether Tarkan likes it or not, what the Turkish press say ultimately matters in such cases. Arguably it will always be by perusing through snippets from his home media that we discover the real Tarkan; as one report details, a thoughtful star who still finds time to visit an aging diva in rehabilitation after a stroke last year, and buys her pink walking shoes on Valentine's Day as an incentive to "get up and dance".
Showing us - as with the old adage - however much things may change, they can still stay the same.
The views in this article are those of the author alone.
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