Holding Value: From Idol to Icon
The raw sound of Tarkan in 1994 was when he was the coolest, slinkiest, prettiest Turkish pop star alive. He was Sezen Aksu times Ajda Pekkan and beat both of them at their own games, although he did nothing but make the competition sound even better.
In his 1994 album A-acayipsin (his second) he taught rock fans and pop fans to hear each other's music, just as he taught all Turkish pop newcomers to play to this grand new icon-screaming pop-thrills audience he'd called to the dance floor. After this, nobody claimed Turkish pop sucked again. "Şıkıdım" was the hit, with Tarkan's voice aching with erotic longing and dread, and his "Seviş Benimle" was the ground-breaker, which had nearly five minutes of poetical metaphors for sex and seductive bass and breathy gasps, though there wasn't a Turkish radio station on the dial that faded the song out early.
From Idol to Icon in Three Albums
From A-acayipsin, US media mogul Ahmet Ertegün had designed Tarkan to get on international radio, but the artist's 1997 "Şımarık" (Ölürüm Sana) got there first and, for one brief moment in 1999, every Turkish radio station played it along with the rest of the world. They couldn't resist that unique 90s-flavoured Tarkan hook; a kiss to music, two international languages rolled into one.
Ölürüm Sana has been Turkey's favourite pop album ever since, and maybe in another five or ten years, when this album reaches two decades of being unbeaten in the Turkish pop music stakes, Tarkan will bring out a deluxe expanded edition to remind us why. I, for one, would like to hear "Ikimizin Yerine" slowed further down into a piano ballad, lingering over the easily obscured lyrics. Maybe some big rap producer will want to take "Şımarık" and embellish a gangsta "kiss kiss" hook. It's a million seller in the making.
Yet, what followed Ölürüm Sana revealed in Tarkan a true music artist's well-hidden instincts of self-preservation. He did his utmost not to die with the busting of the pop bubble and proved with his 2001 release Karma that he could live outside it.
One of the interesting things about Karma is that even though it's as close as you can get to timeless, it really only could have happened seven years ago. That was another watershed year for Turkish pop music, with New Wave synth pop and disco and Turkish motifs feeding into each other, the year that Istanbul underground music and the DJ culture was coming above ground to reach the ears of the masses. Tarkan got this whole era grooving a few years earlier with the endless remixes of his "Bu Gece" track (1999 version, Tarkan), but at the start of a new millennium, right when everybody was still reeling from his World Music Award win in 1999, he dropped Karma into our laps and shocked everyone. The album still influences Turkish artists to this day. It's what made Mustafa Sandal turn to arabesque and save his flagging career, and what made rocksters and heavy metal groups turn to a vast collection of traditional songs for inspiration. Yet, in 2001 none of them could touch the original; a huge lavish production that joined Egyptian, French, Armenian and US artists together in one album. If Tarkan had musically brought Turkey to the world in 1999, then with Karma Tarkan had brought the world to Turkey.
In Karma he was at his breathiest and most salacious - and his most endearingly fragile. "Verme" is so open and brave it makes all other comparative songs seem phony. The one hit that might be in danger of sounding tired now is "Kuzu Kuzu" killed off by the video, with its cheap "Matrix-movie" bullet time effects and its bid to crease the brow of respectability by adding finger cymbals to a man and belly grooves to Tarkan's naked abs, which peeked seductively from a half-buttoned up shirt. ("Hup" and "Verme" are great videos with timeless messages - "Kuzu Kuzu" is Tarkan just kicking some sand around). But the wiggly bass and Hossam Ramzy's energetic violin introduction amazingly injects it with new energy every time. And what about the lush instrumentation of "Ask" that kicks off the album? It was the sound of Tarkan promising fulfilment from the first track to the last, and it was a promise the artist kept.
After a brief break from the hiatus that was to follow on from Karma with a watered down version of the 2001 album - the EP Dudu in 2003 - the sales and success from that was to transform Tarkan from a 90s idol into a pop icon for the 2000s, with his image displayed everywhere in Turkey.
From pop idol to iconic status, Tarkan had become a well-known brand and synonymous with quality in Turkish music in the space of just three albums.
Possibly it was a natural development that he would try the international market once more. However, by the time he returned - this time in English with Come Closer in 2006 - the wiggle was gone from his violins and his voice. Suddenly, Tarkan seemed to lose his musical fizz. Having downgraded or changed his listening potential drastically as a result, and seemingly feeling the panic of that, he planned to release Come Closer Part II for the US market. There were rumours from one producer about a Snoop Dogg collaboration and two unsigned British artists, and that the album would be released in 2008. However, after the release of the Turkish language album Metamorfoz in the last few days of 2007, Come Closer Part II seems to have been postponed.
At least his redeeming quality is that none of his original Turkish works (if we ignore his throw-away 1992 début album) really need a reboot, unless it's in tribute to the work itself.
Tarkan's Albums Are Last-A-Lifetime Music Accessories
For those who acquire the taste, Tarkan's songs remain a music staple over a lifetime. A Tarkan album purchase is worth its weight in gold, because even after a decade the album will musically still be ticking - and still be in style. For example, when I listen to the Karma album seven years on it still sounds fresh. Although pop art is something of its time, and thus shouldn't stand the test of time, it's Tarkan's quality that makes his songs appreciate over time.
What makes them classics is the fact his songs have distinctive, but understated, constructions. This is the key. If songs were pieces of furniture, Tarkan's would be the hand-carved object. Quality depends on how much time you put into a piece, and Tarkan puts all he has - time, energy and soul - into every album with every production taking at least two years or more.
From the heady heights of idol to icon, and maybe just finally becoming an artist, one thing seems to ring true: where his musical talent is concerned, he will always hold his value.
The views in this article are those of the author alone.
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