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Friday, April 11, 2008

In the Buzz Box [2]

In this second set of emails that readers have recently sent me, I thought I'd focus some more on the feedback received from my articles regarding Tarkan's Metamorfoz. You can read the first set here.

Once again, a big thank you goes to all those that gave permission for me to publish their mails.

Pelin Batuhan from Istanbul, Turkey writes:

I agree with you about Naim Dilmener. He has very much upset me on his attacks on Tarkan, and was very respected in my eyes, though now I feel I must question when I next will read what he has to say on pop music. It is shame, because he wrote history book about pop music, and was like bible to us music lovers. But to me I feel I just want to give it back now! I have written to him myself, and outlined your article you have been writing. He is so quick to want Tarkan to know what he thinks, then he should know what we think of him!

Dilmener has never - for want of a better phrase - "liked Tarkan". He has admitted himself in an interview for Turkish paper Radikal, that he only favourably re-evaluated Tarkan after his successes in Europe in 1999. It is the same again with Metamorfoz: he has changed his tone to a negative one after the artist's perceived commercial failure with Come Closer.

Coupled with the fact that Dilmener most likely tried to guess what direction the new album would take by mistakenly thinking that the pop artist's early 2007 incarnations in both Murat Boz's "Püf" and Sibel Can's "Çakmak Çakmak" would be precursors to Tarkan's own album; it possibly had the critic begin to write the artist's epitaph without waiting for the release.

He had already trashed Mustafa Sandal's 2007 album Devamı Var for using the tired old formula that had brought Sandal success in the 1990s and saw Boz as just a carbon copy of Tarkan - (or the argument that who wants Boz when Turkish pop still has the original - isn't one of Boz's best tracks on his 2007 Maximum album, "Dönmem", just a Turkish version of Tarkan's Come Closer track "Touch"?) - and it was obvious he was ready to criticise Tarkan on the same points had he brought out just another standard pop album.

However, he wasn't to know that Tarkan suddenly took a new direction after composing the song "Vay Anam Vay", which fundamentally changed the whole sound and direction of the album (as Tarkan confirmed in the BBC London interview). In effect, the Boz and Can songs were "rejects"; standard Tarkan songs that followed a successful formula to appeal to the masses, but they no longer made the grade for the artist, because the album had changed its perspective (Tarkan explained in a Turkish TV report that Can's song had initially been meant for his album).

So, on NTV's broadcast aired on the day of Metamorfoz's release, Dilmener, without having properly listened to the album (he admits barely listening to it before the report, which suggests Tarkan "ignored him" by not sending out advance copies as is the standard procedure), and with all this bias he was carrying inside him, is seen making a rushed, scathing attack that mistakenly assumes Tarkan just made a rehash of old hits and turned out his most average album ever.

When Dilmener calls Metamorfoz a standard pop album by Tarkan's own standards, I'm not arguing that this is an impossibility. Tarkan is not infallible. However, if an album's objective is to push the pop envelope and say something new or try something that the artist has never tried before (even entering into the realm of socio-political lyrics for "Hop Hop"), then it cannot be a standard pop album by its very definition. He might have failed to make an outstanding album or failed in the objective, but Metamorfoz is actually the very opposite of a standard album if it's trying to transcend previous forms.

When we look at Tarkan's musical history, I believe that Metamorfoz is a natural progression, but strong external factors almost turned him from this path.

Churning out standard hits was something Tarkan was in danger of doing; after the domestic reception to Come Closer, fans were calling for a return in Turkish. He needed an album quickly. So, it was something Tarkan nearly did do, but halfway during production it seems he had an epiphany of sorts, which put him back on track to make the album he was supposed to make. Although, I personally still believe that if "Vay Anam Vay" hadn't come along, Tarkan would have at the last minute rather faced the wrath of his fans than release an album he wasn't happy with.

Even after all the publicity of a Sezen Aksu track in the 2007 album, he had no qualms about pulling it out at the last minute after discussing it with Aksu, because it didn't suit the new incarnation of the album - but also because now he was so close to something that felt right he was acutely feeling the pressure of a deadline (as again confirmed by Tarkan in the BBC London interview).

I'm sure Dilmener realised this before too long, but he couldn't possibly do a complete U-turn without doing Tarkan a whole lot of good, and so he "clarified" his comments when they were published by Milliyet, by softening his harsh stance. However, he repeated his views in Milliyet's culture supplement Sanat, but by then no one was listening - because Tarkan's album was selling fast.

My argument is that Dilmener's critique of Tarkan's 2007 album does not stand up to scrutiny and that the critic's comments need to be read with his bias in mind. As a self-confessed Ajda Pekkan fan, he has the same bias in respect to Sezen Aksu, too, and feels that Aksu did much to degenerate pop music in order to make it appeal to the masses - and yet he is still professional enough to accept her place in his nation's pop music history.

Back on point however, it would be ridiculous of me though to suggest that Dilmener's view be ignored because he is biased - because after all who isn't biased to some extent? But, his bias is too prevalent in his criticisms of Tarkan's 2007 work, for it to be counted as a professional opinion. We should just keep that in mind as an indicator of how much weight we attach to his views.

In my opinion, the starting point for me - when he crossed the line - was in ridiculing Tarkan about his suit (worn on the front cover of the album). I felt saddened, that a man whose opinion I respected, could be so unprofessional. This is his job; he is not just any member of the listening public. He gets paid for his opinion, and he shouldn't have abused his position in this way.

In the long run for me, Dilmener has hurt his own reputation, and the reputation of music journalism in Turkey in general.

For if Dilmener, someone we used to assume was a professional and one of the trusted few, could be so unprofessional, then what can be said of the rest?


Moham, D. from England writes:

This album proves to me that Tarkan doesn't need a woman's touch! All his great hits on his other albums were down to him, and if they were sung by anyone else would not be the same. Production is very important in music, too.


K. Kandounas, from Nicosia, Cyprus writes:

Hi. I'm a Cypriot, like you, and I love Tarkan! I went to his concert when he came to Kyrenia [in 2006]. When I found out that he was bringing out a new album [in 2007], I came to the north every day to [a music shop in Nicosia] asking for his new album. First they said it would come soon, and then when after Christmas the album came, it kept selling out before I could get my album! It took me lots of days of waiting, my mum drove me over every day, but it was worth it. I also love Izel as well, but not so much Murat Boz or Mustafa Sandal, they are lesser artists to me than Tarkan! I still only have Tarkan on my ipod shuffle. My family think I am crazy and my dad is not so happy! So I want to know from you how much do you think it will sell?

Frankly, I had the same experience in purchasing the album, too. When it first came out, I thought I would have plenty of time to get a copy, so I didn't rush. When I went to buy one, however, I soon realised it was sold out in every shop I found.

I got hit with a slight feeling of deja vu: in 1997 Ölürüm Sana had sold out across available sale points, and there had been a huge rush for the "Kuzu Kuzu" single in 2001.

This time it was not to the same extent; I finally managed to get a copy a few days later. Yet, this just doesn't happen with any other artist, and you'll have noticed that in January, Tarkan was being played everywhere in Cyprus. I mean everywhere - including across the divide.

About Tarkan and other artists: we all have different tastes, and I feel it is outside the remit of proper argument to say who is the lesser artist. If Tarkan's Metamorfoz makes Mustafa Sandal's Devamı Var offering appear dated, then that could be an indication Tarkan is going in the right direction, not that Sandal is a lesser artist. Sandal's own contributions to Turkish pop music are well documented.

However, we often need to make comparisons - I can appreciate that - but if we realise that today's most prominent Turkish pop artists are deemed to be doing well if they'll be able to generate sales of 50,000 or less in their first few weeks of sale, while Tarkan generated four times that amount in seven days, then comparing Tarkan to his domestic contemporaries is futile.

Tarkan's real competition - as it should be for every artist - is himself and music piracy. Piracy has always been the pop singer's number one enemy - more so than his critics - but the era of illegal downloads is forcing all artists to look for new avenues to survive. The staple recipes for success just don't generate sales any more. Shops are not selling as many hard CD copies, and this simple fact is causing music companies great losses in retail.

I cannot guess how many copies Metamorfoz will ultimately sell, but I do know that if it fails to reach a million sales, critics will be quick to suggest it is "proof" of the artist's flagging popularity or of a less popular reception to the album than previous ones, rather than noting the real trouble the global music industry is in today over CD sales.

They will forget that the album - irrelevant of final sales - energised the market in terms of creativity, productivity and winter album sales. They will forget Metamorfoz started the drive in Turkey for legal album downloads, and thus generated real revenue for the industry once again.

Critics might also try to dismiss initial sales by saying the Turkish public (as though dumb and foolish or brainwashed somehow to applaud everything he does) will buy any album with Tarkan's name attached to it, however they'll forget that name alone is not enough to sustain sales - or keep interest alive.

They will conveniently forget how Tarkan's songs continued in the top 5 of the Turkish airplay charts for three months with little or no promotion; which surely with any other artist would indicate that people like what they are hearing, or that the album might be selling - not just because it is Tarkan - but because the album is actually good.


D.A. from Helmond, Netherlands writes:

I am following Turkish music for years. I wish to study music one day. If pop artists are looking into their creative mirror and seeing Tarkan's reflection, how can we prefer them than Tarkan, isn't it like looking into the mirror and preferring the reflection? Turkish artists will be using this [2007] album as music manual for years to come. Follow the release after Metamorfoz and you'll see a trend in the music change.

I'm sure this album is the guilty secret of most artists in Turkey, including that section who see themselves as makers of serious music in Turkey.

This album might not bring massive commercial success (in the sense that it sells over a million copies as his previous albums have done), but it has been geared so much towards allowing differing perspectives to join up that I'll be amazed if - after a while - the album doesn't widen its appeal in Turkey. Tarkan knew there was a risk in straying from successful formulas, and qualified that slightly by making sure there is something in the album for everyone, for all sections.

And finally, this album doesn't come from the pocket, I truly believe it comes from the heart. Possibly for the first time, Tarkan is not only looking inwards, but outwards with this album - courageous enough to give us his view on politics ("Hop Hop") and the way people treat each other or have treated him ("Dilli Düdük", "Dedikodu").

We can learn lessons from Metamorfoz if we but listen, but the initial step to listening requires us to open our ears to its possibilities first.

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