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Monday, April 14, 2008

Letting Go of the Dream

Analysis by Mark Mayhey reporting from London, UK
(Special thanks go to James Hurley)

Tarkan dazed, inner sleeve of 1999 Tarkan albumWas it just me, or did Tarkan sound as though he had no idea what his future plans were in the BBC London radio interview?

How can an artist (or more importantly his team) - with supposedly ambitious goals to capture the imagination of the American public - not have a strategy ready for him to be able to talk about it when asked by BBC's DJ Ritu?

I couldn't help but be reminded of a recent news article by a friend of mine involving the recent stir surrounding UK pop idol act Leona Lewis becoming the first British woman to top the American charts in more than two decades.

While Tarkan has managed to chart in Europe and Russia - and big - he has failed in the same high degree to make an impact in the States.

It seemed to be that the artist's lack of American success was very poignantly spoken in the first part of the BBC London interview, when Tarkan quietly remembered late media mogul Ahmet Ertegun as having "done his best" by him.

Yet - for whatever reasons - Ertegun's best plainly wasn't enough. There had been high hopes in the mid-1990s that the Turkish founder of Atlantic Records would bring Tarkan to the attention of the American public, but it never happened. In the ten years since, he has lost his confidence and Ertegun as a major backer.

It isn't quite true to say Tarkan has never had any success across the Atlantic, lest we forget his impact in Latin America - more specifically in countries like Argentina, Mexico and Puerto Rico - where he managed to repeat his 1999 European success in 2000 amongst the Latin populous.

What he hasn't managed, however, is to build sufficient momentum to make him a bona fide star in the States - or most importantly - in any of the other places where his "Simarik" single became a hit.

We can exclude his great popularity in Russia; that came by luck, and with the faithful memory of Russian fans who stubbornly refuse to forget Tarkan, as stubbornly as the artist seems to not want to do anything to remind them of his existence - apart from showing up for concerts when invited.

Instead like Jesus, he threw himself into the wilderness - for Tarkan this being the confines of his home music industry. He is yet to come out of his domestic sabbatical, and for those fans who have always wished greater things for Tarkan, it seems that now with his 40th birthday approaching in the next five years, it looks highly unlikely ever to happen.

One major reason being that Tarkan - and his team - are not hard-nosed professionals who know how to go for the kill. The planned Wembley Arena concert and the chance for promoting himself in London could have done much to raise Tarkan's profile in the UK - but this didn't seem a priority for him. Big opportunities were missed.

His old manager Michael Lang - of the Woodstock Festival fame - stated in 2003 in an article for Hürriyet that Tarkan would become a global star in five years. With hindsight, that holds a lot of irony. Five years on, nothing could be closer than the truth.

Lang and Tarkan parted ways on the eve of the Come Closer project, with Tarkan's European affairs being handled by Neffi Temur of Universal Germany's domestic division Urban Records. Some creative differences were cited between Lang and Tarkan, but the split was reportedly amicable.

The beauty of pop music is that it isn't an exact science, so it's impossible to say definitively why an artist is able to crack one market and not another. But to be noticed by the Americans an artist needs to be good and be prepared to work hard. In fact, you don't even have to be that good as long as you grab every opportunity with both hands and wring every last drop of potential from it.

Take Madonna for example. She is the ultimate triumph of ambition over talent. Her voice is average at best, she's never been much of a dancer, and she's not even particularly attractive in the conventional sense, but her canniness, business acumen, and formidable work ethic have made her the most successful female artist of all time.

1999 Tarkan album coverTarkan might have had a chance in the States if he (or rather, his management) had milked the chart successes mentioned above. Even though some will cite the 9/11 strikes against the US as closing doors to certain artists, 2001 represents the bigger missed opportunity (especially after the Washington Post article and yet America was still waiting for him by 2004), because a big-selling album is a more solid platform than a hit single and by that year his internationally licensed Tarkan album had sold millions all across the world.

He should have done what Leona Lewis is doing right now – camped out in the States and worked every meet and greet, every corporate function, every local radio show until he forgot what month it was.

But perhaps - as Lang guessed at the end - he and his Turkish team just didn't want it quite that much any more.

The "American Dream" he had wanted so badly in his youth, he had let go in his mid-thirties - to leave fans to wonder of all the things that might have been.

Read public feedback about the BBC interview >>

The views in this article are those of the author alone.
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