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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Can We Have Some Sex, Please?

Editorial by Mark Mayhey reporting from London, UK

David Beckham © Mert Alas & Marcus Piggot (Emporio Armani, 2008), Yunus Günçe, Koray Candemir and Uche © Bennu Gerede (Hülya magazine, 2004)

At the beginning of 2008, Tarkan burnt up the Turkish charts with Metamorfoz, achieving top slots in airplay, sales and downloads, according to the Turkish Billboard charts, and was certified platinum by the Turkish Phonographic Industry even though he released his album in the last week of 2007. Over 49,000 Internet downloads of Tarkan's album were tracked by music portal TTNetMüzik in the first week of its opening in 2008.

Yet, look through the stories of the Turkish press to do with Tarkan - and apart from a few exceptions - you wouldn't know it. It begs the question then, does Tarkan need to get back to doing what he does best, stripping and kissing his way to controversy to generate - if not sales then - the excitement of old? Or looking at the changing political climate in Turkey, does he need to do start breaking taboos for far loftier reasons?

Does Sex Still Sell?

The pop music genre pushes the theory that sex sells. It certainly does. The concept has been around as long as advertising. We all know of industry executives who have pushed artists to "tart it up" in order to market their music when sales are low. But what is defined as being classy, and what is just someone stripping it all away?

Britney Spears has played the sex card most often and most blatantly in the face of declining sales. It's called generating buzz; selling the most basic thing you can - yourself. The reality is this is what stardom is about: selling your brand, no matter the cost. And it's not only those that sell, but those that buy into it are equally accountable.

Surveys suggest American attitudes about sex have moved in cycles that roughly follow the economy, and when social and economic times are more threatening and pessimistic, they actually prefer a more sombre, mature and reflective celebrity persona. Tarting up at times like these is a serious miscalculation of the market, as a different kind of sexuality that's much subtler, more genuine and thus more alluring prevails. In 2004, when Spears had gone from schoolgirl to slut, her album sales had gone to the gutter, too.

CD sales are still suffering a global slump. When Woolworths, the UK's biggest retailer of singles, broke the news it had decided not to stock CD singles due to declining sales, it was no small thing. The chain attributes the death of the format to the rise in downloading, and have expanded their online store as a result.

Even the massively successful band Coldplay, who recently stormed to the top of the UK charts with their track "Viva La Vida" and their corresponding album according to The Official Charts Company, released the track as a download single only. Like Tarkan in Turkey, but on a grander scale, Viva is the band's fastest selling album to date and has already been certified double platinum by the British Phonographic Industry, despite missing out on three days' sales in its first week due to international scheduling priorities.

So when artists sell bucketloads of records at a time when nobody is selling records, there's no need for hype is there? Especially when times are so serious, and people don't want to hear chewing-gum pop, they're just trying to make the best music they possibly can for all the right reasons, right?

In general yes, but I'd argue that Turkey's climate is of a different nature, and now - more than ever - is the perfect time for Turkish artists to start pushing boundaries and test the climate, to see if the claims of an ever increasing Islamisation of Turkish society are true.

Unless Tarkan is feeling his age, the time the pop artist should use the intrusive Turkish paparazzi to really start busting some taboos is now.

Pushing the Limits

Kate Moss in IstanbulIn June, on a trip to Istanbul, British model Kate Moss decided to wear the most outrageous design of her career in a country that is 94% Muslim. Not having the guts yet to wear such a thing in the UK, whether Moss' bra-less and brief-less transparent dress is artiness or tartiness is for individual tastes to decide, but luckily for her Turkish society is modern and predominantly secular (though maybe a see-through dress without underwear isn't quite what the Turks had in mind).

Moss had been in Istanbul for a US magazine shoot and had taken the time to visit the opening of an exhibition of photographs by Turkish-Welsh fashion photographers Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott. Alas and Piggott are causing waves at the moment with their David Beckham underwear ads for Emporio Armani - that's right Beckham is in the buff, too.

Turkish photographer Alas is no stranger to our celebrities. He has been capturing our rich and famous on film for over a decade now. With Beckham and Moss et al., all the indications are then that sex is on the celebrity agenda again - even for the famous 30somethings.

Alas has stuck very close to his home roots, and were Tarkan to request a shoot, Alas - a self-confessed Sezen Aksu addict - would jump at the chance. It could be just want Tarkan needs to make the sort of bold statement fans had come to expect of him. Not for sales, or to strip for stardom, but in a tasteful way simply to see were the boundaries of art in Turkey lie.

Or if he feels he has already had his fingers burnt with the Nihat Odabaşı and Amann magazine fiasco - where a raunchy shoot was published without his permission in 2000 - he could call on the services of award-winning Turkish actress-turned-photographer Bennu Gerede.

Gerede is no stranger to celebrity or to Tarkan. Her then-husband, photographer Koray Erkaya, had photographed Tarkan for a pre-paid phone card campaign, while she had been the author of a naked celebrity photo shoot for female icon Hülya Avşar's magazine in 2004.

Five Turkish male celebrities giving up their clothes to a female photographer for a fashion magazine had opened the debate of artistic taste in Turkey. But it had gone ahead, and sold well - the question remains however, could such a shoot take place now?

Make a Statement

GaymagAbsolute SultansMaster&ApprenticeTurkish gay community
Tarkan's needs to get the pink vote
The best time to make a statement is when people are afraid to speak up. With attempts by pro-Islamic officials to have the gay rights movement in Istanbul shut down, and the patriotic sensitivities towards the military that smack of America post-9/11 forcing many of its critics to stay silent for fear of looking unpatriotic, possibly now more than ever it is the job of the artist to take a stand. Even British artist, and Tarkan Deluxe contributor, Ned Pamphilon has felt the change of Turkish society - and with his projects failing the green light - has returned back to his country after 10 years in Istanbul. So Moss walking in a daring dress in Istanbul symbolises more than merely a celebrity showing some cheek.

Furthermore, a retrospective look at the history of Turkish pop music reveals there is a backward slide; artists have become less daring than of previous years. Is that because, like America, there is a sombre, economic mood and people don't want to see celebrities strip? Or is it that what was once acceptable in an open society is becoming more and more restricted in an ever-closing one?

Thanks to Tarkan's more muted 2007 image, even openly gay celebrities in Turkey have followed his lead to swap flamboyance for flannel. Ironically, the garish colour of the Turkish entertainment industry I'm so critical about, I'm now sore to see go. So kudos to Turkish female singer Hande Yener then, who has supported the Turkish gay community - by incorporating them into her music video for "Hipnoz" and giving them exposure on the screen. In turn the pink community are backing her, which may not generate sales, but certainly generates artistic integrity. It would be a courageous Tarkan that could do the same thing today.

Murat Boz
Boz being sexy the Tarkan way
And "been there, done that," just isn't excuse enough any more. Tarkan may want to make serious music and be taken seriously as an artist, but he is a product of the pop industry.

The difference with Tarkan had been that he had always managed to make it so much more than just the sell - even if that's all it ever really was. In the public eye, he has given integrity to pop-tart kitsch. Now due to the current political air, it should be on his agenda to keep on pushing the boundaries. He wrote a song about it in Metamorfoz ("Hop Hop"), so maybe now put he should put his body where his mouth his.

Or if for nothing else but to parody himself and show us he doesn't take his public persona all that seriously. Even his ex-backing singer Murat Boz is copying Tarkan's 2001 "Karma look" for his re-emergence on the music scene, and Justin Timberlake had heralded its return nearly a year before - it's time to get sexy back.

In a correspondence with Ali Yildirim for my "Drawing the Line" article I had mentioned Goethe's declaration that "talent is developed in private" - "and eroded in public" had been his comeback.

If for nothing else, Tarkan should get sexy and put that theory to the test.

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

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