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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Can Tarkan Swing Both Ways?

Analysis by Mark Mayhey reporting from London, UK

Turkish artist Kemal Doğulu on the front cover of Gay Mag; Designer Tom Ford © Terry Richardson for Out; Turkish clasical music stock photos

In my article "Can We Have Some More Sex, Please?" (June 25, 2008), I was of the view that Tarkan putting sex - or rather more precisely sexy - back on the agenda was a good idea.

I still am of that opinion, however here, back on the issue of sex in the celebrity industry again, I want to focus on the opposite side of the coin, and about the balancing act of stripping/sacrificing personal art to be a public tart.

Celebrities Sell Sex

Turkish stylist Kemal Doğulu pushing his own sex agenda
Entertainers and trendsetters are no stranger to the attraction of sex, even in a conservative - though ever-more-opening - society like Turkey, and the fact that stylists/designers are more and more becoming as famous as the celebrities themselves says a lot about the industry today.

American gay fashion designer Tom Ford - who some saw influences of in Tarkan's 2007 Metamorfoz - is a celebrity himself, and is constantly pushing the boundaries with his fixation on full frontal nudity to advertise his latest range or other.

In Turkey, stylist to the stars Kemal Doğulu (not to be confused with singer Kenan Doğulu) released his own Hande Yener supported single in 2008, and filmed videos for both the A and B tracks - packaging his music in sex and presenting it to any gender willing to listen with more than their ears. At the moment he is trying to catch the interest of the Istanbul gay community; as in New York, the thinking is "get the pinks and the rest of the colours soon follow".

On Video: Kemal Doğulu's "Nedense Nedense"

On the same train of thought, when we look back at Tarkan's style - whether it's a good thing or not - it's clear that sex has always been pivotal to the singer's career, too.

A Man Misunderstood

Without a doubt, Tarkan is the Turkish male solo star who is the complete package, and his vacancy would not be easily filled - if ever - in Turkey. Though his domestic critics see little to like about the pop star (and few have experienced a backlash as savage) there's no denying his music resonates with a lot of people - over 15 million at the last count.

In a world, and particularly an industry, where the word 'star' is grotesquely overused, Tarkan is one of the few artists who thoroughly merits the tag.

Leftist paper the Radikal's female columnist and author Perihan Mağden touched on the subject of Tarkan and his unique star portfolio in her Sunday column, claiming that as Tarkan became single in 2008, and freed himself from the shackles of normalcy, he can rise once more to hold the lonely but powerful status of stardom - because he is the only artist in Turkey capable of reaching those heights.

Now with Turkish TV news reports all airing successful summer concerts packed full with screaming girls and boys, and footage of Tarkan living it up with an entourage of young women in clubs after the show - displaying the horny energy of an 17 year-old - it seems that being comfortable in love indeed had the opposite effect on the star. Now he is young again, he is sexy again; this will undoubtedly make its presence felt in his music.

Mağden had interviewed Tarkan in 2001 in a rare insightful report about the artist's childhood and music, and having come under the close glare of Tarkan's charisma might possibly be prejudiced, but there is more than a little truth in what she claims.

How many other male Turkish pop stars have combined timeless songwriting, virtuoso musicianship, immaculately choreographed dance routines, and consummate showmanship for more than 15 years? And yet, he is possibly the most ridiculed artist in his domestic industry.

And we don't have too look too far back for a recent example, in fact just last Friday night will do.

Talent contest for Istanbul's Roma community
TV talent show for Istanbul's Roma community
Show TV's Turkish talent contest for the country's Roma community on 15 August saw one of the contestants - a group - sing their rendition of Tarkan's "Gül Döktüm Yollarına" (A-Acayipsin, 1994). Not only did some of the jury members ridicule Tarkan instead of judging the merits of the act in front of them, but the host - a singer himself - tried to rudely pass off Tarkan's composition as someone else's, too.

Isn't it strange how the people who are actually correct are so much more polite than the people who think they are? There's a thesis there, I am sure, but let's not stray from the subject in hand.

In some circles it is believed that the release of a Turkish classical tribute album will soften such attitudes towards the star.

Tart vs Art?

There had been rumours since his Turkish classical performances at the 2006 open air Harbiye concerts that Tarkan was thinking of releasing an album of Turkish classical pieces. Appearing at a classical concert in 2005 he had said as much, too. When, however, the artist released Metamorfoz, his most pop album to date, I had thought it a very good move, rather than bring out an album of classics made famous by others.

Fahir Atakoglu
Renowned Turkish musician Fahir Atakoğlu has translated well across the Atlantic
However, after hearing his stunning contribution to renowned Jazz musician Fahir Atakoğlu's 2008 album Iz, I am now beginning to wonder just what it was the world missed out on - and indeed Tarkan's home genre of Turkish classical music - when the boy turned to pop.

When Tarkan's British counterpart Robbie Williams released a swing album in the early 2000s, it was a critical flop, but a commercial success selling seven million copies worldwide. Williams talents had been modest for the genre, but with Tarkan and Turkish classical music it's a different matter. His contribution to Atakoğlu's album shows exactly what a master he is at alla turca.

Then think what could happen to the stuffy image of the traditional genre if Tarkan oozed sex appeal with his vocals, to give every woman and every gay man in Turkey something to listen to and think about in bed every night.

Make no mistake, sex sells - and it always will; the question is whether we buy into it. The key factor is whether it's in good taste. The artist that prevails in the battle of "Tart vs Art" will be the one that strikes the right balance.

How To Work It

Tom Ford
US designer Tom Ford knows how to work it in his own industry
Although there is always something touching about going back to your roots, to take something, cut it up, question it, make something new, is what music - and art in general - is ultimately about.

Atakoğlu, too, commented in a recent interview that Turkish artists should work outside of the Turkish music industry and collaborate with their international colleagues.

And when most artists have resorted to dodgy cover versions and duets at the age of 35 and over, Tarkan delivers yet another re-invention and, arguably, Metamorfoz indicates that we should expect greater works from the artist in the future.

While it might not have appealed to the self-appointed arbiters of cool in the Turkish press, the resurgence of big, brash, melodic pop electronica is the real music story of the last two years or so across the world, with Tarkan bringing in the right mix in Metamorfoz and its remixes to make it commercially popular in Turkey.

Pushing already set trends in the West might seem like standing on everyone else's shoulders, but Tarkan manages to sound every bit as original, vital and exciting as ever.

For in popular music original content is not really king, it's all about how you work it.

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

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