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Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Greatest Love of All

Analysis by Mark Mayhey reporting from London, UK

2009 Fame movie promo and megastar Tarkan gameFor a pop celebrity fame is the greatest love of all

To be big - in the fame stakes - needs ambition.

When the BBC reported that peace had broken out at last in the titanic battle between YouTube and Britain's songwriters - with professional music videos to be made available to UK users again - and singer Lily Allen had waded into the campaign against music piracy (in a smilar push to Tarkan's in 2008) it made me consider the issues musicians battle with between the popstar ambition of fame and the need to make music.

The Returns of Music

Currently dividing his time between social activism and New York society nights, there have been calls revolving around Tarkan for his music to return to our line of vision, too. Although the recent scathing criticisms by some of my peers in the Turkish press about Tarkan are completely unfounded, is it fair to say that the media-harassed star seems to lack the ambition he once had?

Has Tarkan given up on his ambition?
Has Tarkan given up on his ambition?
In an interview with Lady GaGa, BBC Newsbeat's Greg Cochrane describes what he calls her "bullet-proof ambition" - and reading the article you can tell the girl that seemingly came out of nowhere to huge success on both sides of the Atlantic has ambition, and confidence, in bucketfuls. You'd have to be to call your début album The Fame.

Although Tarkan may have failed to ignite the globe with his comparatively mediocre fire of a début English language album - if a new haircut in America can make it to the front pages of his home nation's popular newspapers, then it means Tarkan has still got the fame. But will it bring him closer to success in America with his music?

As if the artist is taking notes from Lady GaGa in Cochrane's report where she says, "I think it's pretty scary to be mediocre" - the man himself has been stripped free from a long-term girlfriend, and can be seen gulping down sparkling wine at campy New York charity bashes with that widely debated mohican quiff, while his conservative countrymen frown and fast back home for Ramadan. Frightened of being lost in a period of mediocrity - however falsely perceived - Tarkan seems to be making up for lost time.

It must also be said that, while rumours are still fresh in the minds of Turks about Armenians being the latest in a long line of migrant communities in Turkey to try and adopt Tarkan's Turkish genealogy, hanging around with a New York Armenian is anything but unambitious - if not courageous.

Tarkan himself is aware of the political sensitivities of the region in which he lives. He was once so worried about his name being falsely found on a petition apologising for Armenian alleged World War I atrocities committed by the Ottomans that he felt it necessary to publish a statement at his official site before a concert in Azerbaijan to refute the rumour in 2008. However, the statement was so ambiguous - so as not to mention the word Armenian - that even Tarkan Deluxe news reporters mistook it to be about a Belgian concert fiasco which broke at the same time instead.

Now the Turkish man in New York appears a far cry from the Turkish man of restraint, who in recent years has been playing up to his metamorphosis as the most listened to singer in the Turkic world. A world, it must again be noted, which accuses Armenia of committing recent genocides against its Azeri members, but a world where its fame is not enough for Tarkan's ambitions. His recent actions indicate he wants the returns of a global music industry and its wider audience.

It's this ambition, too, that makes singers once great, want to be great again. Whitney Houston's recently released sixth studio album I Look to You has been billed as her comeback, but interestingly the record has few klieg-lit moments. As Jody Rosen from Rolling Stone correctly concludes, it spends little time with nostalgia; it's modern and sleek - and that's shows Houston's ambitions to want back in the diva stakes.

And make no mistake, it was the late Michael Jackson's ambition for a comeback - no matter what the courts will eventually say helped him to his demise - that ultimately killed him. It didn't kill his celebrity, however. That is bigger than even the man's musical legacy, and his death will be lived out in public as was his life - which was the promise and the price of his ambition. We will read his sad life from a mall of books, from tapes in books, from books about the books, and walking through all the hype, his music might just come to sound like distant Muzak.

Jackson is a clear example that a successful music artist needs to know how to balance the price of fame with the production of music - or else you'll kill one for the sake of the other in the belief it will make you live on forever.

Reality Kills the Popstar

Megastar Tarkan game
Being a music megastar is hard work, or is it just a game?
Back on British shores, ambition speaks the same language as in the US - just with a slightly different accent. Robbie Williams - signifying another aspect of ambition with his comeback album - talks about the fear of being forgotten.

Unveiling his first single since 2007 - from the album Reality Killed The Video Star - Tarkan's British counterpart has said he is at a "turning point" in his career, adding that this record will "decide his path". Speaking on the Chris Moyles breakfast show on BBC Radio 1, he said, "There's been a few great songs here and there, along the way, but you just forget. You forget what you've done - it's all in the past."

Although Williams is showing that ambition isn't just the playground of the young, it may come more instinctively with the bravado of youth. It can also act as a reminder. Could Tarkan's own sudden spurring be in part attributed to his new pop boy Emir's own silky steel ambitions that persuaded "his generation's idol" to work with him - reminding Tarkan of his own past?

Alex kills Tarkan; German schoolchildren perform
Tarkan's "Start the Fire" (Come Closer/2006)

And if the music is greater than the celebrity, the past can be resurrected. Or even better rewritten. Take for instance the re-release of the entire Beatles album catalogue, which has unleashed another wave of veneration for the sixties pop band - only matched by the band's own ambitions to become the font of popular culture.

However since the sixties, it seems that reality has suddenly shifted from being all about the music to being all about people remembering you for anything but the music.

Wanting to Live Forever

Emir, a guy with ambition
Pop newbie Emir, a guy with ambition
It's all about the celebrity game, now. In the past, you got your voice heard with good music, but when everything is about celebrity culture - "it doesn't really matter if you've got a valid opinion as long as you've got your boobs out" says a girl member of the Dolly Rockers, who are trying hard to get themselves heard on the British music scene. But does the secret of music immortality lie in making it big in America?

Making it big in the world's biggest music market is top priority for most record labels with ambitious artists, like Mika for example, who in a recent BBC report shows that he has an old head on young shoulders by projecting an instinctive wariness of putting too much pressure on succeeding in the US.

Talking about the pressures of trying to make it in America, something Tarkan knows all too well, "There is this stigma that gets put onto an artist when they do well all over the world except the States," Mika says. "I saw it happen to Robbie. I saw this whole insane amount of pressure be put on to break America and I think it's unhealthy."

One person watching closely when Mika's first album came out was Lady GaGa who, inspired by his asexual hyperpop, went on to conquer the charts herself. "She said that when I broke the first time around, she thought, 'okay, the floodgates have opened and mainstream pop music is changing'. She thought she had hope," Mika says.

Arguably, that is what Turkish diva Sezen Aksu meant when she agreed with Tarkan's insistence to move away from classical Turkish melodies. She feels that Turkish mainstream pop is ripe for a change, too. And if any one artist can make a change in their domestic industry, Tarkan can.

Creative Confusion

But I felt disappointed to read on Tarkan Deluxe that Tarkan's long-term producer of his Turkish studio albums had spoken to music-journo Mehmet Tez to reveal that "Tarkan was confused".

News of the World Michael Jackson ExclusiveCreative confusion for an artist - especially one playing for the highest stakes - is natural.

Before the release of Tarkan's Karma (2001) the papers were reporting that Tarkan's head was confused because of the hitherto unmatched success of Ölürüm Sana (1997). There are reports, too, on lost tapes from an interview dating back to the early 1980s that Jackson was ready to scrap his album Thriller (1982). Jackson was suffering from creative confusion, before he went on to finish the biggest-selling record in history. It gave him and producer Quincy Jones eight Grammy awards in 1983.

Moreover, if you are Tarkan's producer, surely it's for you to clear up that confusion, not become confused yourself? Otherwise, it's time for you to take your name off the credits. Although I can understand how a producer can get confused if he believes the height of Turkish pop to be in the eighties - when it was in-between the golden ages of pop.

Thirty years of Turkish pop music
Eighties in-between the height of Turkish pop
Indeed, Tarkan's confusion can be seen clearly in what I term as "the dark ages" of his music, churning out such pointless collaborations with arabesque singer Kibariye in 2006 and female vocalist Sibel Can in 2007 and 2008. Instead of trying to follow Sezen Aksu's example and raise the profile of Turkish pop music by collaborating with his own peers such as Mustafa Sandal or Serdar Ortaç - or any of the keystones of the industry - it seemed as though Tarkan had lost all sense of musical direction.

Now with Tarkan sharing newspaper space with the Turkish divas of Turkish pop, I hope that a collaboration with Aksu will surface, because if it doesn't - like a planned duet between Jackson and Prince - it will always leave some wondering what might have been.

Making the Right Choices

It's all about musical choices; Tarkan needs to find a producer that will make ambitious ones, because if he hits the right notes, he won't lose the love of the Turkic world, irrelevant of the examples traditional media moguls in Turkey will want to make of him.

Rather Tarkan has the chance to be an example of a world where Turks and Armenians can work and play together. It's a global world where the sky is the limit, rather than the eggshell cocoon of a domestic one. For while changing the world of others, he also has a chance to change his own.

Along with the founder of Tarkan Deluxe Ali Yildirim, I can give names that may not mean much to those outside our own borders in England, but nevertheless artists like Tracey Emin, fashion guru Erdem Moralioglu and even youngster Erdem Misirlioglu, who made the BBC finals for Young Musician of the Year in 2008, are good examples of Turkish people getting success outside of their racial boundaries simply because they believe none exist.

As for those Turkish fans that may want to rein Tarkan back in with their bru-ha-ha in forums - even with the Turkish media giving them credence such as in the mohican affair - I say let Tarkan free. Let him be free to give other people the courage to look the way they want to look without fear of recrimination in Turkey. Don't be afraid of change.

The greatest way you can show your love is to let him be the 'freedom kid' he needs to be - so his reach will be such that even at his worst musically he has German school kids bashing out a tribute to him. You've fallen in love with a man with whom the romance must be shared by millions. It's what makes him tick; it's what he needs to tick.

For a true artist, while the hunger for fame may dim, the hunger to make music lives on as long as they do - but in the real world it is the ambition to be the best that is sometimes the greatest drive for an artist to produce music. Or as Rosen so accurately pinpoints in reviewing Houston's sixth studio album:

Romance ... can be replaced. But smash-hit records, pop superstardom, the adulation of millions - that's the greatest love of all.

If that is what Tarkan is aiming for, then who can blame him for trying?

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

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