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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Has Tarkan Finally Sold Out?

Posted by Hatice Soylu from Istanbul, Turkey and Steffan Matrak from Moscow, Russia

Tarkan's tickets are finally selling out. But why did it take so long?

Tarkan's six performances at Harbiye’s Cemil Topuzlu Open Air Stage in September are still on sale after two weeks, but nearly sold out. The iconic pop star's shows in Istanbul usually sell out in days. What has changed?

Finding sponsors and generating ticket buzz through entertainment articles in the press have helped, but is it a good idea to give the impression it's "business as usual" concerning the iconic singer's relationship with his home crowd?

With just under two weeks before the artist's series of open air shows begin, it goes without saying that the images published from his September shows will see Tarkan playing to packed audiences. It will be a PR coup, and the struggle needed to sell this year's tickets will be forgotten.

History has already been rewritten to the contrary. A report by right-wing paper Takvim is saying the Istanbul events sold out weeks before, with demand so high that tickets are going for astronomical prices on the black market.

Takvim is the same Turkish daily that devoted its front page to a fake "interview" with CNN's Christiane Amanpour in 2013, in which she supposedly "confessed" CNN's anti-Turkish bias in its coverage of the Gezi Park protests.

These facts in themselves don't put the accuracy of Takvim's story into question. A newspaper that runs one fake story doesn't necessarily lose all credibility.

The Takvim article about ticket touts selling Tarkan's Harbiye tickets for high amounts is true, but it's not the complete picture. It fails to say that, going on the strength of previous years, ticket touts have miscalculated public opinion and no one is buying.

It also fails to say that there are hundreds of tickets up for sale online for the original price or cheaper, suggesting those sellers are not touting concert goers but just people who have changed their mind and don't want to go. They are either locking down the Biletix site with their returns - generating the message to check back later - or they are auctioning them off online.

This is the story beneath the surface; on the surface Tarkan is still pulling in the crowds.

Another "news story" circulating writes that the pop icon will be donating the proceeds of a Harbiye show to the families who lost loved ones during the failed July coup. This is being wired by Posta, a mass market Turkish daily newspaper with the second highest circulation in Turkey. It's owned by Doğan Holding, which also owns Tarkan's current music label DMC.

Using media outlets and sources available for promotional purposes is part and parcel of showbusiness. There is nothing wrong with circulating an entertainment piece entirely for PR purposes, either, if it's true.

It's a fact that proceedings from Harbiye ticket sales like Tarkan's, being staged under the sponsorship of major music station Kral's pop arm, are being donated to those who lost their lives on 15 July.

Only this week, DMC's exec Samsun Demir applauded Sertab Erener's post, in which the singer confirmed her Harbiye proceeds from a second Kral Pop show would be going to the families of the 15 July victims.

But Erener made the statement after a packed crowd came to Harbiye to see her show. Using celebrity donations for a red hot public cause to generate buzz beforehand means that, if such promotion is necessary, tickets are not selling.

Again this is all part of showbusiness. Nothing wrong on the surface. It could just as well be a PR move by the iconic singer's sponsor to sell tickets, even if the wording in the Posta article reads as though the idea came from Tarkan.

Unless you're a member of the ticket buying public and it matters to you, the point isn't whether Tarkan is making a conscientious donation out of his own pocket - official sources are silent on this point - or whether radio station Kral Pop will be donating a share of the proceeds from all the star acts appearing at the Harbiye ampitheatre instead.

The point is, why is it necessary to make this news - unless the iconic star's concerts were struggling to fill seats?

If so, then the mere existence of the Posta article disproves its own claims that tickets are in "high demand", with ticket seller Biletix crashing due to online interest and the singer "bending to fan pressure" to extend his shows.

This was true in times past. Previously, people were paying to see Tarkan - they didn't need to know it was for a good cause. The singer donated entire concert proceeds from a Harbiye show in 2013 for a "nature school" - which has been active since 2014 - but tickets were sold out long before the public knew about it.

Even when Tarkan's concerts have suffered cancellations in the past, it never affected ticket sales the following year. Quite the opposite, it ramped up demand.

That is what his sponsors pay him - and his bills - for, because Tarkan's name sells tickets. His name draws in the crowds, and he makes so much money off it, he doesn't even need sponsors.

At least that was true before last month, when he dropped a track called "Cuppa" just a day before the failed coup. Since then, the dance track has failed to be a summer smash, stalling his studio album comeback in the process.

The social media shade the track attracted grew when the iconic singer refused to share his condolences on his social accounts with those who lost their lives during the coup. The artist had shared messages over previous attacks, but this time he only broke his silence to post his upcoming Harbiye events in September.

If the wider public were waiting for a grander gesture, they didn't get it. He was also absent from a mass rally in Istanbul, where hundreds of thousands of people gathered under the hashtag #TurkeyUnited to protest against the attempted coup.

After the attacks, Tarkan did put his name on a celebrity "No to Coup" manifesto, which was followed by an appearance in a TV advert against "coups or terrorism" - but some commentators believed it a little too late.

The Tarkan camp was quick to rally, however. The distribution of entertainment news wires to create a demand in tickets is good business sense even under ordinary circumstances. And when it was realised that Tarkan's silence might have been miscalculated, the artist turned to two things that have historically aided in his comebacks.

The first, his famed live performances, especially in Istanbul's Harbiye district (after being busted for drugs) and the second, his training ground of Turkish classical music (after he told a TV reporter live on air he needed to take a piss).

This time the artist combined both to woo the public to the stalls; the Harbiye line up on Biletix revealed Tarkan's decision to focus on his classical album, in place of releasing a previously planned pop record just before his shows.

But Tarkan's actions have been so reactive, they have come off slightly insincere and insensitive to some. Delay of a long anticipated pop album came only after "Cuppa" failed to ignite the charts, angering fans. Sponsors to his shows were added only after it was clear tickets weren't selling out as usual, engendering critics.

And news stories only began circulating to remind the public how charitable, sensitive and patriotic Tarkan is, with his generous gesture of donations to those fallen - and how his jam packed shows are good for the local economy - when it was apparent that seats were still empty.

It's true that the pop icon is charitable and sensitive, and his concerts have generated a lot of money for local economies, but saying that the singer's tickets have sold out, when a quick look on the Biletix site shows the opposite, doesn't help Tarkan's image of a principled artist who is in it for more than the money.

And why bother? Why pretend that nothing is wrong, when Turkey's situation is growing worse? With bomb attacks reaching the cities, rising intolerance, growing nationalism and Islamism, why pretend that it's just business as usual? Why be part of that show?

With his silence, the pop icon has pushed himself into a tight corner. In different times - just two months ago - Tarkan would have readily offered his condolences over the recent bombing in Gaziantep - as other celebrities were quick to do. But after refusing to sympathise with those families who lost loved ones during the coup, what can he do but remain silent?

Especially when in the press it looks like he is using the "martyrs for democracy" to sell concert tickets, seeming to sit silently on the fence to make money has lost Tarkan followers on his Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Tarkan may have shared his condolences in private, but the public need gestures. Although it may go unrecorded now, in the long term it will be remembered by some quarters that Tarkan lost respect, not for his point of view, but for his lack of courage to show it.

In hindsight, it would have better to put a hand up and accept public criticism for his silence, or, depending on the singer's political point of view, not accept popular opinion and refuse to generate musical output. Saying nothing but putting on a series of shows gave out the wrong message.

Naturally, Tarkan is not a politician. He is an entertainer. The only place he feels certain he won't say the wrong thing is on the stage and in the studio. It's why he rarely gives interviews. But if you do present a certain activist stance online, then you can't be seen to sell it off for a few extra concert tickets.

History will show that creative artists like Turkish singer Sıla Gençoğlu, who refused to back down from her opinions and had her Harbiye concerts cancelled as a result, will gain in the long term. Rightly or wrongly, she stood by what she believed in, and had little celebrity support for it.

A celebrity must play to a crowd, it's true, but they must also know how to play a crowd. Possibly this is why it has taken weeks with PR buzz for Tarkan's tickets to sell out, when usually it would have taken days. People just don't know what they are buying into anymore. Marketing and research surveys may show Tarkan as Turkey's 7th most trusted celebrity, up five places from last year - yet will it last as the year continues?

Tarkan's career has had its setbacks, but for a decade when Tarkan came to Harbiye's open air arena, people flocked. If the rumours about the 70 year old theatre being demolished or reconstructed are true, it would be a shame if the artist's illustrious run didn't end on a genuine high note. And Tarkan is one of the few artists who can pull it off.

There is no doubt the pop icon has made music that has touched the lives of many people in Turkey. The Tarkan faithful will always adore him. But can he take the mass adulation of his home crowd for granted in the long run, when even six shows of packed audiences aren't the complete picture of success of previous years?

On the surface this September it will look like Turkey's love affair with Tarkan continues, but beneath the surface? Only time - and the music - will tell.

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