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Monday, May 26, 2008

Future Imperfect

Editorial by Mark Mayhey reporting from London, UK
(Special thanks to David Levin)

The Rolling Stones audience at Altamont in 1969 © Rex Features, Robbie at the Nevada UFO Congress © BBC, A Freebie Economy © Sabah

For many people, the 1969 Rolling Stones concert at Altamont is the exact point at which the 1960s hippie dream ended.

Having employed British Hell's Angels as security at their free gig in London's Hyde Park that summer, the Stones unwisely elected to use their altogether-more-dangerous American counterparts for their ill-fated Altamont concert in California. Drunk and unsympathetic to the flower children in their charge, the Angels had been meting out vicious beatings for hours before the Stones took the stage. During their performance, a young black man was stabbed to death in front of the stage.

The loss of life at that event grossly over emphasises the fact that no one is perfect, but the simple fact of the matter is that celebrities are as likely to make mistakes as the rest of us. They have one small disadvantage, however, they get to make a fool of themselves in the limelight they once craved. Everything is seen more clearly in the glare of the bright lights, warts and all.

So it's no surprise when some try to make a quick exit.

Should an artist cut and run?

Over in the UK, it's been nearly two years since 34-year-old Robbie Williams, serial chart-topper and heartthrob, disappeared into obscurity after the release of his Rudebox album. It's fair to say that, snubbed by critics and fans alike, the release of Rudebox wasn't Williams' finest hour. Since then, the star has been hiding in America - where he is virtually unknown - playing a bit of football, and growing a big beard and has no current plans to return to UK. "I think situations would probably have to change," he has been published as commenting. "I wouldn't be in a country that has the tabloids that we do... I'm not famous here. I can go out and do everything I want here, and that's lovely."

Remind you of anyone? No need to mention Tarkan and his Come Closer project then - however this is where the similarities begin to end. While Tarkan refused to hide himself away or run for the hills after the less-than-warm reception to his English songs, Williams has stopped writing for his next pop comeback altogether, preferring to watch the skies for aliens from outer space instead.

Robbie at the Nevada UFO Congress © BBC
Getting old before his time?
Williams went public about his new interest on a BBC Radio 4 documentary on close encounters at a UFO convention, also revealing that he has seen UFOs a few times himself and that this passion could easily overtake his one for making music.

No one can deny him the chance to have a couple of years out of the spotlight to enjoy life, but his new 'bin man' look - where the artist looks twice the age of Tarkan - can't help remind you that the burden of fame is the heaviest when you have the most to lose. But is it a solution to ditch pop stardom for a secluded life scanning the skies for UFOs in Los Angeles?

Music is the medicine for mistakes

Kids gotta pee, Molfix nappy commercial
The kids gotta pee, Molfix nappy commercial
Williams is not the first big star to have a career slump (remember Britney Spears' well documented break down?) and he certainly won't be the last. Plus, some of Tarkan's past slip-ups are innocent in comparison to those two celebs; where the unfortunate Turkish popster had once been branded rude for saying "I gotta pee" on live TV, now baby puppets say it repeatedly on Turkish TV for a nappy commercial with no public outcry whatsoever.

Yet, it's an indication, too, of how much tougher Tarkan has it in his own industry, more so than Williams' in his, because of an odd reversal between the celebrity and the public in the UK and Turkey.

Recent studies show that the celebrities the ordinary British public love to hate are mostly female - male celebrities get a better deal no matter what Williams may say - while the common person in Turkey idolise and are protective of their famous women, it's the male celebrities that usually get a raw deal.

And the risk of failing is greater with each decision Tarkan makes, because the artist is undoubtedly a trendsetter in his home market; Williams is just one fallen idol among many in the UK. In Turkey, if Tarkan decides to wear a suit, even the celebrities in the Turkish gay community follow suit (pun intended).

Moreover, Turkey's introduction to the "freebie economy" in 2008 saw Tarkan showing the way with his Metamorfoz album, promoted as give-away goodies to entice legal downloads. Using his pulling power and the Internet - which is the biggest driver of the freebie economy - helped generate more revenue for the Turkish music industry in two months than it had achieved in the previous six.

But swimming in untested waters is always risky. Can the Turkish music industry, and the domestic commercial market, envisage what would have happened if Tarkan, like Williams, had decided to permanently move to America and become a ufologist when things went wrong?

Of course the Turkish music industry's heart doesn't lie with just one singer, but arguably with his unmatched successes Tarkan gives a purpose for its beat.

Doritos Tarkan promotions 2008If US snack giant Doritos are willing to pay big bucks to sponsor Tarkan's concerts in 2008, then no wonder: it was the artist that helped launch them into the Turkish food market in the mid-1990s so successfully. In a market difficult to crack - like the Brits' biscuit tastes, Turks' taste buds are notoriously patriotic - it grew in popularity to become a major stakeholder. The same with drinks giant Pepsi, which became so popular with Tarkan's image in 2001, that some in Turkey mistakenly thought the Pepsi company to have Turkish roots.

So, certain domestic quarters should be thankful then, that what the Turkish pop star has done each time there's been a set-back in his career is - in the long-run - to stay in the spotlight and embrace the music. And now would be the perfect time for Williams to put old records behind him and get working on a new one.

The future isn't perfect

Be it of a personal or creative nature, musicians make mistakes, and sometimes they need to be brave enough to risk making them. The future will not be perfect, nor do we need to be, either.

The examples are numerous in music history were musicians have put their music cred on the line to break new ground. One of the seminal moments in the history of rock music was almost considered a huge error in musical judgement. Bob Dylan's move to electric instrumentation enraged large sections of his audience in 1966, culminating in one heckler at Manchester's Free Trade Hall shouting "Judas!" to which Dylan famously replied, "I don't believe you ... you're a liar!"

Other instances to cite could be the time when Orbital brought dance music to 1994's Glastonbury festival in England or Radiohead's inspiring gig at the same festival in 1997 (despite the band having to contend with technical issues so bad that they couldn't hear themselves on stage). Two more prime examples: Bob Marley bringing reggae to Britain and fusing it with rock arrangements at the Lyceum in 1975, and Queen's show-stealing turn at Live Aid in 1985 - at a time when they were generally considered to have had their day - are widely regarded as their greatest performances of all time.

Sometimes a singer needs to put himself out on the edge, when they feel the burden the most, and when they have the most to lose. Arguably, that's what Tarkan did with the release of Metamorfoz, after his Closer venture with Europe. Such risks can propel a music act back to the top - or the bottom - of the musical tree.

However, a musician should rather prefer to fall like Icarus for trying to reach new heights on their own than rise standing on the shoulder of giants, because the ride will be nothing short of triumphant - no matter where you land.

But if you always embrace what makes you strong - as Tarkan seems to do - then often the place you'll land will be on your feet.

Quick note: Good luck to all the finalists in the Tarkan Visual Comp '08!

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

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