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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Dark Knight

Analysis by Mark Mayhey reporting from London, UK
(Special Thanks to Ed Holden)

I was recently invited to a première showing of Christopher Nolan's latest comic hero Batman movie "The Dark Knight". Watching this profound moment in film history - which will arguably go down as a shining epitaph to the untimely passing of actor Heath Ledger - for reasons I'll make clear in a moment reminded me of a spectacular 2006 Tarkan concert I witnessed at the Harbiye in Istanbul.

Tarkan is an entertainer whose energetic net never lets slip meaningless spectacle or dead weight. Like a film, his songs have everything: death, love, betrayal, injustice, sacrifice... even a few laughs. Nothing is overshadowed by over-production. Every item is an equal player.

And like Nolan's film, once you experience Tarkan you realise amongst his domestic colleagues he is impossible to follow. During the time allotted you won't once look at your watch - unless you're waiting for the show to start.

I have often wondered what lies at its heart that elevates a Tarkan concert above its peers. Possibly, amongst many factors, is the fact that the Turkish pop artist shows his famed potency from the outset. Bellowing their hysteria as Tarkan goes about his musical spree, he starts his shows with the absolute capability of bringing the mighty audience to their knees.

Viewing Figures

Doing the rounds in the circuit of Turkish entertainment shows last weekend, it should come as no surprise then that audience figures for the Cyprus concert have risen from the initial 8,000 quoted as closer to 10-12,000 during reports with the Turkish artist, and that reports by a respected news agency have counted 50,000 people at Tarkan's Erdek show last Saturday.

So it's safe to assume, after this summer series of shows, the accumulative figure of people that will have seen Tarkan perform live in the first half of 2008 will be estimated to be in the millions.

Add to this projects in the pipeline that include the filming to a possible new commercial for Tarkan's latest sponsor to his tenth Turkish summer tour, Doritos, and a new remixed production of his 2007 contribution Metamorfoz, it seems Tarkan has suddenly shifted into top gear to get into the fast track of the music race.

One highly anticipated remix is European DJ Tiësto's re-working of Tarkan's "Pare Pare", which the popular music jockey played at his Istanbul concert last Friday. Newspaper and TV reports write that Tarkan had attended the 18 July Istanbul show as the DJ's special guest, with Tiesto cited as saying that it was great to have their names together on a project.

Tarkan with Tiesto, 18 July 2008

Tarkan - as with most standards set in his domestic industry - is the first Turkish pop artist to work with the top-rated musician, who has worked with the likes of Madonna and Justin Timberlake in the past.

However, the Turkish pop artist keeps his domestic ties constant, too, not failing to work with such home greats as Orhan Gencebay for global environmental issues at a national level. At the end of July, with guest vocals by Gencebay, Tarkan is preparing to release a song to raise public awareness of the dangers to Turkey's natural habitat.

A Public Showing

One dark blot on the landscape of a career that is still going strong after a decade and a half is - as always - Tarkan's private life. In an ideal world, as unimportant as it should be, it still manages to take precedence in the entertainment industry over the Turkish pop star's achievements in music.

For example, dominating the headlines for the last three months, has been the sudden disintegration of Tarkan's seven year relationship with female lawyer Bilge Öztürk and their amicable - but very public - split.

On Video: Tarkan & Bilge publicly announce their amicable split after dinner

We don't have to imagine the news reports that have followed; we can read them. Some columnists have already started to claim that "Tarkan will be reborn" after Öztürk, accusing her stabilising effect on the pop star's love life for having stagnated Tarkan's creativity, some are on the hunt for his next conquest, while some have even made worse accusations that again reduce her to nothing more than a cover for Tarkan's ambiguous sexuality.

Tarkan out with some girls after split with Bilge
Tarkan caught out with some girls after split with Bilge
Sure it's not as bad as the "hell" Tarkan is once quoted to have called Turkey after private photographs stolen from his home were released by his home media in 2001 - claiming to prove Tarkan did indeed lead a marginal lifestyle - but even after seven years it is still an issue.

Although, with his now infamous "last supper" with his seven year partner, the real criticism to be directed at Tarkan this time around is his own pushing of his private life into the public arena, blurring the distinction of the "criminal" paparazzi press and the "hero" pop star.

A Private Space

As human beings, we all deserve some level of privacy. But when you're a celebrity, privacy holds another meaning. Most celebrities accept the fact that they will be followed by paparazzi the minute they step out their doors; after all, it does come with the territory. Celebrities spend a significant amount of time in front of the cameras, so it seems inevitable that some parts of their private lives will get out.

But any complaints the dark knight of Turkish music may have with the paparazzi after his TV report with Bilge will seem a little like stars of the Britney Spears camp, who tend to end up in the tabloids more because of the things that they allow the public to see, yet they cry invasion of privacy when everyone knows their business.

It isn't impossible for a celebrity to keep their private lives private. There are plenty of celebrities that seem to keep a low profile, yet still remain famous. Johnny Depp is one of the most famous actors in the world, but we don't constantly see stories on him posted in the tabloids. It's not that he doesn't have any drama going on in his life; it just seems like he refrains from speaking about his home life when being interviewed and he doesn't allow the cameras to catch him in any embarrassing public displays.

If celebrities lead private lives out of the media spotlight, then arguably they deserve to have as much privacy as anyone else. But when they allow their relationships to end in a very public way, then don't they deserve whatever loss of privacy that the tabloids take from them?

Showcasing Talent Instead

When Tarkan tried to bring his doings on camera with a "I gotta pee" remark on national live TV, he shocked his nation to the point of a near reversal of his fortunes.

Similar to British comedian Julian Clary, for instance, who gave a risqué performance at the 1993 British Comedy Awards where, presenting an award that night, went on to say that he'd just been performing a sex act on a male politician. The audience had been amused, however the public at large had not taken the joke to heart.

However, while Clary's career took years to recover from his perceived gaffe, Tarkan was quickly forgiven after he followed the media's song and dance over his toilet quip with his own singing.

Talent contest for Istanbul's Roma community shows Turks tolerant of talent
TV show for Istanbul's Roma community shows Turks tolerant of talent
Or it could be that the Turkish nation in general is very accepting of its music talent. In comparison with European countries like the Czech Republic that carry out forced sterilisations of its Roma people, the Turks give their Roma community its own talent contest on national TV.

Tarkan, too, had tapped into the popularity enjoyed by Istanbul's Roma community during his Karma phase with Romany influences in his colourful image, and in doing so had caught the imagination of marginalised people all across Turkey.

Still Running Strong

But it's not just Tarkan's image that has set him apart from other Turkish artists; the reason for his longevity in the music industry - and the strong connection between him and his fan base - is the thing I had mentioned at the start of this piece. It is Tarkan's consistently strong live performances that keep him running.

Whatever might be reported, or speculated, about the pop star, the minute the show lights go on, everything else is forgotten.

And while many superlatives are written when we attempt to gauge a masterpiece or a tragedy, ultimately Tarkan's strength is this: he transcends his own genre easily to surpass any of the other artists out there in Istanbul and across his home nation.

Because like the new Batman movie, for a long time after you see Tarkan live, everything else will just seem dull.

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

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