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Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Players of Poptimism [2/3]

Editorial by Mark Mayhey reporting from London, UK

Genres will sell more, of course, once they form an established sound that listeners can identify with, and the science backs the now-dominant truth of pop music: Record companies are only comfortable promoting things they already know will sell. They know that now better than ever.

Erudite record labels are pouring resources into data analysis tools, using them to predict which songs will be the next breakout hit. According to the experts, executives can use services like Shazam and HitPredictor to see which songs will break out next with surprising accuracy.

Tarkan, that one hit wonder of the West tightly locked in his Turkish bubble, who heralded in the nineties and the resurgence of Turkish pop, was parcelled as rebellious as grunge was in America. But grunge wasn't going to go work in a country where anarchy actively claimed lives. This Turkish George Michael channelled angst into sexual ambivalence, stripping down to literally bare his behind to a society repressed by religious morals.

Tarkan NakedSexual liberation vis-à-vis Tarkan wrapped up in easy listening music must have felt like an antidote to Turkey's youth, coming out of one of the most impoverished and bloody decades in its history. But, conversely, it was a time when artists could sell millions in the Turkish music market and make millions.

Fast forward two decades and while the country is on the verge of becoming an economic powerhouse in its region, its music industry is a dead horse being flogged by the last few major Turkish labels. Physical sales non-existent, audio streaming has yet to gain a foothold over video streaming for overall consumption in Turkey.

Under a digital umbrella, Turkish artists have been reduced to collecting revenue from video streaming sites like YouTube, where one of its most powerful streaming channels is Turkish music channel NetD. This has translated to album sales running dry, while YouTube hits pour in to the hundreds of millions. It generates revenue but not sale figures: Audio streams, not video, combined with physical sales and downloads determine a song's overall consumption.

Constituent to this is the fact that influential artists - those who can still generate a fraction of album sales - become the life and breath of smaller industries, while becoming part of a rare breed in larger ones. Globally Adele is today's rarity - harmonising talent and sounding different than everyone else - but even Adele can't stop her old albums outselling her new releases.

Known as the stand out artist in terms of physical sales, although Adele can be termed as that rare breed of icon to defy the digital age and shift sales in the tens of millions, it's Canadian rapper Drake who has shown that streaming and the lack of a music video might be the way forward for other artists in this new age.

Experts believe the key reason for the huge streaming success of Drake's "One Dance" was the lack of a music video - forcing people who use YouTube to listen to music to use an audio streaming service to hear the track.

Drake's dominance in the streaming market saw off chart competition from songs released in the same time frame that sold more downloads and physical copies. It's a fact that even Adele's powerhouse of sales is a step back in relation to the bigger picture of music consumption 15 years ago. Streaming is here to stay, evolve and change for the next generation.

Undeniably, change is inevitable. In terms of music, we have become nostalgic, but musical talent needs to tap into trends, universal and digital, to reach an audience. Turkish pop music has become so homogenised that its audience calls for the heyday of the nineties - when Tarkan and his squad of rebels roused the country to sit up and listen with new sounds and courageous lyrics.

Perhaps as the only artist remaining from those times with any quantifiable selling power, and as a result of the dire straits the Turkish music industry is in, you can't fault those wanting to protect its heritage (and cash cow) at all costs: Tarkan no longer represents the Turkish pop industry, he is the Turkish pop industry. Listeners constantly weigh what a quarter of a century later the music means to them, and the entertainment industry has become very careful what they print about Tarkan these days. As pop royalty, the media journos are now his subjects.

He is part of that rare breed that still sells - or was. The reason I say was, is because of Tarkan's charting blip this summer with "Cuppa", which sounded more like a Tarkan parody circa 1993 than the work of the man himself. Sometimes familiarity can breed contempt: with his domestic pop market so homogenised, to drop a track so disposable and unworthy of discussion to secure a hit smacked of laziness.

It seems the artist is not only a one-man music label, he has started acting like one - and his audience have noticed, even if the media pretend not to. There is still a massive fanbase that will listen to just about every blurt and fart emanating from the singer, but his classical album, released a few months before, now feels more like a manipulation of the affection the Turkish public have for their own brand of classic music. Proof Tarkan is taking sanctuary in securing a sure fire hit to fill his coffers, rather than a serious tribute from an artist hitting maturity and looking for something deeper in retrospect is further fuelled by rumours of a second classic album release.

Someone once said that works done out of fear have no moral value. Evidently it's tough to constantly reinvent yourself, but music is a responder of social trends. Had Tarkan waited on dropping "Cuppa", the classic album might have indirectly given the impression the prince of pop, who once gave disposable music a soul, was making a significant statement about the musical tone of the times.

At any rate, it would have tapped directly into the vein of his audience to see him kicking against the fame game. However in the play of poptimism, there comes a time the player gets played - less and less.

Since "Cuppa", Tarkan's image as a bulletproof hit maker has started to unravel. The artist's consequent actions have felt insincere, forced and planned - like the entertainment stories currently being circulated about his marriage.

Similarly at risk from becoming the prince of poptimism - into being famous rather than into the music - the more calculated his actions feel, the more his music trajectory comes across as miscalculated. The bigger his "free for all shows" become, the more it looks like the artist is running out of ideas.

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