by Lennert Lehmann | 21.04.05 Qantara.de
Translation from German: John Bergeron
Corrections by Ali Yıldırım
Lennert Lehmann's subjective analysis of pop singer Tarkan
His hits "Şıkıdım" and "Şımarık" made Tarkan a worldwide success and they put Turkish "pop müzik" on the map. On the road to becoming a universal pop icon, however, he finds himself increasingly removed from the banal everyday existence of his fans.
For those who don't already know, finding out anything profound concerning Tarkan is more difficult than uncovering who really shot J.F. Kennedy. Despite this, or perhaps as a result, the 32-year-old singer is today the most well-known pop star that Turkey has ever produced, though not the most significant, as professional music critics are fond of stressing.
His fans, and they can now be found just about anywhere on the planet, find Tarkan "sweet" and that he is "the best". Some fans, though, criticize in chat forums that "musicians like Tarkan are only in it for the money."
Tarkan is always friendly to everyone, has a permanently neutral demeanor, never comments on anything, solicits donations for tsunami victims on Turkish MTV, is never arrogant or conceited, and this is why all Turks, from small children to the elderly, love him.
In Turkey, he is regarded as modern, while abroad his music attracts listeners with its oriental charm. Few, however, know precious little about Tarkan Tevetoğlu (his full name).
Tarkan is incomprehensible, both in the literal and in the figurative sense. Of course, there is the official story of the singer, born in Germany in 1972 to Turkish guest workers, which has been told a thousand times over.
At the age of 14, he left for Turkey to study singing*. He became a worldwide star with the self-interested support of Mehmet Sögütoğlu and his Istanbul Plak production company. Otherwise, there is nothing substantial to report. It could be said that Tarkan truly does has a clean vest.
Rumors, scandals, and the media circus
There was a time in Turkey when he was regarded as "rebellious," because he frequently talked about illegitimate passions and he wore an earring. And then there are the two "scandals" discussed to the very last detail throughout the global village – Tarkan's supposed homosexuality and his run-in with the Turkish army. He is alleged to have tried to avoid military service by going abroad, yet finally completed his time in the army, although with a shortened term of duty...
In 2001, there were consistent rumors about Tarkan's supposed homosexuality. For the last three years, however, he has been seen with a girlfriend.
A woman. And a Turkish woman, at that. Beautiful and a lawyer, therefore intelligent. So is everything is back to normal again? Tabloid journalists maliciously remark that this is just a public relations maneuver.
Tarkan has since attempted to evade the curiosity of the world by moving to the labyrinth of the city of cities, the modern day Babylon, the ultimate melting pot of cultures – New York, New York.
Speculating about Tarkan
Tarkan currently calls the city his home. Hardly anyone knows what he is doing, what he is thinking when he is by himself, if he has other interests besides music, if he is experiencing a crisis or working out a vision, why he always sings apparently banal songs about erratic love, or whether he ever gets upset about anything (other than tabloid journalists).
At the very least, his fans would like to know if he plans on delighting the world with a live concert in 2005! Yet, his new management, headed by the legendary Woodstock Festival promoter, Michael Lang, seems to prescribe to the theory that less celebrity hype means more star quality. On Tarkan's homepage, one also finds only outdated information and his perfume ad.
Nonetheless, the editors of the Turkish radio station Metropol FM in Berlin, where Tarkan is also the object of great reverence, claim that he is currently working on a new album. He plans on singing in English, "in order to conquer the international market."
The correct reading of this must be "conquer once and for all," as "Oynama Şıkıdım, Şıkıdım" could likewise be heard throughout Latin America and Central Asia for years. It has even been said that he might never again sing in Turkish!
It should be mentioned here for the sake of balance that Tarkan has also severed his emotional attachments to Germany. The question arises, however, if his magic on the international stage will disappear once people can suddenly understand the lyrics to his songs.
After all, the German gothic rockers "Rammstein" continue to sell their albums in the USA and Russia with exclusively Teutonic lyrics. English versions of their songs were unimaginable flops.
Heartbreak as a recipe for success
Back at Radyo Metropol FM, no one doubts that the experienced team around Tarkan will be successful. His songwriters produce lyrics that are "in and focused on the language of the street" and "sound like slogans." They are about love, jealousy, desire, and the pain of separation. "The lyrics stay in your head and are unlike anything else you've heard."
His biggest hits, "Şıkıdım" and "Şımarık" (the song with the kissing sound) were written for him by the Queen of Turkish pop müzik, Sezen Aksu. The trick here, and one specifically aimed at the masses, is that the songs are gimmicks, provoking attention via alienation effects and cross-cultural, easily decodable sounds that are independent of the lyrics.
In addition, Tarkan's team works exclusively with renowned artists in putting together the songs. Journalists have described Tarkan's singing as "pleading". "He fears the valley of tears upon which surfs his good mood" (Berliner Zeitung). Along with the stomping electronic beats, he is accompanied by "swaying oboes, melancholy Sufi flutes, and rattling tambourines to a disco rhythm" (Berliner Morgenpost).
Projection screen for "the dreams of the masses"
Currently, the supply of Tarkan discs in Germany is running low, because Istanbul Plak has raised the prices on his albums. Tarkan has thereby become Turkey's most expensive music export. German wholesalers, however, refuse to play along.
Tarkan once said that he wanted to settle in Bali after he had achieved success similar to his role model, Madonna. Ever more godlike, Tarkan removes himself from the banal everyday life of ordinary mortals.
Catapulted along a trajectory of superlative clichés, Tarkan is mutating into a projection screen for the "dreams of the masses" worldwide – for musicians and producers, who hope to make it big under his name, for young and old, rich and poor. He thereby has what it takes to climb to the Olympian heights of pop music.