The women saving Turkish pop

Since 2015, young, female musicians who upload covers or DIY music videos on YouTube have spearheaded a new strand of Turkish pop. Amongst them is the rising star Ekin Beril who released a debut LP last week.

Over the past two or three years, it has been widely said in North America that women are transforming the alternative rock scene, carrying rock music into the 21st century or making the best music the genre has seen in a long time.

As demonstrated by acts like St. Vincent, Courtney Barnett, and Japanese Breakfas Snail Mail, Soccer Mommy, or Charly Bliss, it is clear that talented women and their guitars have brought new life to a musical form that for too long had been languishing in stagnant dude-energy.

Likewise, musicians like Ekin Beril, Nova Norda, Sedef Sebüktekin have rescued pop music in Turkey. Since 2015, these young musicians have been uploading covers or DIY music videos on YouTube. Further developing their independent sound and creative vision whilst also garnering major label attention, this cohort is poised to create a brand new current of indie pop. 

This new strand of pop has little to do with today’s mainstream radio fare which, with few exceptions, appears hopelessly stagnant compared to the quality songs and colorful personalities of Turkey’s 1990s - which in retrospect was something of a golden age for pop music.

Thankfully, these new seeds are beginning to bear fruit. Last week, Ekin Beril released her debut LP “Dualite” to great fanfare. The music and lyrics were composed by 27-year-old Beril. She collaborated on the production with Playjoy (Caner Anar) while playing acoustic guitar, ukulele, and electronic percussion herself. Building on the theme of duality that gives the album its title, the songs range in texture from dark to light, electric to acoustic. At moments she sounds like Billie Eilish, at others she channels Pink Floyd. 

“Dualite” is a concept album. As Beril explains in her extensive liner notes accompanied by original illustrations of stars and planets, “This album tells the story of a cognitive journey to understand the truth of duality in the universe. 6 million years ago, in a far away galaxy, our hero who lived in the deepest corner of space began asking herself questions about reality.” In interviews, Beril explains that the album was influenced by her readings in ontology, the study of being. 

Inevitably, these philosophical explorations bleed into more political territory, even if only subtly. In “Biraz Sussana” (Quiet Down for a Bit), Beril describes someone who could be a toxic lover, a mansplaining coworker, or a dictatorial politician: “He says, ‘This isn’t the way / You can’t trust them at all / If not for me / Nothing would be in its right place.’” Towards the end of the song, she fires back: “Your ideas are all mediocre and narrow-minded / Leftovers from the middle ages.” 

In the sparkly sing-along “Bükülür Galaksiler,” love transforms into a force both cosmic and collective: “You and I are a superpower when we’re together / Whole galaxies suddenly twist and bend.” 

While Ekin Beril appears to be on the path to stardom herself, she began with more humble ambitions. Born in 1993 in Çanakkale, she came to Istanbul to get her law degree. While studying at university, she began uploading acapella-style covers of Coldplay, Michael Jackson, Hande Yener, Spice Girls, and Ed Sheeran on Instagram and Vine. She became an online sensation, incorporating increasingly complex harmonies, loop machines, and synths in her songs.

On YouTube, her most populer song is a cover of early 2000s-era rockers Pinhani’s song “Ben Nasıl Büyük Adam Olucam” (How Will I Become a Big Man). Beril’s version of the song, viewed nearly 15 million times, gives it a feminist twist. Released 2 years ago on March 8, International Women’s Day, she wrote that on the day women win the ability to live freely, “We’ll all be big men.”

Later in 2017, Beril released a catchy electronic version of diva Ajda Pekkan’s classic song “Düşünme Hiç.” When we take into account her collaborations with musical legend Sertab Erener (as well as her work alongside pop singer Bengü), it is clear that the previous generation has bestowed their imprimatur on Ekin Beril. She was even invited to London to help promote the film The Greatest Showman, where she sang alongside other international influencers and interviewed actor Hugh Jackman. 

Now with her first full LP of original songs released by Universal Music Turkey, Beril is set to clear the path for the other young women transforming pop. 

Nova Norda (Ecem Böke) is another one of these exciting new voices. She first gained attention with her song “Çıktım Bi Yola” in 2018. Inspired by the likes of M.I.A., Missy Elliott, Ana Tijoux, and Rihanna, her creative persona is fiercely independent. The music video for “Varım” (I Exist) - which was viewed 3.9 million times on YouTube - begins with the lines: “If they ask me, ‘Who are you?’ I’ll just say / ‘I exist!’” The richly produced single “Kim Üzdü Seni,” released just last week, is part dubstep and part orchestral. This latest song bodes well for the album that Nova Norda is expected to release this year. 

These musicians see each other as collaborators rather than competitors. Several of Nova Norda’s videos feature cameos by Ekin Beril and Sedef Sebütekin, another important voice in this new wave of Turkish indie pop. 

Sebüktekin’s songs reveal a similar independent streak. In the sassy “Y.S.Y.S.” she gives her lover an ultimatum: “Love me, or free me.” The music video is filled with choreographed dancing and girl crews getting down together. Meanwhile, songs like “Kayboluyorum (Süt)” reveal a more introspective and melancholic side to Sebüktekin’s music, which also resonates with the work of Melis Güven, Simge Pınar, and other upcoming stars. 

As International Women’s Day approaches once again this weekend, it is worth taking note of musicians like Ekin Beril, Nova Norda, and Sedef Sebüktekin who are, in their own way, transforming the cultural field in Turkey. Just as with rocker Gaye Su Akyol’s feminist music video released last year for March 8th, there may be new songs waiting to be released on Sunday. 

In the meantime, Beril’s “Uzayın Dibi” (The Corner of Space) offers the perfect soundtrack as women across Turkey and the world again prepare to occupy streets and public squares. The music video for the song portrays a moment when the drudgery of everyday routine falls away and a new, unexpected energy takes its place. 

September 27, 2021 A fight for housing and joy