Zoomer pop: The music of Turkey's Generation Z

Zoomers in Turkey do not listen to a single genre of music. Indeed, the divisions between rap fans and rock fans, for example, may not be as stark as it was in the early 2000s, but there are K-pop aficionados, metal heads, devotees of trap, followers of arabesk rap, and other subcultures.

Generation Z has been in the news in recent months. Zoomers, as those born between the mid-1990s and the early 2010s are referred to, are a thorn in the side of Turkey’s government. Despite efforts to raise a “pious generation,” youth today are increasingly frustrated with the ruling AKP—the only government most of them can remember.

For example, on June 26, President Erdoğan attempted to connect with this generation on YouTube. Discontent with Turkey’s education system, Zoomers flooded the live stream event with angry comments and made #NoVotesForYou a trending topic. The comments section was quickly disabled.

Thinking in terms of generations has its limitations, most importantly the way it homogenizes an entire age group with no shortage of internal divisions and disagreements. Yet polls show that Gen Z does share certain concerns (anxiety about the future, frustration with the scarcity of educational and job opportunities, and lack of freedoms). They also appear more tolerant than their elders and are more likely to accept different religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and gender identities. They’re also highly fluent in popular culture, up with the latest global trends and ready to adapt them for local audiences.

Perhaps the best way to get to know a generation is through its music. Zoomers in Turkey do not listen to a single genre of music. Indeed, the divisions between rap fans and rock fans, for example, may not be as stark as it was in the early 2000s, but there are K-pop aficionados, metal heads, devotees of trap, followers of arabesk rap, and other subcultures. 

Still, one can say that the blending of genres is the most characteristic quality of music produced by young people today. There is also an increasing informality and willingness to be “weird” in how upcoming pop stars present themselves. 

One can see this most clearly in pop music. While a more experimental form of indie pop has emerged in Turkey, mainstream pop has been slow to change. After the golden age of the 90s and early 2000s, Turkish popular music fell into a rut with the same European-style dance beat and vocal stylings characterizing seemingly every song. Today, in contrast, pop has fully opened itself to rhythms of rap and R&B, urbano (including reggaeton, dancehall, and Latin hip hop), and the 1970s/1980s nostalgia taking the world by storm.

If there is a song of summer 2020, it is most likely Zeynep Bastık’s “Bir Daha.” This late millennial with a massive Zoomer fan base got her start releasing covers on YouTube before being catapulted to mainstream to success thanks to collaborations with rapper Anıl Piyancı and pop veteran Mustafa Sandal. Her summer hit “Bir Daha” shows her riding the disco-revival wave of British-Kosovan megastar Dua Lipa, whose latest album Future Nostalgia proves once again that looking backward at retro musical trends is still the best way to propel your career forward. 

Aside from the sound, the lyrics of “Bir Daha” also resemble Dua Lipa’s “Break My Heart.” Both singers regret the day they met their lover. “I would've stayed at home / 'Cause I was doin' better alone,” Lipa sings. “I wish I hadn’t seen him even once / then I would have never been sad,” Bastık responds. Yet the song is so catchy that already on the first listen, it’s as if you’ve heard it hundreds of times. 

The video of “Bir Daha” also reveals something about changing fashion trends. In half of the video Bastık wears a loose T-shirt as a dress and in the other half she wears yoga clothes. Ever since Zoomer pop star extrodainaire Billie Eilish popularized a loose-fitting and androgynous style, musicians around the world have been increasingly willing to trade skimpy for sporty. 

One notices a similar aesthetic in Feride Hilal Akın’s 2019 hit “Kim,” which appears to have used the same all-black room with electric lights as Bastık in “Bir Daha.” In the music video for this groovy synth number, Akın dances robotically whilst wearing neon orange sweat pants and a matching orange sweatshirt lined with something resembling aluminum foil. Similarly, in “Tutku” Akın sings with auto-tune over a trap beat while dancing in the desert with a troupe of women in ancient Egyptian dog masks. Call it the “Lady Gaga effect,” but this new generation of pop stars is not afraid to let their freak flag fly.

To register what is new about our current pop moment, it is only necessary to go back a couple of years. When Feride Hilal Akın first came on the scene in 2017, she was singing tiresome melancholic ballads while displaying perfectly coiffed hair. Now she dyes her long hair fire engine red and is the perfect R&B collaborator for Turkish rap songs, as in my second candidate for the song of the summer, “Rampapapam.” 

İdo Tatlıses and Edis are good examples of how the Zoomer style has brought even semi-established pop stars into its orbit. With his thick beard and button-up shirts, in 2016 İdo still resembled his famous father, İbrahim Tatlıses, and an older model of the handsome, sensitive man. In his latest video, “Buluşacaktık,” filmed at home with his girlfriend in quarantine, he wears basketball shorts and alternates between dorky dancing like Drake in “Hotline Bling” and eating cereal at the breakfast table. Turkish pop stars have rarely presented themselves so humanly. 

Likewise, there is a vast gulf separating the Edis of a few years ago with the Edis of this spring’s hit “Perişanım.” He sings shirtless and bleach-haired from bed, but the look is more slovenly than sexy. Edis complains of a breakup while vaporwave visuals flit across the screen. The lyrics are melancholy, but more playful and self-deprecatory than earlier examples: “It’s 6 in the morning, my phone’s still in my hand / I broke my promise again.”

It is noteworthy that Bugy - the producer responsible for many of rapper Ezhel’s most famous tracks - made the catchy beat of “Perişanım.” The fusion of pop and rap in Turkey seems to be complete. As the fashion and the music blends, a new and more laid back model of the “pop star” enters into the mainstream. 

September 27, 2021 A fight for housing and joy