Monday, May 3, 2010

Bulent Ersoy- Turkish Diva

Turkish culture is often full of enigmas, paradoxes and peculiar surprises. Discovering these oddities one by one is of the most interesting things about living in this country. Bulent Ersoy, in most people's opinion, would fall in this category. Despite the mixed feelings this singer arouses in the minds of Turks, she is unquestionably an cultural icon and a respected diva.
Similar to Zeki Muren and others, Ersoy is beloved for keeping the alive the traditional Turkish Classical Art Music - the music of the Ottoman palaces. This musical style, which was widely played in the urban areas in the past centuries has a distinctive sound. Beside Turkish art music, Ersoy is a famous popular music singer who has managed successfully to incorporate the classic styles and instruments of the past with the music of today. gnahkar4vj
Born in June 9, 1952 in Istanbul, Ersoy had already appeared in films and developed a following as a recording artist before having gender-reassignment surgery in London by a British plastic surgeon. Naturally this decision sparked a good deal of controversy at the time and, through the years, the pursuit of publicity has certainly been one of the trademarks of her career.  bulent-ersoy2
In the years following the surgery, Bulent Ersoy's career took a hit, following the decision by Turkish  authorities to ban all public performances by transsexual singers in what was cited as a crackdown on "moral deviancy." This was during the regime of Ahmet Kenan Evren, who assumed the presidency of Turkey after a military coup. She lived in exile in Germany and Australia as a result of the ban throughout the 1980s.
Here is a clip of Bulent at the high point in her career, looking glamorous and drawing the applause of her audience as well as the eyes of a possible love interest. The song is "Impossible."
She was allowed to return to Turkey in 1988 due to revision in the Turkish Civil code which recognized her feminine gender. Her popularity soon became greater than ever and the transformation from male to female was widely accepted by the public. However, in the following year, she was the victim of a would-be assassin from a ultra-nationalist extremist group. And not long after her recovery from this shooting attempt, Ersoy made new headlines by announcing her engagement. Quite predictably, the newspapers and magazines had a field day and 53 many felt more shocked not by the fact that a transsexual should marry but that her husband was some twenty years younger than his bride.
In 1998 she and her husband were involved in a car accident in which she was badly injured. Drama is a part of Ersoy's existence so it should come as no surprise that her marriage didn't last long after her husband was caught with a call-girl.
Although she is now semi-retired, Bulent participated in a Turkish pop idol contest as a judge. This is where she met her ersoy240108_ic second husband whom she married in July 2007. That marriage also ended not long early the following year.
Bulent's  public persona is an odd mix of artifice and flamboyance. Time has not been as kind to her as it has to many Turkish female stars. Currently her appearance ranges anywhere from merely outrageous but glamorous (gowns and hair styles that could make a drag queen wince and wonder) to rather frightening (looking like a china doll colored with tempera paint by a 5 year old.)  Add to this, an excessively polite manner of a diva, peppered with the occasional pornographic metaphor or reference and you have a formidable celebrity. Nobody can say she is not one of a kind.
Bulent Ersoy's long waltz with controversy landed her in hot water once again in 2008 when she made remarks on a popular television show that were deemed critical to the military. An Istanbul public prosecutor has subsequently filed charges against her for "turning Turks against compulsory military service", which could have resulted in four years of prison. On December 2008, Ersoy was found not guilty in a Turkish court. Since any criticism of the Turkish military has long been considered absolutely verboten. some have considered this to be a milestone for free speech in Turkey. Others write it off as just another drama in the life of an over the top celebrity.
I always thought it showed a great deal of maturity by the Turks to be able to separate the artist's life and slightly peculiar qualities with the art they that produce. No matter what the Turks might think of Bulent Ersoy as a person, whether they love her or whether they merely tolerate her,  there is no denying  that she has enriched Turkish culture with her talent and her personal style.
Live performance


  1. I find her fascinating. I wonder whether her popularity has really been due to her curiosity value. The Turks after all are very curious as a race aren't they? They also seem to like to be shocked. I remember when I first saw .Bulent on TV whilst I was watching with my husband, and he immediately informed me that she was once a man...said in a kind of shocked, whispered voice, which I found quite amusing.

  2. I need to be more careful of what I pick to read before I go to sleep!
    Oh, I meant to tell you that whenever you change your font color to yellow (Not in this post) it does not show up in RSS well (I am using Mozilla Thunderbird). I have to drag and highlight the yellow portion.

  3. You know, I had always found her kind of freakish. However while I was investigating her life for this post and watching some her performances I could start to understand why she is loved by the majority of Turks (despite some pretty outrageous get-ups and public behavior) Were you able to watch the clips? Yes, they are campy especially the first one but the lower one was genuinely inspiring. The lung capacity on that woman! She could never have developed such a following if she hadn't done what she does with such high standards.
    Zeki Muren was also rather odd but he sang with a great deal sensitivity and real ability.

  4. @Doc
    Thanks for letting me know. Any better color? Perhaps I should just use a different font?

  5. She had such a voice once. Now she and her voice are pretty yıpranmış (I wish I knew a good English word for this-- "ruined" does not begin to cover it).

    What troubles me about about her (most, among the obvious) is her interpretation of femininity and womanhood. Then again, a lot of pop starts around here take that route, or one not unlike it.

    Now Zeki Müren, there's a real lady (not that I know much about his personal life). That voice sends shivers down my spine, in a good way.

    But, as you say, Bülent is entirely unexpected and fabulous. I can't imagine someone like her holding the public's attention at home for as long as she has. Whether that's because of her or the public I can't say. Probably a little bit of both.

  6. Bulent MurtezaogluMay 4, 2010 at 6:13 PM

    Perhaps this might be a 'yipranmamis' example:

    On the other hand, these guys (um, whatever) have the advantage of having peaked in their careers when TV was around. For example, check out Munir Nurettin, from 1964 (concert recording):

  7. That's definitely yıpranmamış. What a shame I've pretty much only heard recent Bülent. It's not just her voice that's gone-- her phrasing and everything else is also a bit campy and silly melodramatic compared to that older recording. It's almost like she's playing at being herself these days. I keep waiting for her face to melt under the lights, like in the end of the first Indiana Jones.

    I suppose Zeki might have gone the same way if he'd stayed with us longer. I heard that he'd killed his voice from over-use/over-zealous practice before he died. I heard Chopin did the same to his hands. Or maybe it was Schubert.

    I couldn't listen to the other one because my husband walked in and started blasting the TV news about the latest crisis-- I'll check it out tomorrow.

  8. I am possibly one of Bulent's biggest fans! The youtube channel is mine. Some info you wrote is wrong. Bulent was engaged first in 1998 not 1988 and was divorced in 1999. Also I read in the comments about her voice, I agree sometimes it's not as good, it's almost like she strains, but other times it's there beautifully and pleas consider she is 59! all divas of the world struggle as they get older. Also she knows how to get the crowd excited in a way I've never seen anyone else come close, I think it's because she gives her all and she is so grateful to her fans.

  9. Sorry about the errors. Could you please site your source? It could be a simple typo but I tried to be careful. As with every major cultural icon, there are always people who love and people who don't love so much.
    The main purpose of the article was to highlight an unusual aspect of Turkish pop culture. Thanks for your input and I invite you to become a permanent follower of the blog!

  10. I went back and corrected the typo on the date. Unfortunately I couldn't find my original sources so hopefully I was just careless. Thanks for noting the error, Anon.

  11. Thank you for the correction. I'm happy you acknowledged Bulent and took the time to research and write about her in a fair way, I enjoyed the article thank you for writing it :)

    Erol S

  12. Thanks to you for your support, Erol. Did you also see the story on Zeki Muren?

    Here are some other possible Turk icons.
    Sezen Aksu or

  13. hmm... Strange story...... she looks different in every picture.. hw cum she became so black.. did she tan herself ??? I wonder 1 personality bt many faces...


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