Saturday, December 08, 2007

yerazi mech apren

I can’t quite be sure where it started, but I’ve always held out the dream of being some sort of pop star. The opportunity to be the “cute younger brother type” in an up-and-coming boy band has surely passed me by as I’ve gone from being a Joey and aged into a Donny (Please recognize the NKOTB reference). The genesis may well have been my love of the Von Trapp family singers and how easily that name could be tweaked into the ‘Von Monley’ Family singers, but more likely it was my frustration at watching young ladies coo over pop stars like Jordan Knight, Justin Timberlake or Joey Fatone. Really Joey Fatone? I imagine that guy wasn’t sitting at the cool table in High School. But I could never figure out how to parlay my subpar looks and subpar talent into a life of shopping mall concerts filled with various young women throwing their undergarments at me.

Well I finally figured it out. Be born in Armenia.

For a country of maybe 1.5 million people and geographically the size of Maryland, this place has a BOOMING pop music business. I’ve pondered the reasons for this… and I’ve got nothing. Really it is shocking, just shocking. Pop stars are everywhere! And what is more, most of the pop stars have subpar talent (a worldwide phenomenon I realize) but in Armenia they aren’t even necessarily good looking. The women tend to be a bit more to behold, but many, if not most of the male pop stars are of portly stature and plain of face. There is not a washboard stomach to be seen, though I suppose in a climate this frigid there aren’t a lot of extremities exposed, let alone midriffs.

What I love most is that because the country is so small you run into these pop stars everywhere. I can hardly go to any medium sized event without a murmur breaking out amongst the younger women in the crowd. Inevitably I end up being excitedly informed that ‘such and such’ is sitting in the front row. Dumbfounded, I always require supplemental information like, ‘oh you know, the guy from the video… you know… the one where he is dancing in a fountain with the five newer model BMWs parked in the background’. But even if you aren’t lucky enough to run across the cream of the crop pop stars, there is inevitably a group of newly post-pubescent, pimple-faced teenagers making their ‘world debut’ somewhere. I recently went to teach a class at a local orphanage and instead of walking into the normal melee of 10 children running around and attempting to do each other bodily harm with any available semi-sharp object, I entered to find the ‘debut concert’ of a group called yotitz-mek (see picture below). I’m no expert, but I have to imagine that there are better places to debut than an under-heated, poorly furnished room of penniless orphans.

My introduction to Armenian pop music was blessed from the beginning. When I first arrived at my permanent site, I learned that my host-family’s brother was the manager of the Armenian equivalent of Latin America’s ‘Menudo’. For those of you who do not know, ‘Menudo’ is a boy band that rotates out talent just when singers reach puberty and thus maintains the groups high-pitched vitality (Ricky Martin got his start in Menudo). My second week living in Gyumri I was able to attend the 25th anniversary of this ‘Armenian Menudo’ (the bands actual name is ‘Dexanik’). It was a parade of all the talented singers who had gotten their start in this band. Most of the hottest pop stars in Armenia came out to pay homage to this pillar of pop-star production. After 3 hours spent listening to various catchy tunes and the ear rending screams of adoring young fans, I was escorted backstage to meet all the stars. (It’s good to be an American sometimes.) My friend dragged me around and posed me with nearly every performer. At one point she had to literally rip two young fans off of this guy (see below) so I could take a picture.

She kept assuring me that I would appreciate these pictures later…. And I have. I’m amazed at how impressed people are that I have actually me these stars! Again, I have no still have no idea who any of them are, but I did get to meet: this guy (again, not sure who he is, but he's big)

And this guy. They call him Mr. X and he never takes off his Zorro-esque eye-band in public (it’s quite mysterious).

Or these ladies. You may recognize the singer second from the left as the Second place finisher in Armenia’s version of ‘American Idol’ called ‘Hay Superstar’.

I suppose that this high concentration of pop-music is a healthy thing for a country of this size. It again displays an entrepreneurial spirit of which I’ve already written plenty, and also I think it shows that an inordinate of people here have big dreams and are willing to pursue them endlessly. It’s kind of inspiring. How easily my pop-star dreams faded as the pressure of college-loans and responsibility built-up. Hmmmm… I’ve still got a coupla months left here to procure an Armenian fan base. If I can parlay that into a groundswell among the Armenian Diaspora community in Glendale and Moscow, then on to the larger LA scene and after that….. Who knows… Watch out Joey Fatone…

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