Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

How Tina Turner Became An Icon

Remembering Tina Turner
Published 30 May, 2023 01:00pm

“You’re simply the best
Better than all the rest
Better than anyone
Anyone I have ever met”

Tina Turner’s power ballad (originally recorded by Bonnie Tyler) was the soundtrack at many a sales conference during the nineties. As ‘the Salesman of the Year’ collected his award Simply the Best would burst into life as he progressed to the stage, feeling magnificent and dominant and successful. A power ballad is a deceptively simple thing. Tina Turner’s just made you feel great. You could bellow them out in the mad privacy of your own car. They were perfect for the drunken end to a wedding disco.

Tina Turner’s other great talent was dynamic performance. With her explosive hairdo, legs up to her ears and short skirts, she roared out her songs in live shows in a way that no one could match. Only Michael Jackson could come close in choreographing dance and song but he seemed anodyne by comparison with the sheer guts, sweat and energy of a Tina Turner concert. She was doing it into her sixties. She performed to the max whenever she got on the stage. You always got value at a Tina Turner gig.

These things made her a superstar. Yet the obituaries said something more: she was “an icon.” How did this happen? Partly it was ‘the look’ – TT was instantly recognisable in her stage persona.

But at a deeper level, it was because people identified with her story. She had lived the American dream twice over. Starting in poverty and neglect she first found fame with Ike Turner with R&B hits like Nutbush City Limits and River Deep Mountain High. Yet, she left Ike because he was abusive and controlling. He was also an enthusiastic user of cocaine and serially unfaithful as a husband. She had been performing with him for two decades but when they divorced she was left with little money.

She faded from view for a few years – playing in small venues. Then she reinvented herself as a rock star and became even bigger as a solo artist. Reinvention – that belief that you are never defeated and, through individual talent and energy, can make a comeback goes to the heart of the American dream. Tina Turner had made herself great again. She also became an icon for feminists and women in the music business, which is notorious for its sexism. She had defeated controlling men to be her own woman. Her life was told in the hit movie called What’s Love Got To Do With It based on her autobiography I, Tina.

Then there is her sheer longevity – something that only a few can achieve. Here the story, as so often in the music business, is one of collaboration. Music (like film and TV) is a team effort. You need to be able to work with producers, writers and other artists to stay fresh and perform at your best.

The genuine outpourings of grief from fellow stars attest to the fact that she was a warm, generous person and a professional, who was a pleasure to work with. David Bowie (the original Mr Cool) liked her, as did Rod Stewart. Mick Jagger studied her stage performances and went on to emulate her energy on stage in his own unique hip-wiggling way. She duetted with many artists including Bowie, Bryan Adams, Beyoncé, Lionel Richie, Elton John, Cher and more.

The word icon may get a bit debased from overuse but Tina Turner certainly earned the accolade.

Julian Saunders is a former ad agency CEO and Googler who has worked for the UK government.