The art of musical impersonation is nothing new. In fact, in pop music, the tradition has become as commonplace as an encore. But where did it all start? In the 70s, self-titled “monster maker” Danny O’Day became infamous for his Rock and Roll Heaven touring spectacle.

As Rolling Stone writer David Browne explained in his January 2022 article Dr. Frankenstein’s Musical Revue, “the touring extravaganza he conceived and promoted, didn’t just pay homage to one deceased icon, but four of them: Elvis, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Jim Croce. And it didn’t do it merely with costumes or note-for-note vocal imitations: O’Day hired plastic surgeons to physically alter his tribute singers to look as much as possible like the people they were honoring.”

Although O’Day’s methods were ahead of their time, they were also dubbed monstrous. After a few parody skits on Saturday Night Live, O’Day’s radical vision came toppling down. Ultimately, his expensive and oft painful experimentations in creating musical clones became a minor footnote in the history of pop music.

However, the demand for nostalgic performances from long-since deceased pop icons has not diminished.

“I had some successes in the 90s producing a few tracks for Korn and writing for other artists. Oddly, I also found success with my dance music in Germany. But when booking agents would hear me, and then see me, they would always say, ‘have you considered doing a tribute to George Michael? You would be way more marketable that way,’” explains the creator of George Michael Reborn, Robert Bartko.

Many artists in Bartko’s shoes may have felt pangs of anger after sustaining such a big blow to their ego. Bartko is not most artists.

“When [my friend] first played a George Michael vinyl for me in high school, it was as if my heart had found a musical home. It was the weirdest spiritual connection for me. It was like I had been reintroduced to a long-lost brother or something; it just connected for me,” explains Bartko.

A football standout and avid member of his high school drama club, Bartko was blessed with both the physicality and vocal prowess of the late icon.

“In my teens, Wham was just breaking onto the scene, and I kept hearing from everyone how much I looked like ‘this one singer,’” recalls Bartko. “But it wasn’t until I saw George in concert during his Faith Tour that I really saw it. I remember watching him and thinking, ‘Whoa! I really do look just like him!’”

According to Bartko, the realization of his near-identical appearance and vocal range was a sign that his future career as an impersonator was, in a way, chosen without his consent. Still, it was a long way from producing tracks for nu-metal rockers Korn, to dancing around in skin-tight jeans while instructing audiences to “wake me up before you go go.”

“I had a pretty decent amount of success with different projects that I worked on. Some of my early dance tracks gained a little bit of traction in the US and Europe. But it never caught on the way that my impersonation did,” says Bartko.

When it comes to his original music, Bartko may have been a victim of timing. Standing out amid an overwhelmingly crowded music market that is dominated by those who can leverage social media the best, was most certainly working against Bartko’s success. The elimination of disc jockeys who once held the keys to the musical promised land has turned the modern music scene into a proverbial wasteland. If you want to make it, you better find a way to be polarizing or be undeniably attractive. Talent alone no longer equals success.

“Yeah, I don’t know how you break through all that noise to make it nowadays,” admits Bartko.

While a part of Bartko misses creating and performing his own music, he believes that he’s doing exactly what he’s meant to do.

“George is a far better writer than I could ever be. It’s like my ‘brother’ has given me the keys to the Cadillac and I’ve been driving around in a rusted beater. Of course, you’re going to jump in the fancy car and take it for a spin. I guess it’s all about attitude and perspective, you know,” says Bartko.

Catch Bartko in concert with George Michael Reborn on Thursday, June 16, at Everett’s (1850 E Bogard R) in Wasilla, or at Koot’s (2435 Spenard Rd) on Friday, June 17. Tickets start at $28 and are available at Hooked-Entertainment.com.



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