Last Thursday, Israeli pop star Ivri Lider performed for and fielded questions from a packed audience at the new Cornell pub, Bear’s Den. After his first two albums went platinum, Lider began openly discussing his gay sexual orientation to the media and his fans. Named Israel Artist of the Year in 2005 and on Out Magazine’s list of 100 Inspiring Gays and Lesbians, Lider sat down with The Sun to discuss his experiences as an openly gay prominent pop sensation.
The Sun: As a major artist, how difficult of a decision was it for you to come out?
Ivri Lider: It was after two successful albums. I had a record album, I had a manager and people working for me and I was their golden chicken [laughs] and no one had done it before. So it was a bit like, “What will this be like? Will it be okay? Is this something that can ruin your career or not? What’s going to happen with the girls? Are we going to lose our golden egg?”
But for me personally, I felt like it was not really an option. It’s something we can discuss and talk about for awhile but eventually it’s stupid because I felt stupid not talking about it, about coming to an interview like this one and not be able to just talk about my life, and about who I am, about my home or my boyfriend. I felt really stupid that it’s this weird game … that I wasn’t supposed to talk about it. And I didn’t even feel like my audience will have any issue with that. I thought they would probably appreciate honesty, and I also felt like I had this opportunity to do something important, so eventually it wasn’t really a tough decision. It’s just something to discuss, and maybe the manager was more afraid than I was, but eventually it was just very natural for me to do.
Sun: Leading up to your coming out, did those close to you know you had made a decision?
I.L.: It was never really discussed whether I would do it or not, it was just, one day, I came to them and said, “Okay now for this next album I’m going to have to do the interviews again, I’m going to have to do the whole promo thing again, and I’m not going to play this game anymore, I’m just going to go and say everything and tell about my boyfriend, and my songs and feelings and just be very open about it and not make a big deal about it. And just be very honest.”
Sun: Was your music, at least lyric-wise, able to change or expand after you came out?
I.L.: I don’t really think so because it was there anyway from the beginning. And that’s also why I don’t think it was such a huge “Wow” or whatever [when I came out]. Maybe for some people it was, but for people who were really in to what I was doing, and were listening to the songs carefully, I think it was there all the time, so it’s not like after I came out I started writing differently or something.
Sun: Was there any negative reaction after you came out?
I.L.: It’s a funny story, I always tell it because it’s really funny. So you come out and there’s a big article in the biggest newspaper, and it is something that everybody reads, and you’ve got the cover and it’s a big issue, and people start writing on the Internet, and you go on television and the only bad reaction I got was a bad article on the largest Israel gay site. It sounds weird, but that was the only bad one. It was bad because the writer said it’s not really important. Many were saying that it’s an important step, and this guy said I was acting too straight and white and not suburban enough and not queer or political enough. So I think that’s the only bad reaction I got. And he apologized afterwards.
Sun: Do you think there is something about Israeli society that can facilitate someone who not only comes out, but sings about being gay so openly?
I.L.: It is interesting, because … Israel is a really new country, comparatively, and the society is really changing all the time. But at least on that subject it’s a very liberal country. There are a lot of famous people who are out and Tel Aviv is a very open, liberal city in many ways. So I guess there is something about the cultural climate in Tel Aviv. I think Jerusalem is a little different. It’s only about 15 minutes from Tel Aviv, but it’s a different world. So I would say for Tel Aviv it’s really different to be who you are, who you want to be. It’s very open and very liberal.
The Israeli society is very complicated, because on some issues it’s very strict and backwards and in some ways it’s super liberal and forward. So I think on the gay subject it is very good. And in the army you don’t have that “don’t ask, don’t tell” stuff.
Sun: Do you try to tackle political issues with your songs, involving Israel and territorial issues?
I.L.: I do. In the 80s and early 90s we had a lot of artists doing political songs where it was very obvious what it was about, and artists today talk about politics but in a different way. I’m interested in the cultural politics of Israel. Not only the Israel-Palestinian thing but also the Israel thing: who we are, who we want to be. But also if you look into the songs carefully, in a lot of them there are elements of how the situation of the region affects us. How our policies affect us. It could be about Palestine, it could be about foreign workers, it could be about ourselves and secular religion and all that stuff.
Sun: You have famously covered contemporary hits such as Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” and Lady Gaga’s “Telephone.” What about covering popular songs attracts you?
I.L.: I love doing covers. It happens to me a lot when I hear a song and go, “Yeah we have to do that song.” I think it’s an art form when you do it nicely. It creates something new. If I do “I Kissed a Girl” and I don’t even change a word — I just sing it exactly like it is — suddenly it’s a different song with different meaning, and it’s a little funny.
Original Author: Brian Gordon