By Shana Naomi Krochmal
Ivri Lider absolutely thinks mainstream America is ready to embrace a gay Israeli pop singer. �Why not?� he asks with a sweetly audacious laugh. Maybe he�s so confident that crossover success is within his grasp because coming out to a major newspaper in 2002 only increased his popularity, and it helped turn his years of recording, touring, and collaborating into a headline-making career.
Or maybe it�s because he�s got plenty of practice singing honestly about complex sexual affairs in a country raging with secular and religious wars. �Israel is many things,� he says by phone from a sound check in Eilat, a city at the southern tip of Israel. �It can be very liberal and open-minded�and parts can be the opposite of that. It�s something you can say about America too.�
Lider (pronounced �LEE-der�) grew up in an artistic family and started fooling around with pianos when he was 5. �Before I could read words, I could read notes,� he says. He added an increasing array of electronic equipment to his repertoire, creating a blissful, hypnotic style that blends a live band with synthesized samples.
He�s well-poised to become the Israeli Ricky Martin�with one (other) key difference. Unlike the massive worldwide Latino market, there are only so many fans of pop music sung in Hebrew. To be awarded a gold record in Israel, you have to sell just 20,000 albums; in the United States, it�s 500,000. Lider�s five CDs have sold a combined 160,000 copies, no small feat but still far from the American success he dreams about.
�Israel is such a small country that no matter where you play a concert, at the end of the night you always get to go home,� he admits. A U.S. tour last fall, including playing for a packed house at New York City�s Avalon Night Club, only reinforced that difference. �We traveled to 10 concerts in 12 days,� he says. �Not everyone knows your language, but you still have to connect with the audience.�
He�s also got a cameo in a new film. Lider�s close friends Gal Uchovsky and Eytan Fox�currently Israel�s best-known gay exports, with Walk on Water and Yossi & Jagger enjoying major filmfest success�have promoted Lider from composer to on-screen star. In their new movie, The Bubble, he belts out Gershwin�s �The Man I Love.� The experience only made him eager for more. �Next time,� he says, �I hope I get a bigger part!�
This month he�ll get a proper introduction to American audiences with the release of Revolutions, the first CD collection from Music With a Twist, the boutique label from Sony Music Label Group and Wilderness Media & Entertainment. �Ivri�s song sounds different from everything else,� says Matt Farber of Wilderness, who helped choose Lider�s track from thousands of submissions. �It�s haunting.�
Lider�s song �Jesse,� the only cut on the compilation by an international artist, is written in the universal language of unrequited love for an allegedly straight man. �You feel like if you can just show him how wonderful it can be, he�ll change his mind,� Lider explains, bemoaning the frequency with which he and his friends have both been there and done that. �You can spend a lot of energy and sadness on that kind of relationship.�
He seems to have learned his lesson, though. There�s one other potential explanation for Lider�s stateside ambitions: a Washington, D.C.�based boyfriend he met last fall. The long-distance part doesn�t worry Lider much: �The world is becoming not such a big place.�