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.'