Lider of the pack: Israeli superstar headliner doesn’t hold back

Thursday, May 28, 2009 | by dan pine

When Ivri Lider performs at Israel in the Gardens on June 7, not much will get lost in translation. Lately, the Israeli pop star has been singing in English almost as much as in his native Hebrew.

He’s grown so comfortable with the language that “I’ve been more or less leading my life in English,” Lider says by phone from Israel. “There is something very straight and blunt about English — I’m able to say things I can’t in Hebrew.”

He adds:  “All my emotional life is in English.”

Though he’s currently getting those feelings out in his first all-English CD, due for release later this year, Lider never had a problem with self-expression. Openly gay, he has often advocated on behalf of LGBT issues, and some of his songs touch on gay themes.

Sometimes he does that with covers, such as  Gershwin’s “The Man I Love,” or the recent pop hit “I Kissed a Girl” (which he turns into a back-flip gay ballad).

ISGivri lider
Ivri Lider
In his self-penned 2007 hit “Jessie,” he captured the experience of a closeted gay teen. The provocative video for that song landed on the popular Perez Hilton blog.

“A lot of people watched it,” says Lider. “Reactions were mostly good. Some were against gays, some against Jews and Israelis.  I’m Jewish, Israeli and I’m gay, so that’s a lot of ways to not like me.”

Born in 1974 and raised on a kibbutz, Lider is the son of a Holocaust survivor mother and an Argentine immigrant father. He studied classical piano as a child, but says his early dream was to make films.

By his teens, he was performing with amateur bands in Tel Aviv. He landed a big break when he was asked to write music for a choreographer and then for another with Batsheva, Israel’s most honored dance company. He made his recording debut in 1997.

In Israel, Lider has been a star ever since, with several albums and sold-out tours to his credit. Though he incorporates many styles, his understated vocals bring to mind U2’s Bono after downing a pot of chamomile tea.

Lider has also scored three films, published a book of poetry, collaborated with several top Israeli musicians — such as Idan Raichel — and won just about every pop culture award in Israel. He even made the Most Beautiful list in Israel’s edition of People magazine.

Lider probably drew the most headlines of his career when he officially came out of the closet seven years ago in a front-page newspaper interview.

“I was the first one to do that among famous singers here,” he says. “My PR people and record company were a little freaked out, but Israelis surprised everybody with a good reaction. Fans didn’t abandon me. People appreciate honesty from artists.”

Not everyone appreciated his honesty, however. Lider admits some elements of Israeli society, generally among religious circles, have objected to his being openly gay. He says he laughs it off.

When it comes to helping LGBT teens find acceptance, he wants to serve as a role model.

“That’s what I was trying to do with coming out,” he says. “When you’re famous you get something from society. They give you appreciation and love. It’s your obligation to give back something. I meet with young people, and if  my presence gives the feeling they are not alone, they can have a good life.”

He’s been living the good life for some time, but Lider says he still wants more.

“My dream is just to have an audience all around the world,” he says. “I want to go places with my music and meet new people all. It’s starting to happen this way, and it’s really cool.”