Ivri Lider is an Israeli rock star whose fame is beginning to extend beyond the boundaries of his landsmen and language. Lider, who is openly gay, was catapulted into international consciousness with his 2009 cover of Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl.” The video of the that cover has since ricocheted around the world on YouTube. Lider is now finishing up his first English-language album. Jordana Horn spoke with him on the eve of his upcoming North American tour.
In 2002, you were already a big rock star in Israel. What prompted your decision to come out?
On a personal level, I felt complete and happy with my life and who I am, and I didn’t see any reason to not talk about it. It seemed strange to have an interview and not to talk about it, about my boyfriend, about my life. … On a less personal level, I felt it’s kind of my obligation. When you’re an artist and you’re doing well and you’re successful, you get a lot of love and appreciation and energy and good things from people, and I think you need to give it back. Maybe I can influence people and help younger people that struggle — help them to be able to change their views, and stuff like that.
Were you surprised by how your religious fans reacted positively to your coming out?
You know, what I really like to see at my concerts is the diversity of people — a gay or lesbian couple next to a straight couple next to a religious couple, and they’re all singing the song and experiencing the same emotion, each one with his own thoughts and personal experiences. That’s real openness. That’s the real deal: You believe what you want to believe in and whatever’s good for you, and you respect me for what I believe in. That’s the way things should be. I don’t see any reason why someone is religious, but he won’t accept other people. True religion is all about love, or should be, and respect.
Can you talk a little bit about the meaning of haanashim chadashim, or “the new people”?
Sometimes I talk to people about this and they think it’s got something to do with a younger generation, and that’s not what I’m trying to say. My mom, for example, is totally “the new people.” It’s more about mindset: who you are and your set of ideas and the way you treat the world, that stuff — more than how old you are or what generation you’re supposed to be part of. I know young people who think like they are really old, and old people who are really young and modern.
Were you talking about a mentality specific to Israel, or something that’s true universally?
Especially today, people are people. I think people are almost the same everywhere, now more than ever. The Internet has brought people really close together and makes cultures behave and look more or less the same, and ideas travel really fast. A lot of people can share the same ideas really fast. What’s true for Tel Aviv is true for New York is true for Berlin is true for London.
You’re teetering on the edge of bigger international recognition: You’re featured in the New Now Next awards coming out (no pun intended) in June, and your North American tour is about to start. How does it feel?
It feels great! We just came back from Spain. … People came to the show with CDs and were talking to me about “Jesse” or [my cover of] “I Kissed a Girl” and songs like that. It’s great to get letters from people all around the world saying, “We like your music. We even like what we don’t understand” — when I’m singing in Hebrew! And for me writing in English, while it’s not really a new experience anymore, it’s definitely different. We’re really working seriously right now. We’re in the middle of recording the English-language album, working with the British producer Andy Green and people who made the music I grew up on. … I feel kind of like I’m in a new beginning, which is very refreshing and nice.
What kind of reception do you expect to find in the U.S.?
Last time we toured there — two years ago — New York was a lot of fun. New York felt a lot like Tel Aviv actually; it was very warm and exciting. I love the States, I love meeting the people and the shows. I’m sure it’s going to be a lot of fun.
I know you just started up with Twitter. What do you Twitter about? Do you like it?
I really like it. I’ve met interesting people through Twitter and I like the idea of it. Friends and fans can easily have some idea of what we’re doing and where we are. I can take a picture of the place we’re going to play, for example. And it’s nice to see what people think immediately. I can write, “Oh wow, this is an amazing Bright Eyes song.” And then almost immediately, people will write back, “If you like this, listen to that.” I feel like I have this connection with a lot of people and there is something really nice about it. Of course, sometimes you have to put it aside.
What kind of music are you listening to now?
Conor Oberst, Kings of Leon, the last Snow Patrol album, Bright Eyes. I just found out about Bon Iver through Twitter actually, and I love it.
Lider’s “Rak Tavakesh” can be heard below:
The video of Lider singing “I Kissed a Girl” is below:
This story "Ivri Lider: On the Verge" was written by Jordana Horn.