If there was someone who is really crashing through barriers in music today, it’s Ricky Rebel. Ricky turns out fierce looks, outspoken opinions, and backs it all up with scorching vocals and raw talent. In today’s polarizing and in a world where gender norms are suddenly trying to be forced, Ricky Rebel is the kind of artist that we definitely can use. I spoke with him about his track “If You Were My Baby, getting inspired, and gender constructs in the music industry.
What is going on in the world of Ricky Rebel? I recently performed in New Jersey at a concert for hurricane relief that was a benefit for the Red Cross. It is something that transformed from a radio show, and I am working with a friend of mine who is putting the event together. We wanted to be sure we could do it for the people who are suffering that really need the help right now.
You are the type of interchangeable artist who can contribute to a hurricane event, then at the same time turn out a pride event. Do you think you are the type of artist who can safely cross all kinds of lines? Absolutely. I feel very comfortable in front of “straight” crowds, I feel comfortable in front of both really. I am not afraid of straight crowds and they aren’t afraid of me really. Some of my best shows have been in front of people who appreciate glam rock or the days of Bowie and Michael Jackson and Adam Ant; different men who would wear makeup and express themselves and their individuality, with a little pop and a little rock. I think I am definitely in that planet.
Your work is definitely influenced by Michael Jackson, and you have worked with everyone from Britney Spears and Madonna. Is it hard working in an industry now where it almost seems that artists are literally putting out material simply to just put it out sometimes? Yeah, it is definitely good and bad, the whole independent music industry. We are not relying on the labels to distribute our music, but it can be a bad thing because only the labels have both the money and influence to promote the artist like they need to be promoted and to get the music on radio, as well as having the connections to do so. Everyone is cutting a record these days and it’s not relatively hard to do. There is a lot of competition nowadays. I think many people have been able to make this great career where they are touring and making money and living their dream, buying homes, etc. There is like a middle class now in the industry; it used to be either very elite or you were struggling to get there. Now I think there is a real middle class for artists. I just want to establish myself as an artists. You are always taking baby steps towards greatness like the people that i admire, but at the same time I am living my dream right now building it slowly but surely. Being patient is tough, I want everything a long time ago.
You are a true hustler and your new track “If You Were My Baby” is incredible! Thank you so much! This is the first time that I have reached out to collaborate with someone. Sam Harmonix approached me after seeing me perform at a fashion show and told me that I had a “male Madonna vibe” and he wanted to produce my whole record. I offered to do one record, and he sent me a track. I started writing to it, hearing the song in my head and immediately recorded it. He loved it and he mixed it all up. So what is different is that I was versatile enough to collaborate with other people. Most of the time I like to do everything on my own. I have a very strict vision of what I want to do. I have been burned also, taking my song as a demo to a great producer and they have just muddied up the entire vibe and tried to overproduce it. I wanted to reach out and work with someone who did not want to do that with me. He let me have my way with the lyrics, the melody and just had the awesome track to go over. I found out later that the synths he used on that track were the same synths used for Prince’s music and he used them on this record. I could seriously feel the vibe and the presence. This was an homage to my heroes in the 80’s and the 90’s. Whenever I listen to the song, I can’t help but smile, you know? It’s almost like its a bad thing, I don’t necessarily like to smile too much when I am performing, but I can’t help it, when I perform that song live, it is just too much fun.
You are influenced by so many different artists and have worked with so many iconic and influential artists. Who is influencing you now as an artist. You know, I always have and I always will go back to Madonna. She has influenced me a lot. David Bowie, Prince, Michael Jackson, I really try to stay with these mega, mega performers. I feel an affinity to those types of performers. For example at the MTV Music Awards recently, I don’t think the performances were as rebellious as they once had been or could be now. I mean, back in the day you had Courtney Love throwing a compact at Madonna during a live interview. They did things back then that were so wild. I remember a performance where a member of Rage Against The Machine climbed the scaffolding during their performance! I know that when I get my shot I am going to do something within my control, but at the same time, people may think it is out of control.
When I watch Marilyn Manson perform, I saw him perform at the American Music Awards when I was in the pop group No Authority. He came out wearing a bustier with a jock strap (laughs); I mean come on! That was a very cookie cutter Dick Clark Production, and there he is squatting with his butt out. Little moments in my life just punctured my psyche and I don’t always think of them, but usually it’s people’s performances like this that do it. I want to piss people off ,I want to push people’s buttons, I want to rattle the cage. I also want to do it with a lot of talent though.
Historically, artists like Boy George, Freddie Mercury and Adam Lambert, who totally turn gender on it’s head, those are the artists who so many people, myself included, gravitate to. Absolutely. Boy George was that perfect combination of creativity and talent. He could really sing and really produce and songwriter, and that is what I want to do to. I want to do these creative things with what I wear and what I say, but I also want to do it in the most beautiful way possible. I am not super dark like Marilyn Manson, but I am dark in a different way. I think that is going to come across in my new album that is scheduled to come out in October hopefully, it’s called “The New Alpha”.
So how is this “Alpha” new? Well, he is not overly aggressive with masculinity, over aggression, things like that. He is not overly masculine or overly feminine where people walk over him like a doormat. He is right in the middle. He is a really strong person and very well rounded. I call it “The New Alpha” because I am hoping it is going to be the man that all men aspire to. The new alpha is not as aggressive as say, a dictator. That scares people and really turns everyone off. To be overly aggressive is not the answer. Being overly passive and overly sensitive is not the new alpha either. He is right in the middle where he can take different options, people’s perceptions of him, and he can agree to disagree with them and work together to make it all right. He uses his creativity, but he also realizes that his creativity is not necessarily his gender.
Gender and gender fluidity is so prominent right now. How much of that do you try to bring into the message of your music? I am going to try and confront that and those ideas head on in my new record, my new videos and in the new videos I do. “The New Alpha” is going to talk about gender vs. sex. There is biology and then there is gender, which is a social construct. It is unlimited. That is why we have so many people identifying as certain things now. I love being a man, a male, and a man who wears makeup. I am not a girl, I am not a woman when I am wearing makeup. I am still a man who impersonates a girl; there is a difference. I don’t get offended, it’s about creativity. If people call me “girl” or “queen” I don’t get offended; in my mind ,I know I am one hundred percent man. I just happen appreciate the show, beauty, art, color, texture, diamonds, sequins, theatre and the drama! I just don’t want people to confuse those things. Because i like this, I must like this. I am one hundred percent into men, but I consider myself bisexual because I still have a sexual and emotional attraction to women, physical and emotional. I understand people who are confused my gender roles, but I want to try to clear up the confusion and express my views on it. I want to get my point out.
What inspires you to be your best self daily? I am really into expression. I love to bake. I love watching people debate; I love watching different speakers, very controversial people and issues. I love people expressing themselves and be brave enough to speak their minds, That inspires me to do it in my own life. For so long, I tried to do the right thing as much as I could or be a certain way all the time. It’s funny, I had a handwriting analysis done once and the handwriting analyst told me something very profound; she told me I was confusing my sexuality with my creativity. Confusing those two things was something I had struggled my whole life with, so that was very powerful. I watch interviews of people that speak their mind or say things that are not politically correct or what they believe, I love it. I know they’ll get heat, but there is a bravery about people doing that. That goes for both sides of the political scales too. That is what wakes me up inside. I am trying to figure out what is real and what is not real. I figure that out with diverse thoughts and diverse opinions.
Photos courtesy of Ricky Rebel
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