Out glam rocker Ricky Rebel will strut his fashionable stuff in Philly this weekend as part of the Summer Nights Tour, an annual gathering of diverse pop artists performing live in concert. Rebel, who is know for his hits “Stars” and “Boys and Sometimes Girls,” said he was drawn to the tour because it promotes a strong anti-bullying message.
The diversity of the artists and their music is also impressive, he said.
“There are artists from different genres. There’s a YouTube star, Adam Saleh. There’s another pop singer, Jax, and then there’s another performer, TreTrax, I believe he’s a rapper. It’s a great mix of different styles,” Rebel said. “I’m more glam-pop. I produce all my own music. I dubbed it ‘glam-pop’ because it’s a throwback to David Bowie’s time, and pop because it incorporates things that are popular right now: dance, EDM, etc.”
Rebel didn’t start his career as a glam rocker.
He first entered the music business in 1997 as the lead singer of boy band No Authority, which was signed by Michael Jackson to his MJJ Music label and later to Madonna’s Maverick label. The group had modest success, including a Top-40 single and stints touring with 98 Degrees, Destiny’s Child and Britney Spears. No Authority broke up in 2004 and Rebel went on to become the lead vocalist for the band Harlow and do voice-over work in films before reinventing himself as openly gay glam rocker Ricky Rebel.
Even though he rubbed elbows with industry movers and shakers, and shared stages with big-name pop stars while he was in No Authority, the performer said he largely had to start over when he became Ricky Rebel.
“There were some people who stayed with me through my transition from boy band to pop singer,” he said. “My attorney believed in me from the beginning. Other people, labels that I used to work with, they would shut their doors in my face. So I had to develop new friendships and relationships. Back in the day, I was just a teenager so I didn’t keep track of all the people I met along the way. I always thought the boy band was going to make it and I would use that as a stepping stone for what I really wanted to do, which is be a solo pop singer, and I’m going to be OK. Now I realize if I had just remembered that names of some of the people I met along the way and kept my relationships with them, things maybe could have been a little bit easier for me in that transition.”
He added that he’s surprised when fans of his boy-band days surface at his performances.
“A lot of No Authority fans don’t even know really who I am because I am so different from who I was,” he said. “It’s funny because I’ll get letters every now and then saying, ‘Oh my God! I had no idea that Ricky Rebel was the same Ricky [from] No Authority’ because I’ve evolved so much and changed. It kind of shocks me because I promoted the fact that I’m proud of my past and what I did in the group. It’s not a big secret of mine. But every now and then, I’ll get a [No Authority] fan that just discovered that I’m Ricky Rebel. And then I think there are a lot of people that haven’t heard of either and just knew me from being Ricky Rebel. I like that because that’s more who I am.”
Rebel said his reinvention as a glam rocker was his first time performing as an artist who is open about his sexuality, something he was constantly advised against.
“That’s what I was rebelling against, the idea that I could not be openly gay and a pop star at the same time,” he said. “A lot of producers and managers in the industry told me I was not going to be able to make it if I was open about that. And it really pissed me off. I put my middle finger up to them and said, ‘I’m going to do it and prove that I can be open about who I am.’ Not only be open about it, because I think a lot of artists are open about being gay but they don’t celebrate it. They are not necessarily sexual either. It’s really important that, not only was I gay and open about it, but I was sexual and honest about that.”
Rebel added that the success and visibility of openly LGBT singers doesn’t necessarily mean those artists have the same level of artistic freedom as their straight peers.
“People are OK if you’re Adam Lambert and you’re just singing songs and it’s not hypersexual,” he said. “We saw what happened when he kissed that boy. Utter destruction happened. Everything blew up. He was a gay guy but he happened to express his sexuality in public and people lost their minds. Then he stopped doing that. He stopped being overtly sexual with other men. I wanted be rebellious and say, ‘I like boys and sometimes girls. I love to have sex. I love to express myself with my body. I’m a very physical person and I’m not ashamed.’ That’s why I decided to come out when Rebel was born around 2010.”
After he wraps up the Summer Nights Tour, Rebel plans to get back to work prepping a new album, which he hopes to release later this year.
“It’s called ‘The New Alpha’ and I’m exploring what it means to be a man,” he said. “On the record, I talk about gender versus sex and biology versus social constructs. I don’t vilify the fact that I’m a male or think that being a male is somehow poisonous. I love being a man. I love my dick. And I also love playing with gender, putting on makeup and wearing high heels if I want to. There’s a difference between gender and sex. I think that I want to end some confusion about those two things. So I tackle those subjects on my new record. But I talk about more frivolous things like fashion and makeup. The record is about becoming tough and strong and celebrating that.”
Ricky Rebel performs as part of the Sumer Nights Tour 1 p.m. Aug. 5 at Wells Fargo Center, 3601 S. Broad St. For more information or tickets, visit www.summernightstours.com or http://rickyrebelrocks.com.