Ricky Rebel explains his social commentary on gender roles and PC culture through his quirky music videos
Rising glam artist Ricky Rebel offers his two cents on the current landscape of gender identity politics and poltical correctness as he weaves his commentary seamlessly into his crafty songs and glamorous music videos.
Ricky Rebel is a glam-pop superstar in the making who, with his craftily worded lyricism and unabashedly earnest music videos is bringing a whole new perspective to gender and identity in these politically loaded times. Keeping an open mind to the discourse surrounding gender identity, sexuality and LGBTQ rights, Ricky's message translates beautifully into his art - that sometimes, it's ok to be just confused about. Not everything fits perfectly into a categorical box. Ricky Rebel sure doesn't. And he's singing loud and proud about it all, best exemplified in the music video for his 2015 single 'Boys & Sometimes Girls' from his sophomore LP 'The Blue Album'.
Ricky continues the social commentary about gender roles in yet another eyebrow-raising music video, this time for the title track from his latest 2017 album 'The New Alpha'. Featuring ex-Adam Lambert guitarist Tommy Jo Ratliff, the track is a departure from Ricky’s traditional hard-edged dance tracks and opens with a screeching guitar solo courtesy of Ratliff. At a time when society has a lot of questions around gender and identity, 'The New Alpha' is a social response that speaks to both masculine and feminine elements in a way that’s not conforming to gender stereotypes that keep people confined in boxes. The video also sees Ricky in drag for the first time, sporting a full-fledged Marilyn Monroe-like getup as he details what the "new alpha" is like.
But the road to get where he is today hasn't been an easy one for Ricky. Way back in 1997, when he still went by Ricky G., the budding talent burst onto the music scene as the lead vocalist of No Authority, who toured with the likes of 98 Degrees, Destiny’s Child, Aaron Carter and Jessica Simpson among more. Michael Jackson signed the band to his own MJJ Music custom-label at Sony and they signed with Madonna’s Maverick label to release their namesake album. Ricky is bisexual, but coming out was not easy. During his time with No Authority, the industry encouraged him to hide it, with one producer even locking him in a room, asking him to read the Bible lest he wanted to go to hell!
Ricky's big break and his solo career as Ricky Rebel was catalyzed by My Chemical Romance, who invited him to co-star in their music videos for 'NA NA NA' and 'Sing'. In 2012, he released his debut album 'Manipulator', featuring hits like 'Geisha Dance', 'Get It On' and 'You Need a Woman'. In 2014, he followed it up with the sophomore record 'The Blue Album' and the album cut 'Boys & Sometimes Girls' reached #28 on the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart.
Last year, Ricky followed it up with a third album 'The New Alpha' and with it came a string of performances at the South By Southwest Festival (SXSW) in Austin, TX, as well as the Cannes Film Festival, Cinemoi Fashion Charity Concert in Cannes, France, to raise money for orphaned children. Ricky ended 2017 with a UK concert series including an intimate performance at The Hope and Anchor in London where legends including U2 and The Police have graced the stage. Along the way, he even walked the ramp for designer Tumbler and Tipsy at the Los Angeles Fashion Week.
In this detailed email interview with Meaww, Ricky discusses his latest music videos, his sexuality, the issue of gender, identity and political correctness in the current landscape, how he got comfortable cross-dressing for his art, the unlikely advice he received from Michael Jackson, his appreciation for Kanye West, upcoming projects and, of course, what it means to be the "new alpha". Read the full interview below:
Congratulations on your single ‘The New Alpha’. It’s creative, funny, unique and directly addresses your sexuality. Tell us a little bit about what was going on in your head when you wrote the song.
Well, thank you very much for those compliments. I wrote 'The New Alpha' because I was noticing a trend in victimhood and political-correctness culture. People were complaining too much about their lives and not “manning up” or “womanning up” and taking responsibility for themselves. My mission was to toughen up my fans, but still maintain their beauty, creativity, and vulnerability.
One part of the lyric that particularly caught my attention was this: “The new Alpha’s not a woman or a man/ the new Alpha knows that gender’s just an illusion / not afraid to get into the dirt / with an AK 47 strapped to his back / High heel pumps and a mini skirt.” Does the line reflect your own personality accurately?
I am a strange juxtaposition of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and the Second Amendment. Most people do not know which box to put me in. I like that. I do not consider myself to be queer, non-binary, or gender fluid. I am just me, an artist, and all man.
The music video for the track was an absolute delight. We see you sport a Marilyn Monroe-inspired look. When did you get comfortable with cross-dressing and using it in your art? What were the challenges along the way in embracing your artistic identity?
I used to dress up for guys that liked me to wear stockings and laced-up heels during sex. I wrote a song and made a video in 2011 called 'You Need a Woman'. The lyrics stated that I knew that I was not a woman and what these guys really needed was a woman to take care of them. I could have never done anything like this if I were signed to a record label. Labels have always wanted me to play it safe and follow other peoples’ formulas, but there is no formula for Ricky Rebel.
What do you think are the biggest issues in the discourse surrounding gender and identity today?
The biggest issue is that gender-vs-sex is still a confusing topic. For thousands of years, there have only been three sexes. Male, female, or intersexed. Sex used to be synonymous with gender. Now, all of sudden, they’re saying that we have to except that there are 60+ genders and some people have no sex or gender at all. In my opinion, there are only three choices. I don’t believe that you can be a swamp gender as it is listed in the possible gender categories.
In Canada, one of the hot topics on the issue is Bill C-16, which talks about passing a legislation to penalize those who do not use the correct pronouns while addressing trans-gender people. In this PC culture, how important do you think it is for our speech to reflect acceptance of diverse gender identities?
We should call people by their preferred pronouns, but I do not believe that someone needs to be forced to call someone anything. That’s an infringement on freedom of speech. To legislate compelled speech is dangerous territory. It’s saying that we must speak a certain way or else. People can have each other fined for calling them the wrong pronoun just to mess with them and then, when that person refuses to pay the fine, he will go to jail. It’s dangerous, unprecedented territory.
Tommy Jo Ratliff features on 'The New Alpha' and the guitar work is much more pronounced than most of your other tracks. How did you get him onboard?
He and I met on Instagram. We share some of the same political views. He was outcasted by many of his fans and peer group. I did the opposite and embraced him as a friend and said you know what, those musicians won’t play with you anymore but I will. He came over, recorded the track in one take and it was magical. He beefed up my track and took it to another level. The song needed that manly guitar grit.
During your days with No Authority, you were urged to keep your sexuality a secret and a producer once locked you in a room, and read Bible verses to you saying that you're going to hell! That’s pretty rough. Do you think the industry has become more accepting now?
In a way yes and in a way no. People are definitely more excepting of the LGBT community overall. However, when it comes to politics and LGBT, we are living in very divided times right now. If you lean to the right at all, as a bisexual man, it’s the kiss of death for your career. I have lost managers, best friends, and allies within the industry due to my views. I am having flashbacks to when I was a kid and [was] told that I needed to keep the gay thing in the closet at all costs. Only now, it’s about suppressing your “politically incorrect” views. You know, I had to Rebel a second time.
You were spotted by Michael Jackson and signed to his label. I’ve heard snippets about the unusual advice from MJ that helped you realize your true artistic abilities. What’s the story there
Michael Jackson was a good man. We used to spend time together at The Neverland Ranch. I danced for him in his studio and he told me that I had a lot of nerve. His advice to me was to “stay away from girls because they ruin careers.” He was basically saying relationships, in general, can ruin your career if you let them.
You also have a connection to My Chemical Romance and featured in their music video. How did the experience help you in your career?
It made a huge difference in my career. Being cast in the My Chemical Romance videos by Gerard Way was enough to kickstart a fan base for myself as a solo artist. He was the inspiration for me to finally release Ricky Rebel material and go solo. He once called me "a force of nature" on Twitter. I love that man and hope to work with him again one day.
You also walked the ramp at LA Fashion Week. What was that like?
I love walking the catwalk and strutting my stuff. To me, it’s just like performing on stage. At the end of the catwalk, sometimes I will do my signature red-carpet move, the “Rebel Leg”, and hold it in the air for the cameras. It’s quite a thrilling experience, actually.
David Bowie and Lady Gaga are often stated as your obvious influences. Tell us an influence that would take us by surprise!
Kanye West is an influence. I have always loved his tracks. He would be my producer of choice to work with if I had a choice. I personally do not care who anyone on the planet votes for. Just don’t tell me who I can and cannot vote for. I think Kanye has a similar message.
I checked out the acoustic version of The New Alpha. Any new singles dropping soon?
'Life Is a Runway' is out now and it is a fantastic music video. We shot it at New York Pride during my performance on the official Telemundo float. I feel like we captured the essence of Pride better than any [other] music video on the planet. We also captured the energy of the city that happens to be one of my favorite cities in the United States.
What about plans of an EP or a full-length record?
I currently have the 'Life Is a Runway (Remix)' EP available on Audio4Play records. It features world-renowned DJ Hector Fonseca, Saberz, and Vito Fun x Koil. I am currently working on ideas for the next single of 'The New Alpha' LP. I am not done telling the story of “The New Alpha.”
[Cover photo credit(s): Colin Angus]