MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up: in our In Your Ear segment, we take you to the gym because you've heard what they stand for, but have you heard what Janet Langhart Cohen and Bill Cohen stair-step to?

But first, his music video, "Love Will Take Over" knocked Madonna from the top spot as sexiest video on MTV's Logo network. His sound ranges from R&B to techno dance pop. His name is Ari Gold.

(Soundbite of song, "Go Where the Music Takes You")

Mr. ARI GOLD (Singer): (Singing) Doesn't matter what you do, go where the music takes you.

MARTIN: That's Ari Gold's "Go Where the Music Takes You." Gold prides himself on crossing boundaries, drawing audiences from the synagogues to the gay club scene. He stopped into the studio when he came to town for a local music festival. Ari Gold, thanks for being here.

Mr. GOLD: Thanks for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: Now you were performing as part of the Washington Jewish Music Festival here in D.C. Now, that's a festival that presents klezmer musicians, beat boxers, children sing-alongs. How would you describe your sound?

Mr. GOLD: The whole range. You know, I'm pop. I've always loved music. On the radio, it's definitely R&B and soul and a little like electronic elements, and you know, some old school '80s, '90s.

MARTIN: Your publicity materials make a point of describing you not only as openly gay, but as openly gay throughout your career. Why is that important?

Mr. GOLD: Well, I guess, I was really the first person to be out from the beginning of my career doing pop music. To me, what's actually even more important than that is the fact that I really explore that stuff in my work. You know, a lot of artists - even the ones who are out - still don't really want to use male pronouns for some reason or - I'm no holds barred. And I talk about it all.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: But sometimes when you're singing, you know, you're making it clear, you're singing to a guy.

Mr. GOLD: Singing to a man, yes, yes. Singing about a man, to a man…

MARTIN: And here's a - and it's funny. You're addressing some of the issues that are discussed, right, in the world of dating. And it here's one song, in particular, kind of fun - "He's On My Team."

(Soundbite of song, "He's On My Team")

Mr. GOLD: Kendra, what about that guy over there?

Ms. KENDRA ROSS (Singer): He's been checking me all night long.

Mr. GOLD: He's checking you out? He's checking me out.

Ms. ROSS: Ari, you think everybody plays on your team.

Mr. GOLD: Listen.

(Singing) I know it's been too late. But (unintelligible) nothing's (unintelligible). I don't know if you're hot. (unintelligible) time. I know it's been to you. What you mean, what you mean, he's on my team. Hey, yeah.

MARTIN: So, Ari, is this ripped from a headlines? Is it something you've experienced?

Mr. GOLD: It's totally something I've out experience - actually, specifically with the girl, Kendra Ross, who I'm singing with. We wrote it together, and it was definitely based on us fighting over the same guy, and me thinking someone was on my team.

MARTIN: Who was right?

Mr. GOLD: Who was right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOLD: I was, of course.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: And if I were to ask Kendra?

Mr. GOLD: Right. She might tell you a different story.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You know, but you've also talked about the fact that you were raised as an Orthodox Jew.

Mr. GOLD: Yes.

MARTIN: Yeah. And those are two identities that don't necessarily comfortably coexist.

Mr. GOLD: Exactly. And that's why I felt like it was important for me to maintain both.

MARTIN: Can you?

Mr. GOLD: In my body, in my soul, that's what I am. I mean, you know - if I think about my childhood, if I think about my upbringing, if I think about all the things that make up who I am, I mean, there's a lot of things. You know, I grow up in New York. There's a lot of different elements. I'm a man. There's not any part of my life that I can think of that isn't impacted by the fact that I am gay. I definitely felt different. And at the same token, being, you know, raised Orthodox - and the thing about Orthodox Judaism is that you're constantly doing something for the religion. There's always something to do. Even if you're not doing something, you're wearing something. I mean, there's -you're never not engaged with the religion at all times.

MARTIN: And you're wearing a Chai?

Mr. GOLD: I'm wearing my Chai. I'm a little muggy…

MARTIN: A little…

Mr. GOLD: (unintelligible)

MARTIN: I have to say it's a hip-hop Chai. It's kind of…

Mr. GOLD: It's blingy.

MARTIN: …a hip-hop Chai. it's blingy.

Mr. GOLD: It's my Jew bling.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Does that - does you Jewish identity find its way into your work? Into the writing, into the songs?

Mr. GOLD: Yeah, well, you know, my last album, I had a song called "Bashert," which means meant to be in Yiddish. You know, my parents spoke Yiddish around the house when they don't want us to understand.

MARTIN: Let's play a little bit of it, and then we'll talk about it.

(Soundbite of song, "Bashert")

Mr. GOLD: (Singing) Maybe it was meant to be for you and me, for us to start at last. Nowhere else I'd rather be than tenderly holding you close by. And baby I'll look after you, take care of you, because time is on my side, and (unintelligible) make me believe but with you, I feel good. Guess that means you're my meant to be, you were made for me, I know this deep inside.

MARTIN: It's a love song. Isn't it? It's a love song.

Mr. GOLD: It's totally love song, yeah.

MARTIN: And I can see it as a wedding song. It's a very profound…

Mr. GOLD: Well, I actually sang it at my ex-girlfriend, who's now a lesbian, at her traditional Jewish lesbian wedding. I sang that song.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay.

Mr. GOLD: But yeah, I mean, you know, I think it's kind of cool to combine that kind of spiritual concept in reference to the idea of a man being with another man, you know, because a lot of times we think of homosexuality is not being included in things that are spiritual and religious. But to me, it can be.

MARTIN: Have any members of your religious community - your broader religious community ever raised objection to your melding of your two identities so publicly?

Mr. GOLD: Well, I mean, I definitely received a lot of homophobia when I came out of the closet, or even before I came out of the closet from the Orthodox Jewish community. And interestingly enough, being a pop singer and whatever, I've had a lot of gay people tell me, okay, fine, you know, be gay.

But the Jewish thing, tone down the Jewish thing. It's too much - too many things, Ari. There's too many things going on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOLD: And, you know, but we're multifaceted individuals. We all have a lot of different aspects of us, and we're complex. And I think that it's cool to try and figure out how to express that, you know.

MARTIN: Speaking of complex, your sound is eclectic on this album. You've got, you know, a lot of different sort of styles going on. So what were your musical influences, and what are they today?

Mr. GOLD: In the '80s, I was obsessed with, like, everything that Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis produced, and L.A. Reid, Babyface - I used to make like mix tapes of their stuff. Madonna and Prince and Whitney Houston - I mean, basically, Whitney and Mariah I would just copy like their voices and learn how to sing. Those are pretty good divas to learn from. I'm not saying I can come to their level, but…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOLD: …I try.

MARTIN: Well, you've emulated - if I could use that term - Madonna in another way. You've got a coffee table book. Madonna had a coffee table book that was famously, I don't know, wrapped up in, say, (unintelligible)…

Mr. GOLD: Silver, silver…

MARTIN: …silver…

Mr. GOLD: …something…

MARTIN: …something or other it was considered very - and I must say, Ari, this is very…

Mr. GOLD: Those are the Boy George shots you just…

MARTIN: The Boy George socks, and you got kind of naked.

Mr. GOLD: I'm kind of naked.

MARTIN: I see you're not over-invested in wardrobe in this, if I can just put it that way.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Ari, what's going on here? What are we aiming for here?

Mr. GOLD: It's a celebration of sexuality, you know. I think a lot of times with gay people, it's like the only we're acceptable is if we're sort of desexualized, or we're considered the butt of humor, if we're hairdressers or cute - people who can make your house look better. You know, but I'm a sexual being, and I wanted to celebrate my sexuality and, you know, if the girl pop stars like Britney and Christina, and they can be sexual and flaunt their sexuality around, I don't see why I can't, either.

MARTIN: I'm just curious, though, it pushes against the stereotype that a lot of people have about gay men…

Mr. GOLD: Yeah.

MARTIN: …they're really sex focused and very into the - focus on their sexuality…

Mr. GOLD: Yeah, right.

MARTIN: …and that's kind of the primary point of the identity. And I just sort of wonder sometimes how that works.

Mr. GOLD: You know, it's sort of a double-edged sword. I mean, you know, we're sort of - you're sort of put in a lose-lose situation in a certain sense, because if then you steer away from your sexuality, then you're just sort of placating and making - say people maybe feeling more comfortable. I mean, I think that stereotype, it stems from homophobia, you know.

It's like the fact that gay men are branded as these hypersexual people is coming from a fearful place, that we're scared of their sexuality. So maybe I'm kind of putting it in their face and being like I am sexual, but don't be scared to my sexuality. And I'm multifaceted and singing about all kinds of things, and I've all kinds of different feelings just like everybody else.

MARTIN: Do you think it's a little bit like the N-word how some artist appropriate the N-Word? They say, okay, you mean it as a slur, but I'm going to take it back and make it what I wanted to be.

Mr. GOLD: I do. I do. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I mean, I know that's a big issue, but I think context is everything.

MARTIN: Do you use the F-word as a comparable slur?

Mr. GOLD: Right. I have used it, but, you know, it's at a gay pride event where it's a safe environment. And would I use it in a, you know, in an environment where I think people would misunderstand that? No. I think context is really important.

MARTIN: From the earliest work that you've sort of made public that you're going to be really clear about who you're singing to and what you're singing about, I just want to play other song about complexity. It's called, "Transport Me."

(Soundbite of song, "Transport Me")

Mr. GOLD: (Singing) Transport me to another place, another time. Transport me, I will regenerate. You care for me. If can't change the world, transport me, we go beyond about every opinion a boy or girl.

MARTIN: This is from your new CD "Transport Systems," due in early September.

Mr. GOLD: That's correct.

MARTIN: Talk to me about it. Tell me what you had in mind.

Mr. GOLD: You know, it's about the injuries that we experience in childhood and stuff like that, and wanting to transport yourself away to a different world where the things that we heard were not right about ourselves - maybe don't exist and, you know, if we wanted to be a different color. If we wanted to be a different gender.

Specifically for me and in the song, I was talking about its autobiographical about my own experience, because I didn't feel like I was correct in my gender. I felt like I didn't view the things other boys did, and I was made to feel ashamed about that. So - but I think everybody has that. Everybody has that thing that either they heard from their parents or they heard from, you know, someone or message that they got about themselves not being okay enough and that desire to be somebody else and how to figure out how to be okay with who you are and embrace that.

MARTIN: Ari Gold. His latest album, "Transport Systems," is due in early September. Ari, thanks so much for stopping by the studios today.

Mr. GOLD: Thank you so much, Michel.

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