Music Makes the People

Sir Ari Gold on the lack of American queer pop stars and why he’ll never get a “real job”

Ari Gold
Photos: Joe Oppendisano

For a man known mostly for his singing, writing, and posing, it might not surprise you to learn that Sir Ari Gold also likes to talk. Unassuming in person—the first time I met him I walked past his table without recognizing the face I’d seen perform onstage and on countless magazine covers—he revels in conversation, the give and take. Pop culture or politics, music or masculinity, he lights up at pretty much every subject introduced, with nary a superior attitude in sight.

A Lower East Side native and resident who’s been in the music business “longer than Madonna…you do the math,” Gold’s heading into 2019 with lots of action to accompany his words, all of it autobiographical or just plain personal.

The timing makes sense. Beginning his singing career at the age of six (he has sung on more than 400 TV and radio jingles), Gold has gone on to become a Billboard Top 10 recording artist, whose music has been featured on VH-1, MTV, and LOGO–on which he has had more number one videos than any other artist. He’s an OUT 100 recipient, has headlined concerts in Europe and Canada, and in more than 40 U.S. states. Gold received his knighthood from the Imperial Court of New York (hence the “sir,” thank you), one of the longest standing human rights organizations.

Today, Gold is in the middle of a yearlong project of releasing one remix each month from his last album, “Soundtrack to Freedom,” which will culminate in a complete set for the 50th Anniversary of World Pride in June. On February 10, he’s celebrating his birthday with a huge bash at the Cutting Room, and he just premiered a new video, NGOR Radio.

I caught up with Gold on a recent cold AF winter New York night and talked all of this and more. Our conversation lasted so long we closed down the restaurant.

Here’s a sampling of what was said:

Tell me a little bit about the 12 remixes.

I wanted to honor the history and progress that we’ve made in the community. Dance music is the defining soundtrack to LGBTQ equality and liberation in the same way that soul music is to civil rights and folk music is to the feminist movement. There’s so much that’s rich about it; it’s not just frivolous. Remixes represent possibility and to remix who we are. That entails a more inclusive community, a more unified community, in the face of a real enemy that’s out there, and would like to see us erased, sometimes even dead.

Could you be more specific?

Yes, the President and the Christian right and all that comes with that. I also say Republicans because these days you have to take sides. You are now associating yourself with the enemy.

What was the inspiration for the new video?

It came together really quickly. It was a day at the YouTube studios. It’s really kitschy and reminds me of Xanadu meets Michael Jackson’s “Can’t Stop Till You Get Enough.” The song itself is a tribute to the gay artists who’ve come before me that have paved the way for me. It’s also about the fact that there was a 20-year gap when there wasn’t a single gay male artist being played on the radio.

Why was that?

Because of AIDS there seemed to be a real backlash. After people like Elton John and George Michael and Boy George, there was no proliferation of new, gay artists. I didn’t anticipate the homophobia when I entered the business.

As you’ve stated in the past, do you still think you are America’s first openly gay pop star?

There used to be a lively debate on Wikipedia about whether this is true or not. The only other person they could come up with is RuPaul. But I would say she made it as a recording star as a drag queen. Now we see Ru in the fullness of who she is. There was Sylvester in the Seventies, but nobody said anything. The press didn’t ask if you were gay. It was an open secret. It wasn’t until later, probably the Eighties, that people started talking about it.

As horrible as AIDS was, the positive outlook of that crisis is that people started talking about it. Once people came out publicly I was the first. I claim that title because I think it’s important for gay people to own their own story. I claim it in gratitude.

Who are your favorite pop stars these days?

I like them all. The pop diva wars are ridiculous, like we can’t like more than one at a time. Or the fact that people won’t acknowledge that the younger ones wouldn’t be there without the older ones.

Why don’t we have gay, male icons in the same way that we have female, gay icons?

I think that we have more than we used to. You have someone like Matt Bomer, and, in the music world, you have Troye Sivan and Sam Smith. We live in a different time and proliferation of so much media means that everyone has access to the public.

To be truly iconic, even though everyone uses that word…I don’t know if that will ever happen again, where you have Prince, Michael Jackson, and Madonna as, like, the three biggest superstars in the world. There are just a lot more people, not just in show business, but putting themselves out there. You’ll see someone who does nothing but post naked pictures of themselves and having more followers than Janet Jackson.

Is it difficult for pop stars to age?

It’s more difficult for women than for men. There are some incredible things about getting older. I’m very proud of the things I was able to accomplish. Since we lost the experience of having older mentors I hope that the younger generation appreciates those of us who are here and who did fight battles for them. Did we work so people can be free not to think about those things? I don’t know. I like to know about the history of how we got here. Getting older isn’t for sissies; or maybe it is now [laughs].

Are we, as gay men, still defined by how much we can get laid?

Who made up those rules? I feel like there’s marketing that tells us we have to be that way. My boyfriends in the past were never about hooking up with the hottest guys. In fact, I often went in the opposite direction. If that validates you, then that’s your issue.

We are all made up of good and bad. Part of the bad is looking outside for validation to help the inside. Status symbols. What community is immune to that?

Is our community getting kinder with growing equality or less kind?

It’s that age-old thing; the more power, the greater responsibility. If there are factions of our community who don’t share in that equality, we have to pay attention to those who are disenfranchised.

Do you like being a Queerty Insta-Stud?

Sure! Especially at this stage in the game. But it hasn’t helped me get a boyfriend or get laid. I’m a human being who’s susceptible to “likes” and getting attention.

On a personal note, you’ve been struggling with cancer for five years. What type is it and how does it affect your life?

I have MDS, Milo Dysplastic Disorder. I have good days and I have bad days. It takes up a lot of my time. I have been open and public about it, and I have experienced times when, because of that, I won’t be thought of for a job. People will assume I’m sick. I would like people to check in before making that assumption.

Forty percent of all Americans have some kind of health challenge. I think we are becoming more open in our culture about health issues. We are allowing those people to feel more vital in society, and not disregard them because they are dealing with a health issue.

Do you get tired of being a “starving artist”?

Being an artist is a calling. It’s the one thing that I have that I am extremely grateful for the gift. I don’t know what it would be like to go through something like cancer and not be an artist. I can take this pain and turn it into something artistic. Do I have my ups and downs? Absolutely. But I don’t ever feel like I have a choice to just do something completely different.

Do you still, at this point in your life, get people who say “get a real job”?

100 percent. Thank god mortality is staring at me in the face. It makes me feel like, “You know, this is my life so f*** what they think I should be doing.”

For me, it makes it much easier to dismiss that idea.

Sir Ari Gold’s new single with GoldNation, NGOR Radio, is available on Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora.

Tickets to Sir Ari Gold’s February 10 performance

@SirAriGold

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