By Chyrisse Tabone, Tampa
Ricky Rebel is the consummate entertainer—a trained gymnast and ballet dancer who has appeared in films and theater (Austin Powers and Debbie Allen’s Pepito’s Story); the lead singer of the boy-band No Authority which featured Billboard Top 40 hits; the lead singer of Harlow which released the album Unstoppable; a fashion contributor to Us Weekly magazine; and a solo artist/songwriter of Manipulator and self-produced release The Blue Album. He has toured with the likes of Britney Spears, 98 Degrees, and Destiny’s Child and was signed to Michael Jackson’s and Madonna’s record label during his No Authority days. This barely scratches the surface of his bio.
His uplifting dance-club favorite “Star” was recently re-mixed by DJ Hector Fonseca (Lady Gaga, Madonna, Beyonce), Casey Alva, and Tommy Love and released in April. I listened to the Fonseca version and, boy, what a re-mix! When I first heard it I could not stop chair-dancing at my desk until finally breaking out into full dance-club-mode in my office. “Star” was already a great song but the new re-mix is so full, lush, and as Ricky Rebel describes “sexy.”
Searching on the internet and watching his videos, I was really blown-away by his diversity, change in style and even name (Ricky G to Ricky Harlow to Ricky Rebel) through the years. He has re-invented himself into a solo recording artist after the boy-band craze of the 1990s subsided in the Millennium.
His music exudes positive energy in “Unstoppable” (We’re just ordinary people…we’re unbeatable…we’re unstoppable) and he sings about the unsavoriness of certain characters in “Manipulator” (I know we cannot be friends…you are sending me mixed messages). And he makes no bones about his destiny and proudly declares it in “Star”:
I’ve had the same dreams as a child…when you believe it, you achieve it…I am a star.
Ricky Rebel the Dancer
I really wanted to speak with him about the evolution of his career as an entertainer, his music, and personal style. Speaking with Ricky Rebel, he exuded positive energy and warmth across the phone lines. His passion for performing and entertaining is infectious. Rock At Night asked, “Looking at your background, you were born to entertain. It looks like you have been purposefully following the pursuit for years. When did this all begin?”
Rebel explained he was interested in dancing at the tender age of seven when he told his parents, “I want to fly.” He really meant it too, he explained. “Yes, I literally wanted to fly so at seven [my parents] put me into gymnastics and I actually placed 13 in [competitions] in the state of California. “ He was in competitive gymnastics between approximately age seven and 11 until the pressure of competitions became overwhelming and he began dreading meets. He explained, “I would get [physically ill], like stomach aches, before meets and competitions. I would throw up…things like that…but then I loved it [gymnastics] so much! “
Rebel was being mentored and trained to compete in the Olympics until his life shifted dramatically after attending a ballet class. He noted that many gymnasts receive ballet training because essentially floor routines are “so much like dance.” At this point he finally felt free, saying, “I didn’t have to worry about a judge critiquing my every move, my pointed toes, or whether my legs were straight enough for them. It was free expression. Dancing was such a free world for me coming from such a strict competitive background.”
Rebel continued explaining about the field of gymnastics and injuries, a point that is rarely publicized in mainstream media saying, “I was literally afraid for my life. I was just a little kid but I knew how incredibly dangerous the moves were. I had seen a lot of my friends really hurt to the point ambulances were called because they had bashed their heads in. It was crazy! It happens! So I was very aware of that and the responsibility [of gymnastics]. Even though I loved what I was doing, there was always a kind of dread.”
Rock At Night asked, “Do you think of yourself as being a dancer first or a musician?”
Rebel responded “a dancer” since he initiated his career in dancing and continued, “I worked with Marguerite Derricks who put me in the Austin Powers movie. She did Showgirls. She was like my mentor growing-up. I learned a lot about music taking her dance classes. We listened to Prince non-stop. Those classes later transferred [skills]into my song-writing as well.”
Rebel cited, “My big dream is to produce a musical movie.”
Ricky Rebel the Fashionista
Rebel explained, “It’s become insane! It’s become a red carpet thing. Literally the paparazzi say, ‘Rebel, give us the leg! Give us the leg!’” He later discussed how his pants have to be specially made or altered to accommodate his now famous split, saying, “When I’m on the catwalk, Michael [designer] will ask me,’ Ricky, are those pants loose enough for you to do the Rebel Split?’ Now the designers are creating outfits for me to allow give. You do not know how many jeans I have ripped!”
We enjoyed a hearty laugh and Rebel noted, “I need reinforcement in the crotch and in the booty especially!”
Rock At Night replied, “Thank God for Spandex!”
While on the topic of fashion, Rock At Night was wondering about ladies fashions for Spring. We wondered what kind of advice Ricky Rebel might offer.
Rebel replied, “It’s all about the fringe, girl!” and asked if I remember Sloane Peterson’s jacket in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? I responded affirmatively, being the 80s chick, I am.
Rebel indicated that hemlines were rising just above the knee but insisted, “Fashion should always be what you feel glamorous in ….what you feel attractive in.” He said that he does not follow trends but likes to create his own trend or his own, unique take on how he is feeling at the time. He noted he does not follow rules and wears what he feels like, saying “For example, if it’s winter and I want to wear a flowered print, I’m gonna’ do that. For some reason I’m able to get away with things like that. I don’t know why? I think it might be a Sagittarian thing, seriously. Like Miley Cyrus is Sagittarian and she can wear anything and make it work. Nicki Minaj is a Sagittarian, a free spirit.”
Rebel believes fashion should be a “real personal expression coming from the inside.” He discussed how he was very shy as a boy and found fashion as a way to “connect with people.” It could be a topic of conversation, a common bond, or even a unique calling card. He further explained, “If I wear XYZ….and you wear XYZ….I can say, ‘Let’s talk about your XYZ.’”
Rebel noted how he wore lime green shoes as a kid and people would tease him—but that did not stop him! He loved the shoes! He explained, “That’s another reason I chose to wear my hair blue. After I turned my hair blue it was an automatic way to connect with people.”
Rock At Night responded, “I was wondering if you are going to keep your hair blue? Is this just a blue period? Or do you think you’ll always be blue?”
Rebel explained, “No. I’m going to be all kinds of colors. I love black. I might do forest green. I look good in darker colors. Dark magenta or dark violet. They look really good with my skin tone. Jewel colors. Jewel tones are a very glamorous esthetic.”
At this point Rock At Night asked if he had any plans for a clothing line like “Rebel Wear”? Rebel pointed that he would like to “get to that point in the future.” It appears he would like to eventually have a Ricky Rebel fashion line as well as promote Ricky Rebel Fitness to “help people make choices in their diet” as well as promote tried and true work-outs.
Ricky Rebel the Musician
Since the dissolution of boy-band No Authority, Rebel evolved and transitioned into the recording artist he is today. He said, “There’s been a lot of challenges in my life and a lot of obstacles I had to overcome or re-invent myself to go around. I become a new expression of myself every album cycle. I’ve taken a page from Madonna in that regard. She’s always been someone I’ve looked up to and David Bowie, as well. These artists don’t necessarily stay the same. I definitely relate to that. With every new relationship or every new experience that I have it’s like I’m able to channel that and become a new version of myself.
He further clarified, “I can say ‘this is me now. That was me then.’ It was an honest time in my life. It’s like a snapshot of who I am. I feel like I’m in a really good place right now.”
Rebel explained in show business there are producers and managers who try to dictate a certain image, often stifling a person’s creativity and identity. We both showed admiration for celebrities like Madonna or David Bowie who have always “beat their own drum” and “made their own rules.”
Rebel said, “I’ve studied David Bowie, Madonna, Elvis Presley and other great solo artists. “ He always wanted to be a solo recording artist, even though he started out in a boy band. He figured it was a good stepping stone for launching his long-term goal—to be a solo artist, which he has currently achieved.
Rock At Night discussed Rebel’s glam-rock years with Harlow and how working with the producer was challenging at times, because he really wanted to make his own music. He said, “Yeah, I learned a lot. I call them the ‘glam rock years’ of my life. I made a whole record and I believe it’s available on iTunes. The record producer was a very difficult person to work with but regardless, I did learn a lot from the whole experience. I had to expand my voice to places I didn’t even realize I could do. I realize through that whole experience it was challenging because I wasn’t exactly being authentically who I wanted to be in a sense….I wanted to be. I wanted to make my own music. I wanted to produce it. Write it. And all those things.”
Rock At Night asked about Rebel’s songwriting process, which he explained often begins with listening to rhythm tracks while driving in the car. He will start singing and kicking around ideas. He also creates songs acoustically on the guitar, which I found to be interesting. Check out his acoustic version of “Savior” below:
The Future Ricky Rebel
Rock At Night wondered what is on the horizon for Ricky Rebel. He indicated there are going to be club dates and a possible tour. Even though his music is constantly evolving, he finds he often goes back to his former self or roots, explaining,” “I think aligning myself with dance music has gotten me back into my roots. My life is always going to be kind of a circular, cyclical journey. I think I’m always going to go back to certain time periods, re-invent them, and cycle again. I’ll probably make another rock-glam-pop album and I’ll do a version of this and that.”
Rebel is going to be doing a Vegas show featuring a hybrid of all his personas, including costume-changes between sets. There will be a rock and dance club sets and even an acoustic set where he will be portrayed as sort of a “Rhinestone Cowboy.” Having viewed Ricky Rebel YouTube videos and hearing about the Vegas show, I truly hoped he would tour toward my neck of the woods—Florida (specifically Tampa or Orlando-hint hint).
The last question Rock At Night wondered and asked was, “Who would you most like to work with, if you could.”
Rebel responded without hesitation, “Madonna.” It would be his dream (so, if you are reading this Madonna, make it happen) to have a duet with Madonna. That would be absolutely magical and I hope he can make it transpire.
After all, Ricky Rebel and Madonna, the Rebel Heart diva seem to be cut from the same cloth.
I will keep my fingers crossed.
The meanings behind “Star” and “Get It On”:
“Star”….We all have dreams….when we let the light shine we all are stars. Also, you can’t just think it—you have to repeat it. It is an anthem for everybody and it is actually not meant to be personal or narcissistic.
“Get It On”…It was not meant to be sexual. It means “Let’s get it started!”
With MYA at The Avalon
And glam-rock days…..
I grew up in a household full of rock music, studied journalism in college, and then became a scientist.Although my science career has served me well, music has always played a major role in my life. I grew up reading "Creem" magazine; I play several musical instruments as a "hobby";and it seems a camera has always been in my hand. Now, I am combining what I love the most--music and photography--serving as editor of Rock At Night. My motto: life is short...no regrets. Chyrisse