YEHONATHAN GATRO is bringing his music to the masses and adding his name to the ever-growing list of artists blowing the door off that entertainment closet.
It all started with Madonna and Dynasty. A modern-day gay fairy tale, if you will, where Yehonathan Gatro of Tel Aviv is the lead. He may command all the attention on his own terms today, both as an actor and as a singer, but to appreciate where this 31-year-old is now, you of course have to understand where he has been.
And for this handsome Israeli, who simply goes by “Yehonathan” professionally (and really, if you had a cool, exotic name, wouldn’t you?), it was always the American entertainers that inspired him to put on a show.
“From a very early age I spoke English very fluently. I watched Dynasty constantly and I used to memorize everything Joan Collins said. How gay, huh?” he says with a laugh. “But that’s really how I learned and listened to a lot of music. American culture always really appealed to me….When Madonna came to Israel and I saw the Girlie Show at 14, my jaw dropped. And right there I said, ‘OK. I want this! Exactly this!’”
And Yehonathan got what he wanted, albeit not exactly in the manner he had hoped. You see, 10 years ago, Yehonathan was a teen heartthrob in Israel. Total ’90s, Backstreet Boys-worthy, girls-crying-over-you heartthrob. Emphasis on the girls part.
Determined to see his dream through, Yehonathan burst into the office of one of the biggest musical managers in his country, wooed and sang his heart out until she signed him to a deal. That deal catapulted him into stardom and helped him achieve the career he envisioned for himself back at age 14. The problem was Yehonathan knew he was gay, was out to his family, even had a boyfriend, but no one in the public knew.
“The more successful I got, the more complicated it was for me to be myself. I entrapped myself,” he says. “I was really young and I admit that I really cared mostly about the fame and making it. The music really did take second place. I compromised a lot of things.”
So why not play the subtle card? There has certainly been a fair share of musicians who were more ambiguous in their lyrics in the beginnings of their careers, only to later come out. But that really wasn’t an option for Yehonathan seeing as how, while their were Western artists who achieved success as out musicians, there really weren’t any Israeli artists paving the way. Not to mention his own language was working against him.
“In Hebrew, we don’t have what you have in English,” he explains. “You can say ‘I love you’ and it can be to a boy or a girl. In Hebrew, you have to be specific. There is either a male ‘you’ or a female ‘you.’ So I had to sing to girls constantly; I couldn’t even be general.”
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It all came to a head shortly after, unbeknownst to everyone else, Yehonathan’s relationship ended and the hiding became too tedious. Devastated, he did what many young gay men do when they need to live a gay life and ran away to a big city—Los Angeles.
For two years, Yehonathan lived that normal, gay life. He had an L.A. boyfriend, worked in a video store and learned to appreciate who he was and what he was capable of accomplishing. He calls his time in L.A. one of the biggest character building experiences of his life, alongside his service in the Israeli army. But while all was well with his new life in L.A., Yehonathan says he woke up one day and realized he needed to go back home to Tel Aviv and revive his music career, only this time as the real Yehonathan.
To say that his Israeli fans were not prepared for his comeback would be putting it mildly. Yehonathan returned to Israel, recorded a song, “Calling You,” and a subsequent video that caused more than a few jaws to drop. The teenage heartthrob was now dancing with (and seducing) another guy. Whether it was in Hebrew or English, Yehonathan had clearly come out of the closet and people just did not know what to make of it.
“There were articles saying how I came back from L.A. and I was a changed man and people reacted really cynically. Like it was some stunt,” he says with a hint of anger in his voice. “I was really hurt. Here I am, doing something where I’m showing my true colors and people want the old lies and bullshit. But I had to tell myself that maybe it’s just a matter of time, because I was doing something that nobody else did. I was the first person to actually have videos featuring them[selves] and other leading men. So I think it startled some people.”
While the press didn’t know what to make of it, and it took some time, not to mention a few more sexy videos, for Israel’s gay community to warm up to him, Yehonathan says there was no going back after “Calling You.” After seeing the strong response over the new videos (YouTube them! ) from beyond Israel, Yehonathan created his album, My Turn, with the help of his long-time collaborator (and ex-boyfriend), Lyrik. And now, on the eve of his very-first English release, he stands both confident as ever with who he his, while also oddly appreciative of his time in the entertainment closet.
“In order to find myself, I had to go through all this and understand that it’s not about the fame and covers and girls chasing you,” he says. “I learned that if I don’t have anything of substance to say, I should just do something else.”