RICKY MARTIN Cross Appeal

Article excerpt

We already know gay men are smitten with Ricky Martin, But why are the media so intrigued by the notion?

ON A RECENT BALMY NIGHT in the gay mecca of West Hollywood, Calif., a machismo-crazy party host put TV in one of his bedrooms with the sole intent of showing Ricky Martin videos throughout the evening. There were 20 guys at any given time, glued to the set, reports one of the mesmerized revelers.

Similar Martin moments pile on salsa. New York: A gay music exec throws a "Ricky Martin Night" soiree where only the singer's music is heard and cocktails called La Copa de la Vidas are served with gusto. (What, no Ricky Martinis?) Chicago: ,The gay bar.

Sidetrack plays Martin s videos to cheers. Los Angeles: Spin-class teachers at the gay-popular Crunch gym get their clients pedaling to -- guess who -- and just over the hill in the San Fernando Valley at Oil Can Harry's, a gay club with a country bent, customers have managed to customize a cowboy line dance to the rhythm of La Vida Ricky.

Even lesbians are shaking their "bon-bons" to the beat. Just before Martin kicked off the Blockbuster Awards on May 25, "Ellen DeGeneres and Anne Heche ran by, not stopping to do any press," says Us magazine reporter Dennis Hensley, "and Ellen yelled back to the reporters, `We don't want to miss "Livin' la Vida Loca!"'"

Well, maybe Ellen was kidding. But Ricky fever is a serious phenomenon. Ricky Martin, the 27-year-old singer's first English-language album (there have been four in Spanish) sold nearly 661,000 its first week and debuted at number I on the charts; his May 8 performance on Saturday Night Live helped earn the show's highest ratings of the season; and at least two major publishers are rushing biographies on the leading Latino. In a matter of weeks, Martin has gone from a virtual unknown among non-Latinos to a cross-cultural superstar, the one person news editors -- including those at this magazine -- know will grab readers' attention. Just check out any magazine rack, tune in any entertainment news show or music channel, or scope out the gossip columns: Martin mania is everywhere.

And almost everywhere he pops up, so does discussion of his avid, special following. The mainstream media seem to love the idea that gay men love Ricky Martin. After his breakthrough earth-and hip-shaking February 24 performance on the Grammy Awards show, Entertainment Weekly immediately declared, "Women and gay men across the nation awoke and wondered: Why don't I know this guy?" New York magazine noted that "members of both sexes lust for him." Even the Buffalo [N.Y.] News found it noteworthy that the singer's fans are both "male and female." Gay fans have picked up on the frenzy: "I don't think I've been this worked up since Tom danced in his undies in Risky Business," wrote Chris Smith, a self-described 36-year-old gay man, to Entertainment Weekly.

Not only do the mainstream media relish the openness of Martin's gay male following, but they also insist on confronting Martin with it at every opportunity. "I keep running into women and men with crushes on you," Rolling Stone's David Wild told Martin. "Do you enjoy this sort of universal impact?"

What's going on here? Other gyrating popsters have acknowledged the gay fan quotient [see "The Boys in the Bands," page 43]. Rapper-cum-actor Mark Wahlberg even nurtured it by appearing at gay clubs (and talking with The Advocate in 1994). But Martin may be the first case of the mainstream media's acknowledging gay men as a key element of a performer's "overnight" success.

An even more curious aspect of the Martin file is that several mainstream reporters are leaping from the sexuality of his fans to that of the artist himself. In Entertainment Weekly' s first major piece on the exploding star, writer Andrew Essex asserted that Martin's cross-gender appeal has "sparked is-he-or-isn't-he watercooler debates." Meanwhile, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel noted that "the music industry is awash in rumors he's gay. …