Simon says

Pop artist - and Michigan native - talks catalyst for career change (Britney Spears?) and the gay fans he's glad to have

By Chris Azzopardi

Sex. Pop music thrives on it, and so does up-and-comer Simon Curtis, who explores his submissive side on "Flesh," a track from his latest album, released this past summer. Tied up, begging a lover to throw him down and have his way with him, it's a visceral act that could turn anybody on - gay, straight, kangaroo.

"Pop music is always going to be about sex," Curtis says. "'Hit me baby one more time'? I mean, come on. It might as well have been, 'Eff me, baby, expletive, expletive.'"

But Curtis' music, boundary-pushing electro-pop for the Lady Gaga circle, isn't just about getting busy in the bedroom; he goes deep on "RD" too, getting personal with "Joshua," "Dead to Me" and "Soul 4 Sale."

"It's a really heavy record," he says. "I don't think people really believed just how dark it was until they finally heard it. I've gone through a lot of deep betrayal with loved ones and life-altering, life-shattering experiences. I can't not put that in my music."

The sex, though, is just in his head.

"It's the only area where I like to write from an area of fantasy, like an author writing an erotica novel. It's definitely the most ephemeral of my music. It's weird."

Curtis, 25, released his robotic debut, "8Bit Heart," early last year and in no time had the gay community sold on his thumping beats and boyish good looks.

"I make pop music, so it comes with the territory," says Curtis, who won't comment on his own sexual orientation. "I'm honored that gay people have taken to my music so strongly, because typically it's a goddess worship culture; it's Britney, Gaga, Madonna, Janet. Strong females. It's really flattering to know that they are accepting of a male doing it as well."

Curtis became a pop-music magnet years ago. He was brought up in a musical household in Alpena, Mich. (the family lived on Lake Huron in the woods), where he remembers his father, an ex-Marine Korean War vet, cranking up the disco and throwing on Pet Shop Boys and Village People LPs while the family unwrapped gifts on Christmas morning.

He was young when the family moved to Oklahoma, where he grew up with Spice Girls, *NSYNC and Britney Spears. His epiphany came in 2000, when Spears iconically had a snake tangled around her neck on the MTV Video Music Awards stage while performing a medley of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and "Oops! I Did It Again." "That was such an impactful moment for me," he recalls. "I was sick with the flu, just laying on the floor and watching it, and Britney Spears came on and I was dead sick and stood up and just jaw-dropped watched the TV. Then *NSYNC came on and they gave this incredible performance. Then Christina Aguilera. And I was just like, 'Forget Broadway. This is it.'"

Before making the move to Los Angeles, a "crazy place" that's kept him there for six years, he auditioned for the second season of "American Idol." He shared a sleeping bag with finalist Kimberly Caldwell until he was called up for an audition. It didn't work out, though; Curtis, who was 16 then, wasn't their type. Producers wanted someone older, if not in age, then in looks.

"They were like, 'We'd love it if you came back,'" he recalls. "I didn't."

Instead, he focused on a solo career, building a fanbase through social-networking. Even Adam Lambert, who reached out to Curtis when his album, "8Bit Heart," became a trending topic on Twitter, loves the former Michigander.

"He's a huge supporter and he wants me to write on his new record," Curtis says. "I sent him the new album and he was just blown away by it, saying these insane compliments about the production and the songwriting. It really meant a lot to me."

Some people, Curtis knows, aren't as complimentary, but he still reads what they have to say; he can't help it. "It's human nature. You want to see if someone is saying something about you. But I've been tempered a bit." He laughs. "I know not to go on the Popjustice forums because it's an evil, evil place that will only make me want to kill myself."

Buzz circulated for a while regarding "Chip in Your Head," a song from "RD" that features this line: "Song so catchy, gonna spread like AIDS/Words so absurd, they're like lyric grenades."

Says Curtis: "People have been offended, and I guess rightfully so, because it is a controversial line. But I don't necessarily edit myself when I write. I feel like people are taking it in a very mean-spirited way, and it's not meant to be.

"I must say, I find it ironic that no one has been offended by the cancer line (in the same song), because I'm a cancer survivor" - Curtis was diagnosed with leukemia at age 10 - "so it's funny to me that people would be shocked and appalled by this AIDS line but not the cancer line. I find it a bit hypocritical, to be quite honest."

Now that he's cleared that up, all he has left to do is, you know, dominate the pop pantheon. But it's not so easy - especially for someone like him, he says.

"I genuinely don't think there's anything more difficult that one could pursue in music than being a solo, white male pop artist. A pure pop artist. It's a female-dominated industry," Curtis says, "and the industry is run by tastemakers that choose what is allowed to rise to the top."

Something tells us it won't be long before he does.

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