Adam Lambert & The Authenticity of Queer Identity (Concert Review)

So I wanted to write a review of the Adam Lambert concert tonight at the House of Blues in Boston, but it being me, I can’t merely write about Adam Lambert without writing about American culture, identity, the music industry, David Bowie, subcultures, queerness, and capitalism. Because I couldn’t talk about the songs or the performance without writing about the context in which they’re being presented, and I had to try to answer the question of why such a fantastic concert is being seen by so few people in the United States.

First the review in a nutshell: Adam Lambert is extremely entertaining. The show is a visual wow that matches the vocal fireworks, and musically it is a hip, complex treatment of pop. The show–like Adam himself?–is slick as hell. A+++ would see again–in fact I’m going to see him again in a few weeks while visiting my parents in Clearwater, Florida.

You guys @adamlambert ! #theoriginalhightour #tohustour

A video posted by Cecilia Tan (@ctan_writer) on

However. Although the show was technically stunning and Adam is simply great…I was never transported by it, possibly because I found myself interrogating every aspect of it, which I think says far more about me than about the show, though ultimately I do think the show is packed with messages, and in this essay I will attempt to unpack some of them. I did not have one of those transcendent moments of communion with the music or performers or crowd that marks a truly great show. These moments don’t always happen, even with great artists like Peter Gabriel (saw him at the Worcester Centrum in the early 90s, nice but meh, or even The Cure in ’89 when I was at my deepest fanaticism for them, at Great Woods, a show I found out 20 years later that Robert Smith considered one of their worst ever so perhaps it wasn’t just me). So I can hardly give any band or singer points off for not transporting me to a place where I forget myself.

But it was notable to me that the dance floor where I was crammed in with an eclectic mix of concert-goers was the very same dance floor where I’d become a born-again Goth in 1991, while seeing Sisters of Mercy. You can laugh about it now, but in 1991 goth was considered “dead,” a fad that had run its course and was going to end with my generation. (Hah, not so much: Hot Topic came along shortly after and shopping mall commodification is the ultimate legitimization of any subculture in a capitalist society. But anyway.) At that show in 1991, even despite Sisters of Mercy declaring themselves anti-goth (“we’re just a rock and roll band,” Andrew Eldritch supposedly said) and goth supposedly being a dead fad, a Boston subculture coalesced. I wrote and published an essay about being born-again through the ecstatic ritual that the mosh pit at that show became. (I can’t remember which goth subculture magazine published it. Blue Blood? or Propaganda?) It was one of the top five concert experiences of my life, so it’s unfair to compare.

(Aside: I also saw Nine Inch Nails at that same club, and Peter Murphy, back in the day. I’ll be seeing Peter Murphy in two months on his acoustic retrospective tour after not having seen him at all in the intervening 20 years. I wonder what that will be like. Probably nothing like seeing Adam Lambert.)

adam lambert photo by Cecilia Tan
Adam Lambert, House of Blues Boston, Feb 24 2016, Photo by Cecilia Tan
All this gothiness is relevant to this discussion of Adam Lambert of course not merely because of my personal history of seeing goth acts at this venue, which is now the “House of Blues Boston” but used to be a disco/night club called Avalon and before that The Citi Club and before that Metro–I should note that in the Citi days, this was the dance club where every Sunday night a few thousand gay men (plus some assorted lesbians and bisexuals like me) came out regularly for gay dance night, and so it was one of my regular haunts for that reason, too. The discussion of goth is relevant for two other reasons, one because I’m about to raise some questions about subculture and “cultural authenticity” and two because Adam himself, when he first hit the scene via American Idol, was the closest thing to a goth American Idol had ever seen. I wouldn’t have labeled him goth exactly, but maybe “21st century emo-glam.” Remember, goth was a direct outgrowth of glam, and emo was a direct outgrowth of goth. Where goth and glam seem to diverge most in the popular imagination, though, is that glam held a high level of theatrical artifice (we’ll get to David Bowie in a moment) while goth was supposedly the “authentic” baring of your dark, nihilistic soul.

We have a strange relationship with the thing called “authenticity” in this country. Being authentic is seen as a core American value. But I had to put “authenticity” in quotes because what we often respond to as “authentic” in American culture is actually versimilitude and not reality. An Asian-looking guy with no formal training at all standing behind a sushi counter is more “authentic” to us than, say, a white-looking guy who trained in Japan the traditional way. All too often when we go in search of the “authentic” food–or cultural experience of whatever kind–what actually satisfies people is the thing which meets our US-centric stereotyped expectations.

Among the questions I was trying to answer for myself about Adam Lambert and the show included: who are these people who are here to see him? Why are they here? And why aren’t there more of them? What exactly is the context of this concert? Unlike a goth show where the audience is a gathering of a subculture, what’s the cultural experience or identity that is authenticated by seeing Adam Lambert? Is going to see Adam Lambert a culturally or subculturally validating experience for any group or only for certain individuals?

The venue capacities for The Original High tour in the U.S. As of today (Feb 25) most of the dates were not sold out but were over 90% sold.
The venue capacities for The Original High tour in the U.S. As of today (Feb 25) most of the dates were not sold out but were over 90% sold.

There was a wonderfully dizzying cross section of people at this concert. I heard people speaking at least five different languages while waiting in line to get in (English, Italian, Chinese, Spanish, and something I couldn’t identify but might have been German or Dutch?). Beside me in the crowd were a Japanese couple and behind me some girls speaking either Portuguese or Russian–I couldn’t quite hear. There were people in their sixties and fifties and forties and thirties and twenties and some people had brought their teens and children. There were queer hipster boys in flannel and hornrimmed glasses holding hands. There were middle-aged Glamberts in glitter. There were black twenty-somethings, both male and female. There were a surprisingly (to me) large number of what appeared to be white heterosexual suburban couples. I was surprised by the sheer number of men there, unlike the show I went to in Worcester during the warm-up phase of the tour (a radio station promo show where Adam and band did only ten songs) which was easily 90 percent female in attendance. (My entire section of the Worcester balcony had not a single man in it.) In Boston there appeared to be plenty of guys both gay and straight. Excellent.

(Adam almost seemed confused by who was there and why, too, as evidenced in this mid-show patter where he asked “Are you here because of Ghost Town?” expecting a cheer and got people shouting “No!”…)

It was wonderful to see such a diverse cross-section. But it made for a kind of strange cultural experience in that no one knew what the rules were. It was like people weren’t sure if they were supposed to dance or sing or scream or what. My impression was that although everyone had a good time, the crowd never fully came to life. I was fortunate to squish myself fairly close to the stage (about four or five people back) among some young women who were happy to dance and sing, but we were partly behind a tall guy (with his girlfriend) who stood there like a lump the entire concert. He finally bopped his head during the encore (during the Queen “Another One Bites the Dust” part of the medley). I wanted to tap him on the shoulder and tell him, dude, it’s okay to actually move.

Maybe he was afraid people would think he was queer if he did. I don’t know.

Which brings me to queerness as a subject. I was watching the career of Adam Lambert for years before I heard any of his music. I don’t have a television, so the only time I saw him on American Idol was while visiting my parents in Florida. (They were big Idol fans.) It wasn’t until a little later that the whole “is he gay or isn’t he?” rumor mill exploded and I sat up and took notice of him. Having been an activist for LGBT and queer rights and visibility since the 1980s myself, I was of course keenly interested to find out if we were really going to have our first “out right from the start of his career” American pop star or not.

Venue capacities in Asia/Australia were much higher than the US shows, and in Australia were reportedly 100% sold out.
Venue capacities in Asia/Australia were much higher than the US shows, and in Australia were reportedly 100% sold out.

The thing is, even if Adam Lambert had turned out not to be gay, the fact that the media went into such hysterics about the possibility was notable in and of itself to visibility activists. And of course it turned out Adam WAS gay and wasn’t even in the closet really, except for the fact that heterosexuality is assumed for everyone. Sigh. (The American Idol media blackout didn’t help–contestants aren’t allowed to speak to the media while it’s going on–which gave people the impression there was something to hide or that they were being coy about it. And how about the fact that various Idol alums came out later, including Clay Aiken.)

We had a supposedly out pop star once before–though not American, British–in David Bowie. You can read my other essays about Bowie (like this one), but my quick summary of Bowie’s sexuality and his career is this: although Bowie was a bisexual role model for me and many many other people, he “recanted” his declarations of queerness in his mid-30s. Ultimately I think what Bowie identified most with was with being an Artist with a capital A, and the necessity of being an outsider to creating such Art. Queerness was a form of outsider status he might have adopted, co-opted, or mistook for his kindred, OR maybe he really was queer and when he “recanted” was because instead of the label conferring artistic freedom as it did initially, by later in his career it was instead boxing him in. In interviews he later said that especially in America he was pigeonholed as “bisexual David Bowie” and if he’d known the label was going to become an albatross around his neck he never would have said it.

Adam Lambert knows this well. It’s unusual to see an article about him that doesn’t call him “openly gay Adam Lambert” as if it’s part of his name. I’ve seen interviews with Adam where he shows that it grates on him sometimes, as if being gay is the definition of being him, which it’s not. But Adam also realizes that he has arrived at a particular moment in the history of gay rights in America. (Though he was a bit reluctant to carry the torch at first, more recently he has embraced his role as standard-bearer and queer role model.) Obama was the first president to talk about “gay Americans” in a State of the Union address. Gay marriage (and bitter fights against it) have swept the nation. Like the first man to set foot on the moon, Adam Lambert gets to be the first one out of the closet, and he’ll always be remembered better than those who follow after him because of it. There have been a bunch of other coming outs (comings out?) of gay male pop singers since (Frank Ocean, Sam Smith, two country stars whose names I’ve forgotten but was able to Google: Ty Herndon and Billy Gilman) and I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few because now they’re in the wake of Adam Lambert.

But does being a historic pioneer for gay visibility sell records or put fannies in the seats?

Venue capacities for places Adam Lambert will be playing in Europe in 2016. Worth noting when comparing to the US list, some of these look small but are listed as "largest venue" in their given city.
Venue capacities for places Adam Lambert will be playing in Europe in 2016. Worth noting when comparing to the US list, some of these look small but are listed as "largest venue" in their given city.

The thing that grated on Bowie and perhaps Adam, too, is that being queer has nothing to do with whether your music is good. It doesn’t even really let you predict that type of music or genre it is (more on that in a bit.) So although there are the dedicated Glamberts out there, we come back to that question of who goes to see Adam Lambert? And if it’s a little bit of everybody in America, is that why America seems to have no urgency to go see him? He’s playing venues with a capacity of 2,000 on this tour of the U.S. That’s a far cry from the stadiums he filled with Queen in other parts of the world or even the mid-sized arenas that Q+AL played in the US. The show I’m seeing next month at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater (capacity 2,100) isn’t sold out yet. I heard people in line tonight say that tonight’s show wasn’t sold out and the venue sold off half-price tickets this afternoon (not sure it was true or not). If all Adam Lambert is, musically, is a really entertaining show and not an experience of communion with “your people” (whoever they may be) then is he worth leaving the house for? Is the problem of why Adam Lambert doesn’t draw in the USA essentially an image problem? Do people go to concerts because they just want to be entertained or because they expect to validate their own identities somehow by attending? My guess is that you need a core group of the latter in order to interest the former.

Obviously I think he *IS* worth leaving the house for or I wouldn’t be seeing him twice. But like I said, I spent all of tonight’s concert trying to figure out why the heck is it that Adam Lambert doesn’t fill bigger venues in the USA. I thought about a few other factors that could be at work. Is it that the American public is still kinda homophobic? It was widely believed in the late 70s and 80s that the reason Queen never drew well in concert here despite selling out giant stadiums everywhere else in the world was because Americans avoided anything too Queer. And let’s face it, the gay coding on a band called QUEEN is not actually all that subtle. But that was then. Is it different now?

(Here’s a 10-minute compilation of some of the highlight moments of the show that I filmed from my spot on the dance floor.)

Another thought: it looks to me like traditional radio and the traditional music industry have given a lukewarm reception to the past two albums. Why?

I’ll confess: I gave the current album (The Original High) a lukewarm reception myself (and I didn’t love Trespassing either). I think there are two or three outstanding tracks on it (Ghost Town, The Original High, and The Light), and the rest is pop filler. Am I reflective of the American consumer, here, or is it actually my music elitism showing? I can’t tell. I’m an old school alternative radio pioneer. I don’t like my music watered down or over-produced–I confess I’m an authenticity fan, too. However I do appreciate the artistry of a great performer and personality. For example, I think Madonna is fantastic and I’d be happy to see her in concert if the tickets weren’t outrageously expensive, but I don’t own any of her albums. Having worked in radio and being an alternative type, my tastes rarely line up with the American public. So me feeling like a lot of the latest Adam Lambert album is pop filler that Max Martin (the producer and main songwriter) could have just as easily foisted onto Britney Spears or Taylor Swift (to name only two of the many artists Max Martin has produced No. 1 hits for) is NOT probably what most of America thinks. Right?

Truth is Adam is a much more electrifying singer live than recorded. There’s a reason he blew everyone off the stage at American Idol. So the fact that the album struck me as meh was not going to stop me from seeing him live. In fact it won’t surprise you at all to know that one of my beefs with the three Adam Lambert studio albums is I really feel they don’t hang together. They’re too different from one another and each one seems to be searching for an identity and never quite finding it. But in concert tonight Adam seamlessly melded elements from all three albums AND his Idol days into an excellently coherent whole.

One highlight of the concert for me will surprise no one given my lifelong obsession with David Bowie: he did “Let’s Dance.” As I mentioned before, Bowie and Adam are going to be forever linked as queer pop singer icons, so it made sense that in the wake of Bowie’s passing that glam-standard bearer Adam would cover him. What some people might forget (but posthumous articles have reminded me) is that David Bowie’s career had plateau’d after the glam era ended and he was looked on (briefly) as something of an artistic genius but a commercial has-been. Bowie then set out to make a “hit record,” and he tapped Nile Rodgers of Chic to do it. Rodgers talks about how in the early 1980s his own musical career was pretty much dead because of the whole “disco is dead” attitude, but along comes Bowie, they collaborated, and the result was Bowie’s most successful commercial record ever. “Let’s Dance,” “Modern Love,” and “China Girl” were all Top 40 hits off the Let’s Dance album. Rodgers’ career was revived as a result and he has remained in demand as a producer and musical collaborator for three decades since.

So when it came time to make Adam’s sophomore record, Trespassing, RCA Records thought they would have a winning formula playing the Nile Rodgers card (Rodgers himself tweeted from the recording studio working with Adam “I really wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true-Working w Adam Lambert was one of the most organically perfect jams I’ve had since Bowie.”) and also bringing in Pharrell Williams to produce after Pharrell had been the magic touch for several other white pop artists. What you’ll read most places is that Trespassing debuted at number one on the Billboard album chart. What you won’t read is that sales fell off abruptly after that, American radio didn’t much care for it, and overall interest was so low in the USA that Adam did not tour the USA in support of Trespassing.

That’s right, the artist that everyone agrees is even better live than on recording, whose Glam Nation Live album and video charted, Did. Not. Tour. (Except Asia and Europe.) Personally I think part of why Trespassing didn’t hit was bad timing: a year later Daft Punk did a funky pop album with Nile Rodgers and had the biggest hit of the year (“Get Lucky”) and in particular radio was weak and streaming services had not yet filled the gap. So I think some of Trespassing’s disappointing results for RCA had more to do with the state of the industry than the actual album itself.

I also think the perceived change of genre from theatrical slightly gothy rock-pop to funk-pop hurt more than anyone on Team Adam thought it would. Here’s why:

In the 1980s there was a flat-out divide in the music industry between black and white. Actual race did not always matter whether an artist was classified as black or white. Madonna was classified as black when her first hits were on the radio. It wasn’t until after her videos were in heavy rotation and the news coverage of her “slutty” image (showing her bra strap! fishnets! gasp…) became ubiquitous that radio stations like WPLJ in New York were essentially forced to reclassified her from black to white. I was in the program director’s office when the decision was made to reclassify her. It was a big deal. A Top 40 station like WPLJ had this divide so that they would never play too many “black” songs in a row or in an hour, for fear they might alienate white listeners. You might also recall Michael Jackson calling out MTV around this same time (1984-1985) for failing to play videos by black artists (himself excepted). Radio and TV stations of course responded to criticisms of the practice of limit “black” (and even black-seeming) songs that they were in business to make money. They knew their audience, they would say, and this form of institutional segregation was necessary for them to chase the money.

In other words, they claimed the audience was racist, so they had to be racist to keep everyone happy. Hm.

Now it’s 2016 and times have supposedly changed, but looking around at the entrenched structural racism in many other American institutions being exposed by current events (policing, health care, etc) what are the chances that the structural racism in the music industry has changed? And even if the industry has changed, is there a still a perception (trained by this industry!) among the listening public that a line between black and white isn’t supposed to be crossed? (Never mind the fact that white artists have been co-opting and appropriating the sounds and talents of black artists since the music industry was invented–that’s a given and very troubling, but the vast majority of record buyers and music listeners out there aren’t about to start caring about cultural appropriation. Sadly.)

Adam’s American Idol image was very white. Emo-gothboy wonder. His first album, For Your Entertainment, changed his image from boy to man (more on that in a minute) but it stayed in the white lane. The pop-rock lane.

Was the problem that the funk/R&B-heavy Trespassing was such a Pharrell and Nile Rodgers production that it felt like a swerve from the white to black lane? And did people in radio and/or record buyers react negatively because of that?

I definitely don’t think it was a change that hardcore Glamberts wanted. If anything I saw persistent rumors representative of fan hopes that the next album was going to be more “alt rock”–i.e. more authentic (to something, what exactly who knows) and less slick and produced. Is the shift in lane what Adam wanted? Maybe. Is it what RCA Records wanted? Did they miscalculate how strongly people might have bought into Adam’s image and this was too much of a change in whatever direction?


(I love how old-school this video is, right through the Pat Benatar-esque dance-number that will save the world.)

It isn’t that white guys can’t be massively successful pop-soul or R&B singers–look at Justin Timberlake or Robin Thicke, speaking of Pharrell collaborators. But going from a rock flavor to a funk flavor felt like it left behind part of what many fans identified with about Adam. I think it’s notable that the two singles from the album, “Better Than I Know Myself” and “Never Close Our Eyes” are the “whitest” sounding songs on the whole record–both failed to make much of an impact on the charts, though. If you take those two off the album, the entire rest of the album sounds like a coherent R&B album. I do think most die-hard fans came to like Trespassing, but I think some folks basically got off the Adam Lambert bandwagon when it didn’t seem like the ride they signed up for.

Then RCA refused to let him make a third album unless he would do an album of 80s cover songs, which is about the whitest thing I can think of. Presumably this strategy was trying to cash in on the fact that people were still, years later, talking about Adam’s cover of Tears for Fears “Mad World” that was the turning point of American Idol, the song he even reprised during the Idol finals. Him *not* doing it during the Glam Nation tour was pretty much the only complaint I saw concert reviewers have. In other words, RCA was desperate to grasp whatever straw they could — meanwhile Adam was desperate to move on with his actual career. 24 hours after announcing he was leaving RCA, Adam had been picked up by Warner Brothers.

A little bit of @adamlambert doing Mad World by Tears for Fears #tohustour #theoriginalhightour

A video posted by Cecilia Tan (@ctan_writer) on

So. Getting back to tonight’s concert. “Let’s Dance” was already in Adam’s repertoire before Bowie’s death because he had played it with Nile Rodgers at a few promo shows they did around New York and such when a Trespassing tour was still a viable possibility. So yes, that made perfect sense in tonight’s show, and it also fit beautifully in a set that managed to meld all three (or four) different “Adams” into a coherent whole.

Adam is a showman, a crowd pleaser. What’s not to like? He’s beautiful to look at and has one of the best voices of a generation. So why aren’t more Americans clamoring to see him? The show opens with the stage dark and a heavy electronica dance remix of “Better Than I Know Myself” playing over the PA. Anticipation builds, then sparkly lights twinkle from the four projection screens at the back of the stage, then WHAM the lights come up on the full band playing a live intro while the letters A-D-A-M appear one at a time. It’s dramatic and visual and tremendous. And Adam himself isn’t even on the stage yet!

When he does hit the stage, it begins a 45-minute-long block of music that has no break, no between-song patter, it just slams right through song after song after song. The set is very cannily arranged, both in terms of which songs are mashed up or medleyed and what songs are chosen in the first place. The first song is “Evil in the Night” from the new album, but it segues directly into a song that should be delirium-inducing for the post-Idol-era fans, “For Your Entertainment.”

This song, the title track from Adam’s first album post-Idol, was notably absent from the Glam Nation tour (as was the aforementioned “Mad World” though I hear he did crack it out during encores once in a while). “For Your Entertainment” was of course the song at the center of the “controversy” that resulted from his American Music Awards performance. Talk about canny: I thought the whole performance at the AMAs was absolutely brilliant meta-commentary on the state of pop music in the USA and especially the whole mess Adam had just been through regarding the intense scrutiny of his possible sexual orientation. Think about what the lyrics of the song are. The song equates being a great lover in bed with being an entertainer — “I’m here for your entertainment.”

A few of the lyrics (and my interpretations):

Oh, do you know what you got into? (hey national TV broadcast!)
Can you handle what I’m ’bout to do? (I’m about to kiss a man!)
‘Cause it’s about to get rough for you (And people are going to freak out!)
I’m here for your entertainment

Oh, I bet you thought I was soft and sweet (Because American Idol enforced media silence)
‘Ya thought an angel swept you off ya feet (I get to be myself now that I’m not on Idol)
But I’m about to turn up the heat (because now my sexuality can be displayed at last)
I’m here for your entertainment


(Honestly to me the most shocking thing about the AMA performance is that Adam is notably flat three different times (!) something I’ve never seen since!)

Adam claims that actually kissing Tommy Joe Ratliff during the AMA TV performance of FYE was a spur of the moment thing, but the rest of the performance, with dancers on leashes and such, was calculatedly over-the-top sexual. And even if that first kiss was spur of the moment, Adam then doubled down on the male kiss as a statement of artistic freedom and visibility by turning into the most infamous piece of fanservice on the Glam Nation tour. Every night during the song “Fever” Adam would kiss Tommy Joe. Dozens of fan videos would appear nightly and there are many many many video compilations of Adam/Tommy liplocks and onstage moments.

There was no onstage kiss tonight during The Original High tour, although there is some lovely hot dancing between Adam and his two sidekicks who do double duty as backup singers and dancers: Terence Spencer, who danced on Glam Nation and is seen in the Ghost Town video, and Holly Hyman, who appeared in a production of WICKED with Adam in 2008 prior to his American Idol days. (Great Instagram picture of them from those days which she posted: https://www.instagram.com/p/BBGnU8hQL3S/)

The absence of fan-favorite TJR is notable, especially since it’s impossible not to think about “the kiss” during that song. The choreography for “Fever” tonight even included some “quotes” of the Glam Nation dance steps. I will state for the record I have no idea why Tommy Joe Ratliff isn’t part of Adam’s touring band anymore. I’m not privy to any inside information. All I know is he was the one band member who was carried forward from Glam Nation into We Are Glamily (switching from bass to guitar, which was his original instrument anyway). When “Ghost Town” debuted on the Ellen show, the Glambert internets exploded with speculation (and rage) about why Tommy Joe wasn’t in the band this time. (Meanwhile Camilla Grey, of the duo Uh Huh Her, who had played keyboards on the Glam Nation tour, was on keys on the Ellen performance, so bringing back old cohorts at various times is definitely something Adam does, see aforementioned Holly and Terence.) All I’ve ever seen Adam say about the subject is one tweet that asserted each “era” he’s “changed up” band personnel and exhorting fans not to “live in the past.” But it seems many fans felt that although everyone else in the band was changeable, Tommy Joe was special.

Finding out they were wrong about that was rage-inducing for some. I find it likely that the change in musical direction had more to do with the personnel update than the wild speculations I see about how there was “too much fanfic about Adam and Tommy” as if the existence of this fan activity somehow upset Adam or his management enough that Tommy had to go. I would like to think that people in pop music management know perfectly well that intense sexual fantasies about performers is in fact one of the main things that happens to all pop idols. In this case, an openly gay male idol. So it should not be a surprise that many fans fantasize about their gay idol with another man? (Heck, they don’t even have to be “openly gay”–look at the huge huge amounts of One Direction slash fic on Wattpad and other Internet sites.) That TJR was drop-dead gorgeous, reportedly straight, and the object of Adam’s nightly onstage kissing “statement” about male sexuality pretty much guaranteed there would be massive amounts of slash written about them.

Some fans react with rage or disillusionment when their ‘ship sinks instead of sails in a TV show or fiction franchise–and I think for some the same was true when Tommy Joe was no longer available as fodder for the Adam/Tommy relationship fantasy. I think most fans are reasonable enough to realize these are real people, not creations of pure fantasy, with real feelings and needs of their own, but then again the entertainment industry constantly tries to get fans to believe in the image of the pop star and not the reality. Or more accurately, it’s an industry that conflates image and reality–at least partly here in the USA because of that nagging “authenticity” issue. Americans want something “true.”

Except when we don’t. For some reason we are convinced with our male pop stars in particular that to respect them there must be some grain of authenticity or “truth” in what they do/who they are. (Rappers are supposed to have “street cred” for example. Bruno Mars, before he changed to a stage name, was constantly told by execs in the music industry he should leverage his last name–Hernandez–to play Spanish or Latin music even though he’s from Hawaii.) But the key word there is respect, because it doesn’t seem like female pop stars go through this–unfortunately because female pop stars get no respect at all. Respect isn’t part of the equation. Taylor Swift, Madonna, Britney Spears, Katy Perry…no one interrogates them about whether they write their own songs because no one expects a female pop singer to be an actual artist. Meanwhile when Beyonce finally made a statement that demanded respect for her actual authentic self, as she did in the video and Superbowl performance of “Formation,” people freaked out. The American public only wants its authenticity in certain packages and as I said before we only want quote-authenticity-unquote that meets our preconceived notions. People will automatically assume a rapper has street cred if he’s black the way they’ll assume a sushi chef is authentic if he looks Asian.

Screencap of "the kiss" during the AMAs.
Screencap of “the kiss” during the AMAs.

So here’s the thing. You have an authentic gay man who put a performative expression of gay male sexuality in his show. Like with Beyonce, people freaked out. Adam Lambert stated in interviews after the FYE furor that if Madonna and Britney Spears can kiss on a pop music awards show, and neither of them is “authentically” queer at all, why can’t he do the same? He’s exposing a double standard, yes. But I guess the question is…is fighting for the right to be an objectified sexualized entertainment object equivalent to Britney Spears a fight worth having? For Adam it seems to be. The rest of the world, which isn’t as hung up on homosexuality or authenticity as Americans, is going to see Adam Lambert in larger numbers and selling out more quickly (meaning the venues could have potentially been larger). Here, not so much. But is the queerness why? Or is it because there’s something perceived as inauthentic about it? (Or was the FYE performance just another example of people clinging to the American Idol image of a cute emo boy and refusing to accept a “grown-ass man”? Another point about The Original High, overall I feel Adam’s latest makeover is another step into a mature adult image and I quite like it, even if I find the album lukewarm.)

dgc_ebook_8_cover_200I do miss TJR in the show mostly because as a massive fan of rock musicians in general, one of the things I liked most about Glam Nation was that there was interaction between Adam and the rock band, in particular Monte and Tommy as the guitar/bass guys out front. (I know, I know, I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words of fiction in Daron’s Guitar Chronicles about the archetypal love-hate singer-guitarist rock band relationship so we know that’s a thing that really floats my boat.) Although current guitarist Adam Ross has two particular feature solos in The Original High Tour show, for the most part the band stays completely in the background now and only Terence and Holly interact with Adam. The choreography is fun. It’s not as involved as it was during Glam Nation, a little more naturalistic and integrated. Since the dancers are singers, too, they are on stage the whole time. The three of them can break into steps mid-song, and then stop and be casual again, without the dancing only being during specific “dance numbers.”

Integrated is a good word for the whole show. The visuals and lights, the transitions from song to song, the way some songs are interwoven with each other, some morphing halfway through into one another, the easy transitions from choreographed dancing to wandering the edge of the stage working the crowd…it was hard to believe this was only the second show on the tour! I can only guess that they must have rehearsed like mad.

Some of the changes that they made to songs you can only appreciate as canny decisions in showmanship and musicianship if you know the originals. Knowing that they skipped doing “For Your Entertainment” at all in the wake of the AMA controversy, it was striking that it was the second song right out of the gate. Another big hit from the FYE days of course was “Whataya Want From Me” (the Grammy nominated song, in fact), which during Glam Nation they’d changed up and done acoustic. With this tour Adam did a very crowd-pleasing rendition very close to the radio version, which turned into a huge singalong and was probably one of the best moments of the night, now that I think about it. “If I Had You” was the culmination song of Glam Nation and they did it again here as a culmination song, but they changed the arrangement to be even harder edged than the original. This was especially interesting in like of the fact they had been doing a reggae-tinged version of it during the warmup tour! They faked us out! So when this favorite came it was pure pleasure and a surprise.

daron_love_you_how_memeAll of this gives me a feeling that for some of the audience, they’re missing what’s going on in the show. Maybe it doesn’t matter: they just want to see a great singer and be entertained, the end. If so, cool. But I felt like by knowing all the backstory to Adam’s career, I got a lot out of the show that maybe not everyone did. I could see the ways that backstory informed his song choices and the choices made in constructing the show–even how the musical arrangements were done. I suppose in some ways I am more a fan of Adam and his career than I am of Adam’s songs. But there is a context here, if not a subtext. It may not matter to the average concert-goer, but again we return to the question of why there aren’t more concert-goers.

I’m still baffled by the fact Taylor Swift is filling huge arenas throughout the USA and Adam Lambert isn’t. This is not a knock on Taylor Swift: she’s kind of awesome, actually. But what’s she got that Adam don’t got? Radio support? Heterosexual privilege? Better fit for American taste? I don’t know. I’m sure Warner Bros. records would like to know. I saw a recent announcement that “Ghost Town” had passed 100 million plays on Spotify — one of the top three Spotify “viral” tracks of 2015 — and has been certified gold, Adam’s first gold single (http://headlineplanet.com/home/2016/01/21/adam-lamberts-ghost-town-earns-gold-certification-in-the-us/). By current methods of measure of record company success, that puts him in the top tier. But he’s not in the top tier in concert draw and he so obviously should be.

To bring it home, here’s the state of the Adam. As I said, this concert managed to meld all the eras of Adam into a cohesive whole. The emo-pop-rock, the funk, the dance-floor pop, the American Idol, and even the Queen frontman into a seamless entertainment juggernaut. The “identity” that is emerging is one that has Entertainer (rather than Bowie-esque Artist) as its pinnacle. The move into dancier territory, first with funk in Trespassing and now with everything from witch-beat to dance remixes in The Original High, feels almost inevitable as a move away from middle-America’s “authentic” core center (rock) to the queer center, which has always been associated with gay male urbanization, the move from the small-minded small town to the big gay city and learning to love disco/urban dance music. If you went into a gay men’s leather bar in the 1990s, the music you would have heard wouldn’t have been thematically appropriate like Nine Inch Nails or even David Bowie, it would have been dance music, from Whitney Houston’s cover of “I’m Every Woman” to C&C Music Factory to Madonna’s dance remixes to house. (I know, I spent a lot of time in gay men’s leather bars.)

So if you want to draw a conclusion about authenticity, mine is that the current incarnation of Adam Lambert is in fact merely the latest step in Adam trying on an “authentically” gay male musical style, and that this is what he’s been doing all along. Pre-Idol he was in musical theater, gay musical stereotype number one. Then we had emo kid, which codes as queer without being too overt for American Idol, check. In the FYE era we had the embrace of Bowie-esque outrageous sexuality and showmanship (remember the Glam Nation encore of “Twenty-First Century Boy,” an actual glam rock song featuring the lyrics “I wanna be your toy,” echoing the FYE theme even though the actual song of FYE was not performed in those concerts.) Then we had continuing in Bowie’s footstep–breaking his previous mold by working with Nile Rodgers on a funk album. Then Freddie Mercury’s footsteps with Q+AL! And now here we are in the dance pop world. Even Adam’s opening act on this tour, Alex Newell, fits this theme. Alex Newell is a singer in the vein of Chaka Khan except he’s a gay man who played an MTF trans student on Glee. His website describes his music as “disco-injected dance-pop” and he has worked with good old Nile Rodgers and Whitney Houston’s former songwriter.

Boston's own Alex Newell (sp?) warm up the crowd before @adamlambert #theoriginalhightour

A video posted by Cecilia Tan (@ctan_writer) on

So maybe this is the authentic Adam Lambert: reading it this way, his move into dance-pop feels to me like a queer identity move. Adam may be pursuing his subcultural musical heritage as a “gay American” though I don’t know whether he acknowledges that heritage is fraught with American problems associated with the white/black divide. (I certainly take the mixed racial makeup of his band as a generally positive sign, but caveats re: all white artists co-opting predominantly black American musical modes remain.)

Ultimately the place Adam may project the most authenticity is outside the United States, where I suspect he’s seen as very authentically “American.” I believe the Elvis and James Dean imagery and styling he’s adopted for the videos for “Ghost Town” and “Another Lonely Night” are part of crafting a new All-American image, one that steps away from American Idol and digs more into Adam’s roots as a product of Southern California and Hollywood itself. Adam is an incarnation of the Entertainer, perhaps, just as the Vegas-era Elvis was.

I note he’s playing Foxwoods Casino this Friday night. There are still ~300 unsold tickets for that show. I’m tempted to go…

But no. I’ve already got tickets for Clearwater. It’ll be interesting to see if I change any of my opinions after seeing that show.

Through the writing of this essay I feel I’ve cohered my understanding of the career challenges facing Adam Lambert and largely convinced myself his recent career moves are toward rather than away from issues of queer identity, but I still haven’t answered the question of why his tour isn’t drawing better, or playing larger places. I suppose if that was an easy question to answer, his management team would have already answered it and he’d already be playing larger places. I will count myself lucky to have seen him in a hallowed hall like the House of Blues, pressed close to the stage, which is my favorite way to see any show, so that when eventually he is filling arenas like Taylor Swift I can say “I remember when.” Because I’m an optimist and I believe that day will still come.

[Caveat: I really haven’t had a chance to thoroughly research all of Adam Lambert’s career, and I’m not completely versed in the current state of the music business. So I welcome updates, comments, links to further reading, and corrections. Yes, please give me an excuse to read more about Adam Lambert…]

ctan
Writer, editor, baseball fan, bisexual, eastern healing therapist, etc...

96 Comments

  1. The article ..Long winded and yes more about the writer than music or Adam Lambert.Personally I don’t care for your analysis or whether you read more about Adam Lambert . IMHO ,you simply don’t get him and seem to long to put him in some kind of musical box. As for my opinion on your article, Not being long winded or self important I won’t even try to define Adam’s enormous talent.You do seem to think yourself an expert on all music genres and have trouble defining Adam Lambert.. might I just say the reason I so love him is because he is not definable ,he is a chameleon. Ah a word for you to look up.

    1. I have to apologize for my previous comment.. It was harsh..I tried to delete my response but was unable to do so.. To myself re-read and think before writing.

      On re-reading your article,I think it is focused ,intense and very informative. I think your trying to figure out why Adam ,who is such a great artist, isn’t more popular here in the states. I don’t really know the answer to that. I’m happy that the rest of the world ,for the most part, get him and appreciates his amazing talent.Hopefully,someday the U.S. will catch up. Again I apologize for my above hasty opinions and thank you for caring enough about Adam Lambert to write this in depth analysis.

      1. Thank you for your comments, Melody and no need to apologize for being passionate about Adam! :-) You hit the nail on the head here, I’m trying to figure out why everyone in the US doesn’t love him as much as I do/as much as I think they should. Maybe it’s just going to take time.

        1. I discovered him a week ago, and since then I can’t stop wondering how can it be so.
          He has one of the best vocals I’ve ever heard, he’s amazing live, and I’ll jump my first opportunity to see him live. I know I’m missing out on something great.

          I’d go see him live with Queen. I watched some videos from various concerts ready to bash, but… he is incredible. I admire him fo not doing Freddy Mercury, and probably the only thing I don’t really like about the whole Q+AL is that being in Queen he is singing their songs mostly as they are. I feel that him doing the same songs completely in his own style would be absolute gold.
          But he does great. He’s a vocalist like very few out there, and he can sing those songs giving them his colors and soul. His, not Freddy’s. And I love it.

          I’ve been listening to his songs too, and not many were as striking as most of his covers.
          I listened to them because I craved for more of his voice and ability to express+convey emotions, but he gave such heartfelt powerful deeply touching performances of other artists songs that one has learnt the difference between being a great singer and creating a peace of art. And to do so you also need the right song.
          Because he has the voice, the stage presence, everything. Plus he is a true artist. It seems to me that hitting the note and being interesting are just instruments he uses in the creation of something bigger: art.
          True, he’s not always achieving that, but he had. He will.

          And to top it all, he’s truly entertaining.

          So yeah, big question. Why not only the USA, but also the rest of the world know so little about him?

          (I’m from Europe and should be asleep not question world’s music industry, so forgive typos and painful grammar)
          (Also, I’m with you on hoping/thinking he’ll grow on the public, so I better hurry catch him in some smaller venue before that time)

          1. Thanks, laila! Thanks for dropping by. I think Adam’s popularity will continue to grow. Maybe all it will take is another big breakthrough hit or movie theme song… I just heard his duet with Laleh “Welcome to the Show” the other day while I was at Yankee Stadium, a huge sports stadium in New York City, being played before the game.

  2. Thanks so much for your very interesting and insightful essay.
    I’m a huge fan of Adam’s and wish him the great success that he so deserves. I’ve often wondered how so many seem to miss the enormous and amazing talent that is right in front of them.

    1. So true. One thing that has always irked me about the pop music industry is that talent doesn’t always mean success (and lack of talent sometimes seemingly does…). I do think his star will continue to rise! Hope so!

  3. I really appreciate this well-written and thoughtful review! There are many points where I do agree with you. For me Adam’s lack of commercial success always seemed to be a result of a lot of his songs being to weak and not living up to his glorious voice. For me it’s the first time being a fan of a voice and not necessarily of the songs. So your detailed analysis shed a bit of light on a lot of areas I didn’t think about. Thank you very much!

    1. I felt like on FYE they threw everything at the wall to see what would stick: ballads, alt-rock songs, pop songs, dance numbers, you name it. They had a dozen big name contributors like Lady Gaga and Rivers Cuomo and I can’t even remember who else, and the only common thread really was Adam himself. Yet somehow he made that work just by sheer force of talent and voice. The records never really quite live up to what he’s like live!

  4. lol what an ~essay. but: nile rodgers had nothing to do with Adam’s album Trespassing besides just playing guitar on “Shady”. Also your beloved TJR isn’t part of Adam’s group of backing musicians because he sucks as a guitar player and hates pop music. that’s why he’s sitting at home rn moping around.

    1. Good point re: Rodgers–the press played up his involvement more than warranted, it seems. Re: TJR: When veteran musicians like Stevie Salas praise his guitar playing I find it doubtful that he “sucks.” But as I said I do think the musical direction probably had the most to do with it.

      1. LOL I suspect that “praise” was just a nice gesture to a fellow guitarist, rather like the nice but patronising response Brian May once gave to a Tommy stan who wouldn’t stop nagging him about TJR. Sorry but the reason Tommy was dropped is no mystery and it really should have happened sooner if Adam wasn’t such a sucker for being nice to people. Tommy is not very good. He hasn’t been able to find decent work outside of Adam’s gigs and doesn’t have a good reputation in the industry for good reasons. He does a reasonable job, but he has no real feel for it and doesn’t go beyond fairly basic playing. He also has no stage presence or showmanship at all, beyond looking bored & an occasional hair flip & he lacks drive or ambition. THAT is why he’s no longer hired as a musician with Adam’s tour. Adam is now in a position to hire the very best musicians and the contrast in the skills and passion of the talented Adam Ross to TJR couldn’t be more painfully obvious. Tommy was not a “fan favourite” except amongst his own group of fans and Adam’s fans are not upset that he’s no longer with Adam, they are, by and large, hugely relieved. The majority of Adam’s fans don’t think his absence is “notable” at all. It was in fact long overdue & has now made way for a much better guitarist and a far tighter professional sound from the excellent musicians backing Adam. Reviewers have noted how fantastic his band is now, not something they were ever saying before when TJR was with the band. Sorry, but those are the plain facts.

        1. I agree the band he’s got now really cooks. Very tight. I was blown away by the great arrangements, too–they’re the musical equivalent of the way Adam re-interprets songs vocally and it takes a crack band to pull that off.

        2. Adam’s current bassist and drummer do, indeed, kick ass. I’ve seen them live. I know. The guitarist is good, but no better than Tommy. Your problem with Tommy seems much more personal than musical. That’s just my opinion. And I don’t presume to speak for “True Adam Fans” anywhere. I’ve been there since American Idol.

      2. I don’t like to respond to negative comments, but thank you for doing so. TJR is a fine guitarist, with a wonderful vibrato (not too fast, not too nervous). He does double string bends as well as I’ve heard anyone do them, and he’s quite melodic with his note choices, supporting the song. He actually is rock solid in the pocket rhythmically, as well; check out the funk chords on any of the videos for the Trespassing stuff. People who say he sucks are probably not guitarists and have some other agenda I can’t even begin to fathom. I’ve played lead guitar for over thirty years. We’re all entitled to our opinions, but I know a skilled guitarist when I hear one, and TJR should be classified as one based on those technical skills alone. Whether you like his style or not is up to you, but as a musician and teacher, I will assure anyone he’s more than capable of playing anything Adam throws at him. That he’s not on this tour is disappointing. He knows how to stand in the background. And so what if some fans love to see him? What’s wrong with that? It’s almost like reverse prejudice from some people. Oh, he’s too pretty to be any good. Like ages ago when some people would say, “Hey…you’re good for a girl.” This world.

  5. This is a really thoughtful and insightful essay about Adam’s trajectory. I have followed his career as a fan, but also out of curiosity to see what pop music makes of him. I am pleased to see a mention of TJR, who contributed greatly to the first tours. The physical contrast between he and Adam and their smoldering by play made for great, fun theater. His presence as a foil and male love/lust object was great stage play and a refreshing representation of male sexuality. He is “drop dead gorgeous” and Adam and he made great tableaus together. I won’t go into whether he or his replacement is a better player, because the main point is that his “role” no longer fits. Adam has moved into another era, and personnel have changed. I think the focus is much more that of solo artist, where the first two tours had more of an ensemble feel.

    1. Adam’s always been a solo artist not an ensemble act. THis is part of the problem – people keep trying to make him into an ensemble & want it all to be a “group” rather than just Adam. I don’t understand it. The two dancers are not an ensemble act with Adam, no more than Rihanna’s dancers make her an ensemble or Taylor swifts or Madonna’s. The musicians are not completely in the background but having worked with top tier solo artists before, they know how to support Adam & keep an appropriate balance between being a tight unit and letting the spotlight stay on Adam, where it should be.

  6. whataya want from me was indeed good,noticed by general public. other singles didn’t resonate. The rest so called glamberts are all idol watchers, I dare to say they wouldn’t be crazy about him if they didn’t see him perform but only heard ‘better than I know myself’ once on the radio. My take his early imagine were trying too hard to stand out from his idol peers but there were no comparable in the pop industry, aka a overthetop sexual with bubblegum pop songs. (That was 2009-2011, so, maybe black eye peas but they were a group & not being sexually objectified) The general public were luke warm if not immediately write him off. I appropriate his bravery even a lot of his artistic choices are not my cuppa. TS s songs lyrics resonates with suburban white girls if you were questioning why. Adams songs reasonated with ..(?)(please don’t say middle age women, I think it’s just because they remember the time of boy George/Bowie). Current culture, pop male artists are all about muscular bodies and r&b hiphop styles. Regarding why he is more appreciated overseas in terms of venue size, I think it’s more about his credit as a very good performer, in those countries/cultures where classical singers are appreciated not that they like horny men (notice he is not popular in Brit and gay is never a factor) He made statements and it has cost him his image and commercial success. However, if he went with Bruno’s route, he could’ve been lost along with other male idols. My hope is he no longer need to sing covers, keep moving on and have his own songs/style with mass appeal. Well if he/ his team wanted it, or they think the hard core fans provides source of income and that’s good enough. Just like politicians, does he want to go to the extreme and limit himself from a core group for his believe or if he want to do something that make his potential audience think ‘he is one of us’.
    And, please,public do not know about who is in his live band as long as they sound good.

    1. Exactly, exactly. He clearly wants to have a wide appeal to many groups and types of people and the diversity of the audience showed that he’s at least partly succeeding at that. But to keep the support of a major label record company, he has to keep growing that audience, too. Fortunately WB seems happy with the wide international appeal, too, and aren’t hung up on the US market alone.

      1. My husband and I have had this very discussion many times. He thinks Adam has the best voice of a generation, but the albums have been a disappointment to him because the songs just aren’t worthy of the voice. The only song on TOH in my husband’s faves playlist is There I Said It, which he thinks is the best thing Adam has ever done. I am less critical, but on every album there are songs I have kept on my iTunes playlist and songs that have gone by the wayside. I’ve kept more from every succeeding album- FYE had very few keepers for me- but every album has winners and losers.

        The lack of radio play in this country is the crucial factor in the concert issue. People go to concerts of singers they hear on radio. Shallow, but true. I’ve been trying for years to figure out the reason for the lack of radio play. RCA did an abysmal job picking the singles from Trespassing, but even there, widespread critical acclaim for the album never translated to actual play, and the label gave up on the album without getting to singles which might actually have hit.

        I’m beginning to suspect that his future career path will be unconventional. Maybe not as a pop star. Who knows, the right role might tempt him to Broadway- he’s wisely turned down roles that he didn’t think fit him. But his talent cannot be denied. We’ll just have to wait and see, and be surprised.

        1. Yeah, I wasn’t surprised they didn’t tour him after the lack of radio support for Trespassing, but the thing is now radio has a dwindling effect and YouTube and streaming services are much more of how people discover music. And he seems to be doing so well not only on Spotify but on YouTube and other services. Somehow that hasn’t translated to people going out to see him though.

          I hope he’s going in the right direction, or at the very least a direction that satisfied him and makes him happy as an artist. Do you think the time spent on Glee helped or hurt? I didn’t even get into that in the essay.

          1. What do you think about the Glee episodes? Interesting you should ask that. I’m not sure they broadened his audience any. I don’t think they hurt, but I don’t think they helped.
            As far as going to concerts, it seems there needs to be a solidified cult following, as you suggested, an “us against them” feeling, or a real mainstream buzz. I think Adam is falling down the crack between the two. He’s striving for the latter. My feeling is he may someday embrace the “cult artist” status, the musician’s musician status, that can keep plenty of food on the table and perhaps, even effect social change. It may be wishful thinking (and I suspect it is) but I would love to see him embrace all his sides; his theatricality, his sexuality, just throw it all out there. In my opinion, he’s still trying to break mainstream, and I don’t blame him. At this point, I would be surprised if he ever manages to straddle that Justin Beiber type fame. And if he could only see he’s not missing much except money and more people knowing his name. That doesn’t necessarily mean more people will respect or even realize his talent. I feel like Adam could address a substrata of our cultures, sort of like Bowie, and the other artists you mentioned. I know there is a dark, sexy side of him that he actually tries to reign in. It’s truly a conundrum, isn’t it? Music is sold by sex, and he’s so sexy people are afraid of him. I mean, he hasn’t even been on SNL, for heavens sake! Or The Voice! What’s up with that? I could rant on and on. Forgive me. Maybe he’s so good people in the “industry” are jealous.

        2. Hi, Janet!
          Again, you already know that I agree with you and your husband. To me, there’s almost a frantic feeling of trying to find something that sells, rather than something that resonates. I might hazard a guess. Since he grew up gay, as did I, there may still be a longing to “fit in”. He’s mentioned it a few times. He still feels left out of the cool kids table, like at the Grammy’s, etc. I do not get it. Fellow musicians adore him. Critics are kind. Who is blocking his path?
          I may not “love” all of his music, but as you know, I love him as a performer and he’s the best singer I’ve ever heard. He’s a “gift from God.” Truly. I hope he finds a path that makes him happy.
          And let us not forget that Donald Trump is taken seriously now in this country. That may be all the answer we need right there. Corporate greed and sound bites and fitting into these lowest common denominator definitions and boundaries.
          There are just a lot of ignorant people that don’t get what isn’t shoved down their throats. (I use ignorant in the true sense of the word—they don’t know what they haven’t been exposed to, or, in some cases, force fed.)
          Goodness, I haven’t been on the internet in awhile and I’m apparently making up for it. And not succinctly.

          1. I think you hit on something very key here: “feeling of trying to find something that sells, rather than something that resonates.” To me that’s the music industry in a nutshell. A&R reps and people in the industry as a whole don’t actually know what resonates — maybe no one does because it’s always going to be a moving target as people’s tastes and culture changes — but they have to try something, so they use various levers and pulleys to try to define what “sells.” Ultimately what creates an organic hit usually takes both the coordinated support from the industry side AND the swell of reaction from the audience, or if you’re only going to have one half of the equation the public reaction is the crucial one. Think about how a song like Lorde’s “Royals” obliterated any resistance because people just wanted to hear it so much, that despite people not being able to figure out what genre it was, it exploded. I swear people were making up words to describe it “indietronica” “art pop” “electropop” when what mattered was a fantastic and unique vocal performance, intriguing melody, and unique hook.

  7. Excellent article.

    I’ve been intrigued, smitten, and profoundly annoyed in turns with Adam since Idol. His voice is incredible…like winning the lottery twice. The control, the range, the power…spine-tingling doesn’t begin to describe it.

    Yet his albums don’t really do that voice justice at all and I have never been able to decide if it’s because pop music right now is generally superficial repetitive crap or Adam is just not a very good songwriter or both, no matter how many “hitmakers” are involved.

    Not surprisingly, his performances with Queen have been my favorite by far. That music is iconic for a reason. It has complexity, depth, and heart, even when it’s deliberately a giggle. In those songs, Adam’s voice soars.

    You hit on the word “authentic,” and it’s what has always bugged me about his own music. I know anecdotally that Adam is bright, empathetic, and charming…yet that personality doesn’t seem to translate musically. It feels always like he’s playing the part of a popstar, not living it. Perhaps it is, as you suggest, an identity issue in trying to navigate the path of being the first out pop performer. It can’t have been easy.

    I will be interested to see what happens in the next few years with his career. It’s my hope that the right music will meet up with that miraculous voice and we will all benefit from that.

    I wish him well.

    1. Yes, yes, yes, I agree with everything you say here. I’ve been through every range of emotions in his career so far, I think! And it’s going to remain interesting for quite a while…

    2. Well said. As much as I hate to admit it, his covers (and that includes the Queen ones) are spine tingling. What he can do to a great song…
      I have had a blast at every one of his concerts. The Trespassing shows were especially fun, like one big dance party. Glam Nation was just over the top fun. He really pushed his voice and physicality on those shows, not to mention the theatricality. I had a transcendent experience when I heard “The Light” live in Houston. Whew. I don’t know why. He was so present, and I was so close. Anyway, I liked what you wrote. :)

  8. You make very good points that I as a devoted Glambert have been trying to wrap my head around. Thank you so much! I agree that Adam Lambert is a phenomenal performer that should play to bigger venues. Why that is not the case? I think it’s a combination of factors that you described so insightfully. But I am convinced that the wrong singles were chosen during the Trespassing era, which kind of put his career as a solo artist on hold. (I believe that Trespassing and Shady are phenomenal songs. Too much of a statement? I would have taken the risk and released them as singles especially with big names behind them, but the label pushed for a different image. I really wanted to pull my hear out over this tragedy). Along came the Queen tour, which was phenomenal(!) and put Adam back on the map, and now he is navigating a “side by side project” career but finding ground as a solo artist again. I have high hopes for him as the new label seems to get him. Agreed on the three outstanding songs on the new album. Praying here that The Original High or The Light are the next single. I see them as “authentic” Adam songs. Again, I very much appreciate this very detailed write-up. Lots of very valid points from someone who sees the tremendous talent that Adam Lambert possesses.

    1. I think you’re right about Trespassing. It’s like they got caught between strategies and didn’t manage to make either of them work.

      “The Light” is my favorite song from TOH. I really feel like it features his vocal range and style in a way that some of the other ones don’t. I’d listen to Adam sing the phone book if that’s what he wanted to do, but I think some of the songs really do feature him better than others. He’s a vocal chameleon, he can do anything from vocal fry to Broadway belt so the ones that are my favorites are the ones that give him the most range!

      And I can’t wait to see what he does next! <3

    2. Interesting article and discussion, and so many angles to this debate. To me, Adam is the definition of fluidity, in a time where this country (US) seems to have a strong need to put everyone into boxes. (you are either liberal or conservative; Christian or not; gay or straight; and so on…) and society and media make any attempt possible to wipe out the idea of an ever so slight possibility of any middle.
      I was not even aware of some of the radio classifications you have explained above. Some of this just boggles my mind, and I can see that a natural hippie child like Adam just does not fit this world.
      So, why do all those, who find themselves also disinterested in the boundaries and lines that the current world seems to want to draw up, not gravitate towards an artist like Adam Lambert, when he so splendidly could speak for of them? Well, beyond the core fan base that he has developed during idol, anyone who wants to discover him now, has to do so via the grid of the present media landscape, has to be willing to climb into any one of the available boxes to find him first. As you say, the radio and print media presents him as gay artist, for example, so anyone not reading ‘gay’ news, is not seeing the articles.
      Case in point: When Carrie Underwood gets a role in Sound of Music TV special, it is music news and reported in the arts section of i.e. Huffington Post. When Adam gets a role in a musical TV special, then it is ‘gay’ news, and therefore reported in the gay news section of the same publication. Reader circle automatically reduced. Radio, if they play him at all, try to peg him, as you so splendidly described, and Adam and his music remains elusive to their categorization attempts.
      Add to that the general media hate parade that has been poured out wrongfully or rightfully over American Idol over the last 7 years, and many people just never cross the chasm that seems to divide the reality of Adam as an artist, and the perception the public has of him.
      In my mind, Adam will only climb across these boundaries, if he starts talking about it in his lyrics. And hopefully he finds the right songwriting support at that time, to make it a current and popular song. Adam will need to shake things up one more time, this time, not for being gay, but for not fitting the social and musical categories of our minds, and he needs to find the song to say it with.

      TOH, which he is probably going to introduce shortly on American Idol, is not that song. In fact, if he does not get a short moment with Ryan to introduce what the song is about, people will think he sings about drugs, and peg him wrongly again. He is singing about any powerful experience that you long to recreate in life, be it a first love, a first time on stage, a first time hearing and seeing something new.
      I am waiting for a song or album from him along the lines of tearing down mental boundaries. He needs to address it, because it is holding him back. The diverse audience you encountered is proof of the possibilities that lie ahead for him, should he be able to tap them.

      As far as your upcoming concert in Florida is concerned, I can only hope, you find a way to leave all the analyzing behind, that you can float with the rhythm and those stunning vocals, and displays and enjoy the concert, unobstructed. It is the best way to take in the show.

      1. Thank you for this thoughtful comment! You are so right about the rigid boxes. This is something that has plagued the music biz here for a long time, whereas in some other countries it really seems more about the music than the category — much in the same way I feel it should be about the person and not the label society puts on them. Adam is a great example of fluidity in more than one way and I only hope that American society catches up with/keeps up with him!

        1. This is also true about other art forms, especially fiction. Which you know all about. These categories. How do you market something that doesn’t fit? You try to find a new way.
          You’ve done an excellent job of that.

          1. I have no doubt that this is a large reason why I’m so intensely interested in analyzing Adam’s career and the ways in which he’s succeeded yet not quite reached the strata that some have (a la the Justin Biebers of the world). His career and mine are parallel in some ways–queer artists striving for self-expression in our arts and chasing the mainstream recognition and money on one hand (me with het contemporary romance, Adam with dance pop, perhaps?) yet trying to stay true to what drew us to express ourselves in the first place.

  9. Really interesting essay and discussion. Just FYI, maybe the reason the tour seems so tight on the second show is that it was actually the 19th show. The tour opened in Asia and Australia/New Zealand in January, giving them plenty of time to work out the bugs.

    You mention that Adam’s ability to sing in almost any style is one of his best attributes. I agree, and it’s for this reason that There I Said It is my favorite song from TOH and certainly in my top 3 Adam songs of all time. In it he goes from his oh-so-warm lower register through the lightest of falsettos to a full-throated head voice/belt. I know of no other singer in popular music today who can pull off that kind of stylistic chameleonism. It’s what, to me, makes him the beet out there, particularly live.

    1. You’re right, Shannon, although some of the set pieces were apparently different — which makes sense because they probably did make those changes to make everything more seamless. The performance is excellent in every aspect.

      And yes on his voice. There’s no one quite like it out there right now. Axl Rose has lost some of his range as he’s aged and he’s really confined to one style of singing, whereas Adam can sound like almost anyone…including Adam Lambert. :-) Can’t wait to see him again in a couple of weeks!

  10. Great post, Cecilia. I’ve followed Adam since Idol (and it wasnt difficult to search his sexuality while he was on the show. I suspected, and had no trouble finding the Burning Man pics and such) To say I was delighted would be an understatement. I saw the FYE tour, and really enjoyed it–also at a HOB, btw. When he toured with Queen, I bought front row VIP tix and drove to Va to see the show. Amazing. Of course I bought the new album, but Im not really drawn to it, so I dont know if I’ll see the tour. (Manson is touring this summer and Ill hit 7-8 shows, again. Green Day is in the studio, and if they drop an album and tour by fall…well…that is a lot of travel since I’ll see them as many times as possible, too). I cant help but wonder if Adam is not reaching his potential because he is being told what to do, and isnt being given enough creative license. His voice is probably the best out there, and he’s gorgeous–and he is an amazing showman. I cant help but think he is being held back by the record execs. I really look forward to watching what he does! <3

    1. I keep hoping that what will happen is the album will start to pick up steam and he’ll have to followup with a bigger tour… but that is unlikely to happen if this one doesn’t sell out, which it seems like it won’t. But stranger things have happened. It’s a really great show even though I’m lukewarm on this album overall.

      I think he’s still growing as an artist and maybe still hasn’t really found his niche? I don’t know. I’ll be following whatever he does in the future.

      1. I honestly don’t think Adam is interested in finding a “niche”. Besides his ability to sing in any genre (well okay, not rap) he has stated many times that he has no desire to be boxed in in any way. Add that to a self-admitted proclivity to boredom with routine and you will find that Adam will not repeat himself, even to the point of never singing a particular song the same way twice. It may hurt his career a little in the short term, but over time I think it will stand him in good stead. Reinvention is key to longevity.

        1. And “constant reinvention” certainly worked for David Bowie, and I guess to some extent Madonna as well, now that I think about it. It’s one of the things that keeps me fascinated with Adam and will continue to, I have a feeling.

  11. I have read a lot of “stuff” in the last 7 years of following Adam , whom I adore. But may I say your article and subsquent comments are some of tthe most informative and well written I have ever read. Thank you all.

  12. Loved this! Adam is my favorite puzzle. He walks edges. He is defiance and charm, authentic and artifice, mainstream and niche, inspires in depth analysis while pushing visceral buttons. I agree about the diversity of Adams audiences- what links us besides Adam? And yet i think it’s a testament to his power as an artist. It doesn’t matter who you are or what demographic box you most match- when you GET him, you just get him. Like you, I wonder when he will find the optimal vehicle for that gift, but I’ll go along for the ride as he tries out evolving visions. Thanks for the thoughtful and articulate essay and discussion follow up. I have never been able to make that Glambert connection and find folks to obsess with, though I’ve seen him 20 times. I have converted a couple folks, though!

    1. I’ve always assumed I just never found where the Glamberts on the Internet hang out. Every other fandom I’ve been part of from books to movies to sports I eventually stumbled on the place where the most people gathered and had the most discussions and made the most connections. Adam’s official fan club site didn’t seem like that spot, and I guess they just revamped the site, changed some things, etc, and maybe with so many different social media choices people can make I just haven’t been circulating in the right currents. (I also haven’t had much time the past couple of years to surf the Internet, and if I tried harder I would probably find more folks.)

      1. Glamberts used to hang out on LJ a lot during the Idol and FYE period. Activity there has reduced, and now there’s quite a few boards where people hang out. Which board you’re on depends on whether you’re an ‘original glambert’ or one that loves Q + AL etc…

        Seeing him more than once is well worth it. I went to all 5 Australian concerts and would have gone to more if they existed. Each concert got better and better – the first two were in seated venues in Melbourne which is a city that is often too cool for school (I can say that, I grew up in Melbourne) and although we all clearly loved him, it just wasn’t as intense as the later shows. The other concerts were in standing room venues and they just got wilder each night and Adam got more relaxed and more cheeky.

        I love his voice and honestly don’t care what he sings. You are completely right that seeing him in person surpasses hearing him on an album or even a recording of a live show. Goodness knows why not many people in the US go to see him but it’s their loss! I’m glad that he can make a living out of Europe, Asia and Australasia who all adore him!

        Great essay :)

  13. THis is such a conflicted article that makes some interesting points & provokes great debates. It’s a shame it went off the rails and gushed about a mediocre guitarist who has had nothing at all to do with Adam’s success – in fact has probably hindered it to a large extent & made a lot of erroneous & unfounded assumptions about Adam’s fan base. Otherwise it could have been something really worth sharing. BTW, I’m pretty sure Adam’s work with Nile on Shady was a spur of the moment decision that Pharrel instigated by texting or tweeting Nile after Adam mentioned it would be great to get someone like him on the track. It was not some clever strategy devised by his lame record label.

    1. I just call it like I see it and what I’ve seen over the past few years of following Adam’s career is 1) a whole lotta squee over TJR, and then 2) whole lotta disappointment that he’s definitively gone. Perhaps the TJR fans were a minority, but if so they were a vocal and visible minority. What the audience at this show proved, though, is that there isn’t any single group of dominant fans–people follow Adam from many walks of life and for many reasons, so all fragments of the audience.

      I hear you about the only reason TJR was still in the band after all that time was Adam is too nice to people, though. I do think ultimately the change of record company and also the change of management company were good decisions. The debacle with Trespassing really has to be laid at RCA’s feet. What I really should have said more definitively in the essay above is how schizoid Trespassing feels to me. It’s like Pharrel & Adam made an R&B record, and then they pasted on two ultra-white pop songs that don’t fit the rest of the album at all trying to grab/appease someone. Whether that was RCA trying to please radio (and failing) or RCA’s A&R trying to please higher ups in the company, or what priorities were competing there, I don’t know. But what they ended up with didn’t fly with radio and didn’t fly with general consumers beyond the loyal fanbase either. It was definitely time for a change.

  14. I have often wondered why Adam’s sexuality is so appealing. Why are so many of us attracted to him. Is he (for lack of a better example) a sort of Christian Gray for many of us-he will hurt us but he will not hurt us? Or, are we attracted to his confidence in his sexuality? I do miss TJR but mostly because I miss that sense of a group of good friends. Terrance and Holly bring some of that back.

    1. Why is his sexuality so appealing? Because he’s freakishly good looking, devastatingly charming, intelligent and hysterically funny. Christian Gray on the other hand, is a boorish, crass & obnoxiously arrogant character from a petty, shallow, badly written piece of trash pop fiction so no, he isn’t anything like Christian Gray.

      1. Sammie J, I think it’s a bit more complex. Having never read the book or seen the Gray movie, I don’t know anything about Christian Gray (which is why I wrote “for lack of a better example.”) I do know that while on the stage, Adam’s sexuality is quite strong–strong enough to attract many, many people. There are other men (gay and straight) who possess the attributes you’ve listed. I don’t want to spend the night with them…

    2. I think Adam exudes a very vibrant sexuality that is attractive to many regardless of gender or orientation. I feel like Madonna is the only other artist who really compares to him in that particular way.

  15. I hope you don’t mind if I cite this in my undergraduate dissertation I am writing this year about Adam Lambert’s early career. I was flabbergasted in the best possible way when I read what you write, because it makes the most sense!!!!

    Am I so excited to delve into more of your blog!

    From one VERY happy Glambert
    LucyXX

    1. Please feel free to cite me, Lucy! If the piece had been shorter or I’d finished it in a more timely fashion I might have tried to publish it somewhere other than just by blog. But here it is. :-)

  16. I’m a bit bemused as to why you think this was only their “the second concert” so they must have “rehearsed like mad” when in reality they have already performed this concert many times in Asia, Australia & New Zealand. The USA is just another leg of the tour before they head for Europe. It’s embarrassingly ethnocentric and insulting to call the entire Australasian leg of the TOH tour “a warm-up tour” as if that part of the world is irrelevant & not valid in it’s own right & he only toured there as a sort of extended preparation for the “real” concerts in good old US of A. Also, it’s worth pointing out that Tommy was the only GNT musician who was kept on for Adam’s entire WAG tour because Tommy was the only band member who didn’t have his own band or projects to work on. Many of Adam’s previous band members had to leave mid-tours because their own band needed them or they had other previously scheduled projects so Adam would find replacements. He’s had many different musicians over the years including working with completely different, LOCAL musicians in Asia and England but this tour is the first time he’s worked with such a quality, professional outfit. These guys can switch from EDM tunes to blues, to acoustic, to funk to reggae to full rock etc in the blink of an eye and sound so damn tight like they’ve been playing together with Adam for years. This is probably why FYE is now part of the set list options – previous attempts to perform FYE have generally led to disasters on the part of his musicians. I can recall a few attempts where it sounded like each musician had stubbornly picked their own key & decided to play randomly generated notes while Adam tried in vain to sing the actual real melody. It was only towards the very end of the WAG tour that they produced some nicer Muse-inspired arrangements of FYE that appeared to finally overcome the bands inability to tackle the songs unusual melodic structure. His current band, however, seem to have it nailed from the start – a testament to their talents & cohesion and to the Musical Directors mad skills.

    1. Yes, this group has mad skills. And good point about TJR being available while others had other groups/gigs. (Although I’ve seen his name pop up in connection with some other acts from time to time, also.) As for Australia being a warmup, no, I didn’t say that — part of the point is that he plays to bigger audiences and is overall a much higher profile artist in Australia and Asia than here. From what I saw of the set lists that have been going around, though, the song selection and order was different, making it what I felt was a different show. The transitions from song to song were so smooth it felt like a Broadway show that’s been played every night for years, not a show that had a dozen dates in Asia & Australia last month.

      That’s fascinating about FYE! Wow. This group, I have a strong feeling, can tackle anything Adam or the musical director can come up with. And I’m betting when I see them again two weeks from now they’re going to be even better again.

  17. I went to one gnt because of the hype after idol and I saw a pretty diverse demo teens to old. So I wanted check out who are the crowd now at one of the casino show, a lot of older people and people seeing him first time like Queen’s demographic plus some folks who actually listen to pop songs. It’s like have a good pop concert only moms show up. The show was very tight and very good but I felt so bad for him. He needs radio play and a lot of exposure to break through the stigma. There brings the point that when he is in other countries societal rule/ stigma rule do not apply because he would be considered a foreign artist . So they simply just appreciate him as a good live gig singer when they cannot afford higher profile pop American or Uk artist. The same applies there is no femme gay man mainstream American singer because I suspect management culture music sponsors would doubt the marketability of a femme man. The rule do not apply when its foreign artist say some gay men that’s already established in the uk. I am not sure if he could address it in a song in the future or will he be able to even release any songs. During concert he said ‘no matter what age, sexual orientation and race ,we can all party together and I’m gonna fight for it’ ..tears in my eyes

    1. I agree. Someone like Sam Smith had to establish himself in the UK and I think would have had trouble if he’d started here in the US.

  18. However, one more thing, keep the lyrics clean and curse less in public .. I don’t want go ‘yo check out this guy . He’s hot. ‘ then first thing out of his mouth, “fk shxt axx” if you want to be inclusive why provoke people

    1. Oh! You bring up a point I’ve been wrestling with myself regarding Adam’s use of profanity and cursing. It bothers me but I haven’t been able to figure out why it bothers me when Adam does it but it doesn’t bother me at all when Trent Reznor (for example) does it.

      Adam has several songs where he uses “fuck” or “bitch” — sometimes on the recordings, which mean they have the explicit label on iTunes, like on Another Lonely Night, which should come across as a sweet pop song, the line “I don’t give a fuck if the sun comes up” means it gets marked as “Explicit” just like the roughest rawest gangsta rap song which it most certain is not — and sometimes live, like he punctuates a line in “Trespassing” in the concert with “bitch.” I have to assume that the “Explicit” label hurts download sales, some parents won’t buy it for their teens, that sort of thing. meanwhile retailers like Wal-mart have blocked explicit lyrics for 20 years already and artists have to put out a special “clean” version to sell in those stores.

      I don’t know why it bothers me when Adam uses profanity in lyrics and it doesn’t bother me at all when other artists do. Maybe part of it is the whole “role model” thing, where if someone is going to be the standard bearer, THE best known out gay artist, the standards of behavior are different? But that’s not a title Adam wanted,it’s one that society put onto him, so maybe half the reason he does it is to push back against that. Also I think maybe he pushes back against the image that some people tried to put on him during and after Idol of him being a sweet innocent kid. But somehow it feels like when he shouts “bitch” during a concert it’s like a teenager shouting it to prove they’re grown up when they really aren’t. Adam’s new image is so suave and mature it’s almost like the profanity is backwards, less mature not more.

      Or maybe I finally am old enough (or feel maternal enough about Adam??) to feel like it’s inappropriate language at times. I don’t know. I really don’t give a fuck if Rihanna or lady Gaga or Green Day or whoever else uses the word “fuck” but somehow whenever Adam does it, it grates on me! I guess I’m glad to know I’m not the only one!

      1. ha ha Funny. I think it’s just the way he talks. I don’t like the use of “Grown ass man”, either. I find that musically clumsy. There is just some nameless disconnect that we’re all grappling with. I genuinely think there is a raunchy, extremely sexually adventurous man under there that mass culture is still uncomfortable with. I mean, come on. Sam Smith couldn’t threaten a Muppet. Adam has made that point before; people like their “gays” funny and sweet and unthreatening. And then, add to that his funny, sweet and unthreatening side…and argh. IF he wants to appeal to a mainstream audience, and if he is toning down his dancing (which he is), he can certainly tone down his expletives to help sales. Maybe he think the warning label adds street cred? Who knows. It’s great we all get so wrapped up in this, with our sincere love and passionate opinions.

        1. Yeah, “grown ass man” bugs me too just because it sounds silly to me, but that one I figure is literally I’ve aged out of the slang and so it probably sounds fine to others? And I also figured Max Martin & Shellback probably don’t know how it sounds to USians…

          I don’t think I want Adam to be sweet, safe, and cuddly — I’m about as far from that aesthetic as you can get and loved the FYE video — but somehow the language jars me. And it bugs me that I can’t quite figure out why…!

          And yeah, I had no idea this blog post would end up being the most viewed and the most commented in the history of my blog! But I’m very glad people have come here to talk about Adam and it’s not just me who thinks very deeply about this stuff.

  19. Appreciate this blog and the informed, thoughtful comments very much – and, might say, love reading about this fascinating man and his musical journey, as well.

    Agree with the comments on Trespassing and the release of the two least interesting songs on the album. My go-to track is “Pop that Lock” – A’s voice coming in at the top at 2:27 is utterly thrilling – nothing like it anywhere. And “Kickin’ In” with Pharrell is up there, too. Imo, A’s work with Pharrell and Nile is superior to “Get Lucky” with Daft Punk – and, from what I’ve read, Pharrell showed DP his work with A. Billboard wrote that, “in a fairer pop universe,” these songs would have been hits.

    The question is why weren’t they. Believe the length of time between FYE and TR definitely played a role – audiences/fans move on quickly and, in this case, they did except for the hard core ones. Then, as mentioned, the inferior initial tracks that sparked no real interest in “his” new music. Then, too, no radio play for years and, in the larger universe, he simply became remembered as a second-place Idol. And it’s been a struggle since to become known as the brilliant performer he is (thanks in large part to Queen) – that offered him immense validation.

    About the cursing – understand the hesitations – his face is so beautiful and his nature so basically sweet that a disjunction emerges and it just doesn’t feel quite right. (Don’t find it as jarring in ALN as it rhymes and, therefore, doesn’t feel as gratuitous.)

    His summer tour with DL didn’t work out (info re JayZ’s having something to do with the replacement) – and can’t come to a conclusion as to whether that would have done the trick radio-wise. (Annoyed, since she had nothing to do with AI, that DL is performing, taking up time that could be better filled by an Idol.)

    As with others, I tend to listen to his live performances more than the album tracks. It’s a tribute to his enormous talent that that is true of so few other singers. Perhaps why, once bitten at a live concert, one only wants more.

    1. One thing I didn’t write about: where did Glee fit in all this? Do you think the Glee exposure was a step forward or a step backward (or sideways?) careerwise for Adam? The Queen tours have been phenomenal and phenomenally successful commercially, among the top grossing tours in the industry, critically acclaimed, I thought that would have helped, too. But maybe it’s just the nature of the biz that two steps forward doesn’t ensure there won’t be two steps back…

  20. I believe you know how I feel about this. Sorry we haven’t talked much. Bowie’s death hit me way harder than I ever expected. I had thought about Adam’s love of “pop/dance” music as a concerted move trying to “make it” in today’s marketplace, but you reminded me what still gets played in most gay bars. Poppy dance music. That probably is an authentic choice of music styles for him. It’s not the music that moves me. So why do I adore him? Why do I go see him? Why did I fly to England to see him with Queen? His astounding voice, his authenticity as a person, his command of the stage. He should be everywhere. I will see him every chance I can, because I have never heard anyone with such vocal mastery. He is a consummate entertainer, with an unsurpassed vocal instrument. But I want him to be a rocker, damn it! But maybe he just isn’t. I want him to be an off the wall, deep artist/songwriter. But maybe he just isn’t. And that’s quite ok. He should be selling out arenas. I don’t know why they don’t record him live, record these arrangements, with “real” instruments. I don’t like over processed “pop” and only buy his because of his voice. (As an aside, in my opinion, he needs band members to interact with because he comes from the theatre. Look how he was with Brian May.) I’m still not up to par with my thought processing, so please pardon this inane rambling. But I wanted to comment on your great essay and I’m so glad you got to see him in Boston. He’s not coming anywhere near here this time around, and I’m still frankly shocked. I could sure use a jolt of joy about now. What I get from Adam is unique. I listen to YouTube stuff far more than his albums, because…dare I reiterate? That fucking voice! The live performance transforms the albums into a reality. There are a few of his songs that really move me. “Chokehold” “Broken English” “Running” “Broken Open” “The Light”. I get what you’re saying and won’t try to restate it here. There’s some disconnect and I wish to god we could fix it so he could get the success he deserves. His pop albums are better than most. We’ve all been wondering a long time what it’s going to take to get him up there where he belongs.

    1. Oh, and it seems they NEVER pick the stronger songs as the lead off single. What’s up with dat? It seems quite logical to have started off with “The Original High”, while the album was young. The resounding “No!” to Ghost Town just reaffirms my feelings about that song. It was cool a few times because it had been so long since I’d heard him. But for me, it’s a novelty song at best. He squandered all those TV appearances with that song that didn’t show off his singing or even his dancing. He appeared stiff and uncomfortable to me. And that annoying whistle, going on too long before he even opened his mouth! Even halving that musical phrase would’ve helped. I’m glad it’s been streamed millions of times for his sake, but I always skip it.

      1. Oh interesting — I really really like Ghost Town because it doesn’t sound like anything else on the radio at all. It’s so different. And it went to number one in Australia, didn’t it? And hit some other charts (peaked at #64 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US, Whataya Want from Me had reached #10, Better Than I Know Myself reached only #76), and got quite a lot of critical acclaim upon release, too. If US radio didn’t pick it up is just proof that US radio is useless now — it’s almost all owned by ClearChannel or one of their two competitors, and they don’t really care one way or the other. Ghost Town is the single that has had the best impact for Adam since ‘Whataya Want from Me.’ But I wouldn’t have picked Another Lonely Night (and what is up with the cow moo?? — I hate the moo so much THAT is the song I skip when I play the album myself, not kidding). My only theory on why they haven’t done The Original High as a single is they’re afraid people will backlash against what they think is a song about drugs…?

    2. Sending you hugs and love. I’m still feeling the Bowie feels, it hits me about every other day now, but listening to the Jherek Bischoff/Amanda Palmer/Anna Calvi string quarter tribute album has lifted the pain a lot for me. The songs live on and that comforts me somewhat.

      I was talking with some people at the show while waiting to get in (they didn’t open the doors when announced…) and all of them were surprised he wasn’t playing a bigger place, too. Most of them were under the impression that he’s actually the most successful Idol alum after Kelly Clarkson. A couple of people in the group named a few others (Carrie Underwood, Clay Aiken) but no one could name most of the winners.

      I want him to be a rocker, too, as you know, but I’ll take him in whatever package I can get. It’s just been such a steady drift from the rock band he was in pre-Idol, to his immediate post-Idol days when Monte and that band did some appearances with him where they covered Led Zeppelin and even Metallica, to now. I kind of hope we’ll continue to see him drift into deep electronica and industrial but I doubt he’ll go that far. Then again EDM and such keeps getting bigger so who knows. Adam might do Bollywood next for all I can predict!

      1. Thanks. I love the string quartet tribute. John Cameron Mitchell slayed “Heroes” and “Helden”.
        I think the most healing tribute for me was the one on the Brits, with his last touring band and Lorde, and his beautiful “faces” up on the screens while the band played. When Gail sang that one word, “Pressure”…I just lost it.
        And off topic, the dreaded “moo”…don’t get it. And don’t get the sixteen bars (if I remember correctly) of whistling before Adam sings a note in “Ghost Town”. I always found myself waiting for the big note in the middle. Probably just me, but he looked a bit stiff on James Corden, The Talk, Good Morning America, The Tonight Show, and some of the Brit shows I watched on YouTube singing that song. Again, my problem with it is it’s so far beneath his vocal range and talent. Glad you like it, though! I also like “Heavy Fire”. All of his performances include his subtle breathiness, his occasional belt, his rounded tones, his head voice in one form or another. Nothing to fault about his performances in the songs. Again, this is all my opinion. I think it is a cohesive album overall, whereas Trespassing, like you pointed out, is more disjointed. Of the three, though, I enjoy more individual songs off Trespassing. “Kickin’ In” “Pop that Lock”, “Chokehold”, “Broken English”. I don’t know, they just have more interesting chord structures. And it’s funny, Pharrell and Adam. Adam did that falsetto on “Kickin’ In” a year before Pharrell and Robin Thicke did it on “Blurred Lines.” A pop song that I, ashamedly almost, liked. Anyway. Glad you got some blog traffic. A lot of us think about this stuff quite seriously. Congrats on an excellent post.
        It’ll be interesting to see what Adam does next. I just hope he’s happy and follows his muse and his heart.

        1. I just hope he’s happy and follows his muse and his heart.

          I know, right? Ultimately I think if *he’s* happy, I’ll be happy, but I get the sense that there is so much he wants to achieve. He’s at the level of fame where he can’t walk into Whole Foods to buy his own yogurt, but he’s not at the level of commercial success where he never has to buy his own groceries again, you know? Right now he has the drawbacks of the intense fame without quite the commercial/monetary power that goes with it.

          I love “Broken English.” It’s a subtle song, took a while for me to work out all the twists in it musically/productionwise. I half-wonder if one of these brilliant songs isn’t going to later get a breakout hit being covered by someone else…

  21. Im so glad that I can post here. Thank you! I have no clue about gay scene and my guess is Adam lived in his world of gay clubs and he has been looking for acceptance by using slangs and language used there. (I got multiple WTF moments ..like dude just relax u don’t need to prove u r cool or edgy,whatsoever. I was really offended when he used the cxxt word.. Is this a subculture word? i had to look it up.. ) Good for him but I’m not sure how connecting it is out side of the fan bubble. I recall there was a woman raised the question about misogyny in gay culture.. The problem is if a ‘basic’ person, like me, had to look up urban dictionary why gay man use any words, u lost me there. As a minority myself, I’m aware to behave/say certain thing and I don’t assume people understand my culture or background. He actually made a good point during that Singapore petition thing ‘depend on your background or culture, some things are accepted … ‘

  22. “pursuing his subcultural musical heritage as a “gay American”…This statement bothers me, and i’m not exactly sure why. Adam isn’t pursuing anything of the sort. He is in fact gay and american and has been since conception. Adam sings and writes what he likes. Who are we to nitpick. His fans would love him if all he did was sing trespassing and fye songs. I just wish he had the opportunity to write more. He has a monster hit inside him just waiting to erupt. And i agree about the venues…we have 2 large venues here in my town yet adam is playing in a small 2000 seat auditorium. With more promotion he could have filled the larger one, but there was hardly any press. Maybe he likes the more intimate crowds. He does seem to like to visit a bit with the audience. But,…kinda sorta liked the article. Some good points man, but way too long. Just enjoy Adam. We don’t need a specific reason to love him, we just do.

    1. Actually the phrase “gay American” kind of drives me crazy (in a bad way) because it makes it sound like we have to justify our existence somehow, and yet when Obama first uttered the words “gay American” in a DNC speech years ago I burst into happy tears because finally we were getting recognized as a legitimate part of a political platform instead of receiving outright derision (actual anti-gay statements or agenda) or complete erasure (don’t ask, don’t tell). But having mentioned the Obama speech earlier in the essay I decided to echo the phrase again in the conclusion. You’re right though, it’s not necessary to have a justification or reason to love Adam. I just want to know why more people don’t!

  23. Late to the party…
    Great analysis and discussion, several of my Adam friends too! *waves hi*

    I wanted to weigh in on the salability vs. resonates topic. It reminds me of how cuckoo so many of us were about Cuckoo on Trespassing. Anecdotally it resonated very well with a lot of people, especially kids and teens, but was never considered as a single. Personally I think it would have done extremely well on radio since it’s so fun and danceable. But it would also have been considered a novelty song, which, ironically, is why I’m glad it did NOT become a single.

    Another case in point is There I Said It from TOH. It resonates so well with its lyrics, but more so when performed live with his glorious voice and stage presence. But it’s too dark and angsty for radio. WWFM was plaintive and not dark at all. Plus P!nk’s serious writing skillz.

  24. I think this is also precisely why TISI was not included in the official TOH Tour. Beautiful song but just to dark and angsty for the trajectory of the TOH songs on the set lists.

  25. Just a correction to Nile’s involvement in Shady. Cowriter Sam Sparro and Adam thought it needed a funkier edge. Sam texted Nile, which led to a Twitter exchange and his participation. No Pharrell involvement on Shady.

  26. Okay. I just stop by and realize how rude I sounded in my previous comments. I apologize about that. If possible, please take out my name on Feb 26 11:52. I love Glee, he was great there but it was a few cameos and again singing covers.

  27. I don’t usually comment…but, as a fan, I need to unload how I feel more than anything. I am intelligent but will choose to keep it basic. My opinion is not researched; solely based on my observations and feelings.
    I believe the reason Adam is not drawing larger crowds to performances and some record sales are slumping soon after being released has more to do with a few issues. For example, artists like Madonna, Rod Stewart, and David Bowie (Ziggy Stardust) evolved and morphed in their art over many years. If people did not like Madonna’s 80’s pop and updated layered Stevie Nicks style, then maybe they would appreciate her more sexually raw and lingerie style, and so on. Usually, an artist’s work has to have some amount of consistency over a period of time to attract a following.
    When I say Bob Marley? Responses will be predictable–but that is what he is loved and remembered for. Adam possesses a mind-blowing talent; although he may be capable of many different things, I believe his fan base is confused. I realize for an artist, having to stay within some boundary is probably difficult but the bottom line is tickets and records keep them doing what they love. I think that is one reason why I say Adam Lambert? And again, responses will be predictable–Gay. American Idol. People need time to connect with his art form and not just his sexual orientation.
    Madonna tried to spin off and do some movies and it was not that well received. They know her for music and how she is able to reinvent herself. My humble opinion, is Adam’s fans don’t really know what they can count on from him, so they are invested in his career. Perhaps, a year from now, he will never record again and only do Broadway shows. That would be very disappointing to fans that are trying to become invested in his recordings.
    This last part will probably draw the most criticism but It’s my opinion, so I will own it.
    Tommy Joe Ratliff is not really known as TJR as much as he is known as Glitterbaby or Pretty Kitty. To Adam’s fans, they lovingly refer to Adam and Tommy Joe as ‘Adommy’ most of the time. This is where authenticity comes in to play. I know what is said; Tommy is straight. Adam is gay. They were never in a relationship and it was all showmanship for the fans.
    There is only one problem with that. I can only speak for myself, but I bet many of the empty seats in the venues this time around were Adommy fans. This does not take anything away from Adam’s talent. In fact, I believe it endears fans to him. It doesn’t matter if you are green, purple, LGBTQ, straight, rich, poor, young or old–everyone wants love to win. In one way, an important point has been missed. Adam is a strong advocate for being able to be who you are and to love who you love.
    I am fairly certain, not everyone that became a die-hard Adommy fan was LGBTQ. They saw something and felt passionate about them being together. So much so, that there is a huge following that is disgruntled; what they came to trust and know about coming to Adam’s performances, is that they would not only hear Adam perform but that Adommy would be there. Isn’t that part of the acceptance that Adam advocates for? People loved them and were rooting for them to fall in love. How wonderful! And when it disappeared, Adam told fans to ‘not to live in the past’. Just like that. This brings up another issue. My experience has been that I have known several gay and lesbian couples that have been together for years and years. The general concensus I have heard over the years from heterosexuals is that they believe “gay people” are promiscuous and really are not interested in long term anything. My assumption is that even if fans were on the fence about that, they aren’t anymore; they have returned again to whatever they believed before.
    For myself, I don’t think you could pay me enough money to believe it was just an act for the fans. Why would Adam have only limited it to Tommy Joe? Why would they have had to do a nude photo shoot together that is absolutely exquisite? Many things can be counterfeit but not the look of love in someone’s eyes.
    There is also one video–it is very subtle and easy to miss but as someone pointed out, when Adam holds Tommy Joe’s face in his hand, you can see that Tommy says ‘I love you’ just before they kiss. I will not name the video because it needs to stay right where it is.
    No matter what was said, people are observant and they saw something between them. They were rooting for love to win and yet apparently none of us saw what we thought we saw or wanted to desperately believe in authentic love for both of them.

    1. Julie, thank you for commenting, especially since you don’t usually! You’ve definitely brought up some deep food for thought about Adam and Tommy, and Tommy’s role in Adam’s image and success.

    2. Julie, I agree with so many of your points, very well said, but there is something I decided to share with you as someone who can look back today to my teenage fantasy and see it more realistically. 25 years ago I used to be a huge fan (and I am still just not in that way) of this wonderful couple where the blond girl was holding the mic and her dark-haired partner the guitar and they had (in fact still have) all this sometimes heartbreaking sometimes supersexy songs. I am sure that each on their own couldn’t have achieved global success. So one day (in 2016) I got lost on Youtube and ran into this Adommy couple that brought back a lot of feelings from the time when I was around 12. I had a lot of fun with all the material so readily available, but I found myself looking at them with a bit of a critical eye, wondering: Can they sell this to me? Can I get lost and believe in the fantasy created on stage? I agree with you completely, the story created, the love goes beyond sexuality and all that was just so wonderful, a couple with so much contrast in looks, attitude and of course the twist of straight versus gay, I mean it was one by the books. But it was all well played fiction, very hot, really good chemistry between the co-stars, but still just stage-play. The final proof for me was-and I know that Adommy fans would be shocked-the Amsterdam make-out session. Very hot, very visually appealing, but it obviously shows how much the action was still kept in check at all times. The only moment that got me thinking was Tommy’s birthday, when Adam sang Metallica. Only there did I ask: And who are you kissing now, Adam, your co-star or your buddy for his birthday? And yes, this is the reason so many fans felt that there was something really going on between them, because the line between reality and show was blurred with so much (maybe instinctive) talent. The band intros became a moment to deepen the fantasy instead of signaling that Adam was playing the dominant sex god while Tommy his submissive pretty kitty. In the end it was Tommy’s story that touched me. (I wrote a comment below.) I have never been a huge fan of Adam Lambert, I think he is a great singer, has some great songs, but find him a little cold. (I mean who kisses someone like that on national TV just for kicks?) One more thing, without checking I am positive that there could never have been a nude photo shoot.

  28. Julie I completely agree with you on your points about Adam and Tommy. And I believe this is the problem with Adam’s current concerts. I attended one of the TOH concerts and although Adam’s voice was as wonderful as always, there was something missing. The thing missing is the fact that Adam doesn’t give a feeling that he is really enjoying this as much as he did the Glam Nation Tour. Yes he’s smiling and joking and dancing, but he doesn’t seem as “into it” as in the past. The band is good but there was no feeling there. They could have been playing with anybody and shown just as much enthusiasm. They have no heart. The band Gave me a very cold vibe. I was not impressed at all with the dancers. They appeared very amateurish to me. I Am a huge Adam fan so I will continue to follow him and attend concerts when I can and always follow his appearances on you tube. I also believe the reason Tommy is not in the band anymore has nothing to do with what the other posters have mentioned. I think there is a more personal reason that Adam and Tommy are dealing with that would probably surprise most of his fans. I think they are just as close as ever and are in it for the long haul. Just my beliefs and I stick by them. I know most won’t agree but then I don’t agree with most of you.

  29. Tommy JR is a good guitar player. The band Adam has hired now, isn’t any better than the old band was. I think Adam owned an explanation to his fans when he changed his whole band, but he never gave one, and that made me not like him or his behaviour. He treated people who supported him very nasty, selfish ways, and showed his true colors: people don’t matter him at all. I wish TJR wouldn’t be his friend anymore. Adam’s behaviour on stage against Tommy was in my opinion sexual harrasment, and someone else would have sued him. Yes, they both probably were in to it, but not the nipple twisting. I have eyes in my head. Adam behaved very passive agressively against Tommy, when he used to mess his hair on stage. As a violinist I know any musician evolves over the time, Tommy played for Adam several years, so he must have mastered his playing at least in the end, so the argument that Tommmy wouldn’t be good guitarist isn’t valid. Adam doesn’t make his own music, like some artists do, so he doesn’t really have anything to say for his audience. Lady Gaga speaks for gays, and look how popular she is. I wish the best for Tommy, I like him, not so much Adam anymore. A voice isn’t everything. It’s the people that matter, and how you treat them.

  30. Adam got jealous to Tommy getting more love and attention from his fans than he did. People literarily went to his concerts just to see and film Tommy, not him. They have made thousands fan videos of Tommy. Tommy is way more rock n’ roll, original, handsome, interesting, talented, pleasant persona, and a star than Adam ever was or will be. Adam will never be bigger than what he was with his old band. Never. Instead I feel Adam did some damage to Tommy’s reputation by exploiting him on stage, by sexualy pleasing himself by using Tommy for that. Not many people would have ever allowed him to do that. Tommy probably got falsely accused of being gay, which he isn’t. Beside’s I have seen Tommy doing work in music after Adam. But what is Adam doing now? Pretending to be Freddie- and poorly. Why would anyone leave his own career and jump in to another band which never was his own? His own career s over after Queen quits for good. He will be ding some tv work but that’s all. Adam just couldn’t stand or allow someone on stage getting more and more attenetion than him, and that’s why he fired Tommy. But what ever, Tommy still has lots of fans, who love and support him continuously.

    1. Your post is for laughing, and laughing a lot … If you’d rather be a Tommy fan, okay. You do not need to disparage another artist for that. Tommy is not a child, he’s a man, he was when he went to play with Adam and if he was not happy he could have left. If he was so hurt, offended or whatever kind of feeling you think he has about it, they would still not be friends. Wake up to the life girl. Adam has an incredible voice, a captivating personality, MUCH talent for his own career, and playing with Queen is incredible. Be born again and learn to be a kinder person before you want to defend someone. I’m sure Tommy would not feel any joy with your post.

  31. What a great post! Why is Adam not as popular as he could/should be? IMO he is not likeable enough. I want to like him because of so many great things around him (some Max Martin songs, Queen etc.) and he really is a great singer and showman, but there is a coldness about him. For example his latest single, Welcome to the show, did not touch me at all. I was so surprised when, accidentally, I heard Laleh’s album version and I loved it, could not stop listening to it for days. Adam still needs a little bit of heart into his action. I generally like his songs, have since the FYE days, but I never cared for his story. For me a background story is very important. So the only moment I paid attention was when I got lost on Youtube one day (2016!) and came across all the Adommy action. I mean clearly it was all fiction, but it was such a wonderful new take on an ancient story. (It isn’t sex that sells, it is a good couple-IMO.) So I think Tommy did make Adam likeable, the stage-play underlined the pop persona’s best qualities that Adam tried to project. The sexy rock god that everybody male-female, straight or gay wants was believable. I am not sure what Adam’s image is now, but I do not find him very interesting. I am rooting for him, however, I hope he will take one of those wonderful songs from Sweden to No1 one day. Yes, I believe there is more in him, but success isn’t only about talent, great voice and good songs. And yes, I find Tommy’s story very touching. That guy got kissed into the spotlight and even if it must have been a lot of fun, I am sure it was also a lot to work through and a friend/colleague like Adam must be very difficult to keep up with. I got curious of his story, tried to check what happened to him, wanted to see him with another band, and it is so sad that he seems truly lost.

  32. Considering I was easily able to find pics of Adam and supposedly “straight” Tommy Joe cuddling and snogging OFF stage when they were out together alone, I was prone to think TJR’s absence might have had something to do with their relationship souring. If you haven’t noticed, Adam doesn’t tend to keep people who make him unhappy around for long. And I’m not a total “I know what Adam ate for breakfast” kind of fan, either. I didn’t discover him until AFTER Idol and even then only knew him by Whatta Ya Want From Me because a friend sent me a link to it quite some time after it was released. At that time I was more likely to listen to my own CDs and MP3s than to the radio because I hate commercials and I didn’t have cable, so no MTV or VH1. I liked the song, but our stations in Houston rarely played any of Adam’s music when I started listening in hopes of hearing more from him. (I wasn’t the avid net surfer I am today because I, frankly, worked too much to have time.)

    Coming in late, I was able to process Idol, Trespassing, the pre-fame studio work albums, For Your Entertainment and all of it in a fairly quick game of catch-up thanks to my best friend who is a diehard Glambert. But I view changes in style by my favorite musicians rather differently than most. I have REALLY diverse taste in music: everything from classical to world music to heavy metal with few classifications where I don’t like at least SOME of it. So, to me, changes in styles and having songs not necessarily be all in the same genre on an album doesn’t phase me much unless an artist starts doing tons of stuff I just totally hate. I don’t divide music up into white/black/Chinese/African/Brazilian or whatever. It’s just all music to me. I’m also a musician myself ( I play tribal style hand drums and other percussion as well as some woodwinds) and visual artist, so I can understand the need to sometimes do something different to keep from feeling “stale”. So Adam’s changes have been well within my realm of acceptance and enjoyment. I think the diversity you saw in that crowd represents people who are able to accept diversity itself more easily, people who understand that artists (musical or otherwise) have to morph and grow or stagnate and die. It’s the nature of creativity itself.

    Also, I did notice him kind of getting the cold shoulder from a lot of American awards shows after the kiss that riled up all the homophobes. His new music hasn’t gotten ANY play on the radio stations where I am now. It only rarely gets play time on the Syrius stations we listen to in the car when I go places with my best friend and her wife. Also note, I’m not just welcoming of diversity in music. I’m an LGBTQ ally, indigenous peoples ally and I’ve always worked hard at erasing the stains of growing up in a family that was pretty damned racist where dad married my hispanic mom more to stick it to his very racist mother than anything. So Adam being gay doesn’t do anything but make me respect him for not being afraid to be who he is from the start. But I think that sort of blacklisting shade crap I’m perceiving is probably also hurting his ticket sales. I think some previously die-hard fans may have been put off by the “scandal” (which was not really a scandal at all since two women kissing apparently wasn’t too big of a deal). Sadly, I think touring with Queen actually hasn’t helped either. They’re awesome together. Maybe TOO awesome. After seeing them together is Adam alone still enough for a fan to pay for? He would be for me, but I love his music just as much as I like Queen, so…. Also, his shows get recorded and posted online so much that people who can’t afford tickets are less likely to be inclined to do whatever it takes to save up for the show, I think.

    Just my random thoughts after a pretty quick read and skim of your article.

    1. All great thoughts. I just saw him for the second time with Queen on this tour, and they’re fabulous together. I was amazed at the number of people in the audience though, before the Queen show, who were like “so who’s the guy they’ve got singing now?” They weren’t even aware this wasn’t the first Q+AL tour that went around. I was thinking, how did you even know to buy tickets if you aren’t clued in enough to know what the show actually is? (But I was too shy to ask them.) The Queen show was an overwhelmingly white, middle-aged audience, nowhere near the kind of diversity I saw at Adam’s solo show, despite being in the same city. Some of that is probably ticket prices (Queen was MUCH more expensive a ticket) and marketing, but some of it comes back to niches. Queen fits the classic rock niche. Adam doesn’t fit in any specific niche and while I love that about him, the whole music industry is built around pushing individual niches. I feel like that’s part of why he slips through the cracks.

  33. I took screenshots of this long article to read when not busy. Read some here n there & can’t wait to read all of it. Seems interesting. Best, fav part is with Tommy, every bit of it. I love those 2 especially the “kiss”. Hhmmmm

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