3 things about Adam Lambert, Part 1: That Out kerfuffle
Wait: No. I will not write an open letter. That would be too obvious, both because of Out editor Aaron Hicklin’s letter to Adam that caused this past week’s kerfuffle and Joe Vogel’s tone-deaf parody of Hicklin’s letter that Adam thought was “hilarious.” Instead, I’ll do this straight, as it were.
Since I was deeply concerned about whether radio would ever get behind Adam Lambert, because of The Gay, I was rather interested in, and rather appalled by, Adam’s Out brouhaha. A lot has been said, though none of it particularly smart, and I may not do any better. (Yes, this is loony fan bait for the comments.)
Here’s a recap for my readers who are not as obsessive about reading the minutiae of gay pop culture:
Out put Adam Lambert on their yearly Out 100 list, and they named him “Breakout Star of the Year.” However, according to Hicklin, Lambert and his image were aggressively handled by his handlers, who were seemed terrified that Out was going to make Lambert appear too gay:
We’re curious whether you know that we made cover offers for you before American Idol was even halfway through its run. Apparently, Out was too gay, even for you. There was the issue of what it would do to your record sales, we were told. Imagine! A gay musician on the cover of a gay magazine. What might the parents think! It’s only because this cover is a group shot that includes a straight woman that your team would allow you to be photographed at all — albeit with the caveat that we must avoid making you look “too gay.” (Is that a medical term? Just curious). Luckily, you seemed unaware that a similar caution was issued to our interviewer.
Hicklin’s open letter is aggressive and it’s snarky, but it was also completely justified. The writer of the Q&A wrote that Adam’s publicist “cautioned against making the interview ‘too gay,’ or, ‘you know, gay-gay.'” As a former writer for both Out and The Advocate, I know how hideous publicists are, especially when it comes to the tinge of The Gay. Lambert is a new challenge to these control-obsessed monsters; he’s actually out, not coy like Ricky Martin and Queen Latifah or dishonest like Kevin Spacey and Wentworth Miller. For these folks, publicists have to work overtime to keep them from being described as or revealed to be gay. For Lambert, his publicists have to make sure his gayness doesn’t get too problematic: Let him be flamboyant in his clothes and makeup and theoretically gay, but don’t show him touching another man or talking about politics or expressing any allegiance to the gay community.
In other words, let him be a fag hag’s dream.
They must have been giving each other high-fives over the reprehensible Details cover story. And nervous as hell about what might happen with Out. So they tried to handle Out. Not smart. Imagine what would happen in Will Smith’s publicist told Essence not to make him seem too “black.” It would have been a lot worse than Hicklin’s letter.
But it turns out it’s more complicated than a few publicists. More on that later.
Lambert’s response to Hicklin’s letter was certainly not handled. No publicist would have allowed Lambert to do what he did or what he’s done. He went on Twitter and had what I perceived as a temper tantrum. He really should have had one of his flacks release a statement to the effect of, “I respect Out, but I disagree with the letter.” Or something like that. Instead, he typed some snark and opened himself up a great deal of criticism from people who actually care about the way that gay artists are marketed and controlled and how those images perpetuate homophobia in American culture. Yeah, he pissed me off. A lot.
So, I’m going to fisk his tweets.
it’s definitely not that deep.
It’s not? Having the publicists for the first-ever out-from-the-sorta-beginning pop singer make attempts to under-gay him in the most important gay publication in the country is very deep — in its cynical, homophobic shallowness. Refusing to do a solo cover, refusing to let him go to the Out 100 party, and telling the magazine what questions not to ask — and the questions were all about teh gay — is cowardly and meaningful to those of us out there who care about the cultural and political importance of a gay pop star. It is deep.
This is what convinced me that Lambert simply doesn’t understand what is going on and why all of this — his historical importance for the gay community — matters. Chill? Hicklin shouldn’t care?
Guess ya gotta get attention for the magazine. U too are at the mercy of the marketing machine.
This is rich. He’s trying to spin Hicklin’s letter — an angry, detailed letter about something that, yes, matters — as a simply a publicity stunt, one done because Hicklin is being controlled by the “marketing machine.” Since the letter doesn’t make the magazine look good (or bad, at least to those of us who normally read it — I’d hope) and the magazine already had something easily promotable in the form of the interview with Lambert, the letter-as-stunt idea doesn’t even pass the bullshit test.
(Unless, of course, you’re a loony Lambert fan, many of whom have been leaving comments and tweets about how Hicklin wrote the letter out of jealousy and a desire to sell magazines. Without realizing that the letter was online, for free. And the jealousy argument is as old and dry as these them hills. Entertainment journalists are not all jealous of the people they cover. Really. They’re not. Many of these fans have no ability to see shades of gray, let alone reality.)
Until we have a meaningful conversation, perhaps you should refrain from projecting your publications’ agenda onto my career.
I’m sure there’s some loony fan who read that and said, “Oh, snap!” I said, “Oh, no. Oh, no.” First, the publicists try to prevent a meaningful conversation about these issues from taking place. Second, the publication’s agenda is to cover gay pop culture and maybe, to a secondary degree, to promote gay civil rights. So, Lambert doesn’t agree with that agenda? He doesn’t want to be part of gay pop culture or promote gay civil rights? A number of the loony fans have been whining about how he just wants to be a singer. He’s not a politician! To them I say: If you are an out celebrity, you are automatically a politician. That interview with Rolling Stone was a political act, and so was that hideous Details story. So was the decision to have only one clearly gay lyric on his whole album. So was his decision to make a stink about Hicklin’s letter and then spend all of last week whining about it, spend all of last week distancing himself from the gay community and the gay press that has been working tirelessly for the last 40 years to allow someone like him to exist. So was that performance at the AMAs, which was meant to make people notice — or drive them crazy. It’s all political. Lambert is an out gay man who seems to be rather bright; he knows that his existence is political. He may not want to focus on politics, but he needs to understand that he is politics. Also, on a more banal level, when you do an interview with a gay publication, you’re going to talk about gay stuff. Get over it. Chill.
Then there were two follow-up tweets. Actually, the first one arrived before the two I just fisked.
Planet Fierce responds to A. Hicklin’s “Open Letter to Adam” http://bit.ly/1yTFLP : thank you to the writer! YOU get it.
The link (eventually) led to a loony fan’s attempt to defend Lambert and attack Hicklin. The essay is a based on the central assumption that Hicklin is a lying, bitter bully and that Lambert is an infallible innocent:
You’ve effectively alienated a portion of Adam Lambert’s fan base. You may have lost sales. And you put undo [sic] pressure on a young man that [sic] has said time and again that all he wants to do is make music. All this under the guise of “sacrificing the one for the many.”
This mentality (punish those that don’t conform to a hypothetical “ideal”) is part of why the LGBT struggle is not taken seriously by mainstream America . [sic] You do not need to eat your young nor throw your most visible proponents under the proverbial bus. I hope that your tasteless diatribe serves only to bring your hypocrisy to the forefront – garnering more compassion and support for Adam Lambert than your precious mantle of Gay Rights ever would.
Lordy. The LGBT struggle isn’t taken seriously because some of us punish people who heterosexualize themselves in order to make money? THAT is the reason? The “precious mantle of Gay Rights”? REALLY? Promoting “Gay Rights” is some horrible thing that Hicklin should be embarrassed by? Out should be upset that it alienated Lambert fans? That it put undue (not “undo,” honey) pressure on someone who just wants to sing? Please: He wants to be a superstar. If he just wanted to make music, he wouldn’t have auditioned for American Idol. And this is the guy Lambert thinks “gets it.” Lordy.
Then there was this tweet:
Okay, this guy is not as much of an offensive tool as the loony fan. But Joe Vogel seemed to have read Hicklin’s letter as some fascistic demand that Adam be gay in some robotic Out-approved way. I hate to echo the wingnut flame-war mantra of “Read for comprehension!” but: Vogel should read for comprehension. Here is the final paragraph of his “satire” written by “The Gay Thought, Fashion, and Culture Police“:
And finally, as a “gay pioneer,” remember that we are “all counting on you not to mess this up.” No pressure. Gay salvation depends on your career path. As the gay pop culture prophet Perez Hilton warns, you can either be a cog for the mainstream music machine or the gay community. There are no other options. You cannot be complex, you cannot be both masculine and feminine, you cannot resist labels or boxes, you cannot experiment, you cannot form your own identity, you cannot just be. You must always match stereotypes, meet expectations. Of course, if you do slip up and need to come out again as a gay man, Out Magazine would be happy to provide the platform.
Nothing Hicklin said, except for these out-of-context quotes, even remotely states these things. Yeah, he’s putting pressure on Adam to succeed. And why not? As I said above, Adam matters. Hicklin clearly wants Adam to be whoever he wants to be, but does not want him to be forced into a manufactured image created by the record companies, which are much more interested in making money than in doing anything authentic, let alone politically or culturally controversial. Hicklin’s letter was a criticism of the constraints that 19, RCA, and Adam himself were placing on his image in the gay press. If Adam just wants to “be,” then he should just “be.” He shouldn’t be involved in cynical calculations of how gay he can appear to be to still sell a million albums.
But wait: It gets worse!
EW ran Michael Slezak’s contemptible tirade bashing Out for all of the reasons Adam’s favorite loony fan did, though Slezak makes less gramatical mistakes. You know, how dare Out even mention that there are publicists? I mean, how dare Out point out the industry is homophobic and that publicists (even and often especially gay ones) are a party to the homophobia? How dare Out point out that this is all political? How dare Out admit that gay celebrities matter, that they are needed, that they do have a responsibility to their community, especially if they trade on their gayness, as Adam has by using his sexuality in such a marketable and incendiary way? Slezak is so cocooned in his EW office, into which nothing but publicists’ screams can penetrate, that he can’t hear, or see, that gay rights trump publicists and the whines of demi-celebrities. Every. Single. Time.
(Ya know, I bet Mark Harris would have written something very, very different.)
Perhaps because of Slezak’s tone-deaf, faux-outraged whining, Adam agreed to do a Q&A about Hicklin’s letter, in which he said that Hicklin “really crossed a line.” (Has anyone else noticed that Adam and EW are responsible for the vast majority of the publicity Out got for the letter?) Here’s the money quote:
What people don’t realize is, I am managing my image, more than maybe the editor of OUT magazine likes to give anybody credit for. My team is a team. And I really feel fortunate that 19 Management and Simon Fuller said to me, from the get-go, “We want to do what you want to do. You need to tell us how you want to do things, what interests you have,” and they’ve been incredibly supportive of me. I really mean it. I’m not being puppeted around. I didn’t want to jump onto a gay magazine as my first thing, because I feel like that’s putting myself in a box and limiting myself. It was my desire to stay away from talking about certain political and civil rights issues because I’m not a politician. I’m an entertainer. That is not my area of expertise. I can talk about relationships and personal experiences because as an artist those things involve writing lyrics and that part of my process. But I didn’t feel comfortable talking about the March on Washington. I didn’t feel comfortable, so I asked my publicist to ask the interviewer to stay away from the political questions. I take full responsibility for that. I think that the editor has his agenda and has his opinions, which I respect, but they’re not necessarily my opinions. And I wish there was a little respect for that. Not every gay man is the same gay man.
So, he was responsible for the publicist telling Out not to ask about politics. Lovely. And weird. Couldn’t he have just answered the questions, if they were political, by saying, “I don’t know anything about politics”? I guess that it’s more fun to have a flack make you look like a tool. Again: Weird. Also weird that no one has picked up on this: That he didn’t want to be “putting myself in a box and limiting myself” by doing an Out cover, which is the same thing as saying “I don’t want to be seen as really gay by the public because then they won’t buy my albums.” Because it is the same thing.
This not a 19-year-old queer kid who doesn’t like labels or identity politics because they’re scary. This is a seasoned professional who doesn’t want to be lumped into the categories inhabited by Sam Sparrow, Matt Alber, Rufus Wainwright, and latter-career George Michael. Because they’re not selling millions of albums. This is not about Adam’s hurt feelings; it’s about business. It seems Hicklin crossed a line by pointing that out. Sure, Hicklin has an agenda — gay rights and gay visibility. But Adam has an agenda — to be a superstar. Only one of those agendas is laudable.