3 things about Adam Lambert, Part 3: The AMAs, raunch at 10:55 PM, and “I’m Not a Babysitter. I’m a Performer.”
This video, which I love in all of its derivative and hilariously over-the-top glory, is for the song that Adam sang at the American Music Awards. It’s a better as recorded than it was sung live…
While I knew that Lambert would be performing at the AMAs, I wasn’t watching the show, and I wasn’t paying much attention. Until I clicked onto my sitemeter and saw that someone found my blog by searching for “adam lambert stunk on ama.” Not that I had ever written anything like that — Google does weird things. Intrigued, I clicked around and saw that he’d closed the show, and since it was time-delayed for the West Coast, I set the Tivo so I could watch it in a couple hours. Wow: Closed the show. Some producer really wants him to get some attention, and since the album was to come out the next day (today), it was some perfect synergy. I have sense been reminded that the AMAs are produced by Dick Clark, who has become Ryan Seacrest, and Ryan is nothing if not an “Idol” booster. Rock, on, Ryan.
This is how it went:
Ryan announces that the “Favorite Artist of the Year” is Taylor Swift, which is sort of appalling, but whatever, and then he announces that Adam is going to close the show. In case the video to the left is pulled from this site, this is what happened: His name, as logo, appears on the curtains, and the lights focus on Adam, who is singing the first lines of “For Your Entertainment” slowly and only accompanied by a Liberaced piano tinkle — exactly like Lady Gaga does when she performs “Poker Face.” His hair is gelled six inches high, and he’s wearing a silver suit with spikes on his left (your right) shoulder. Then the song really starts, and the band and the dancers, dressed like horny goth space aliens, bump and grind amid strobe lights and Adam being Adam: Making out with a girl and boy (but the boy was cut from the West Coast feed), leading slave boys on leashes and then simulating oral sex with one of them (though the oral simulation was cut from the West Coast feed), running around, tripping and falling, and really letting loose on the high screamy notes that usually he uses to punctuate his performances, not completely dominate them.
I’ve been rather pissed at Adam for his behavior concerning Out over the last week (see here), so I readily said, “Wow, this is baaaad.” Now, part of the problem is that whoever was in charge of the audio mix of the show last night was incompetent, so even when Adam wasn’t overdoing the vocals, it sounded terrible. And that song, as much as I love it when I listen to the recording, probably isn’t meant to be performed live. Or maybe it is, and this was just, well, a bad performance. Rob, sitting next to me on the couch, said, “You’ve turned on him already?” And then I felt guilty. Then, I thought, “No, singing-wise, this was kinda bad. The stage production, with the sex and stuff… well, that’s kinda hilarious.”
A little later, I went online and saw that the Twitterverse had shot Adam to the top of the trending topics, and it seemed that most of the tweets were about how awful he was — awful in the “OMG! IT’S SEX AND GAY!” JoeMyGod got a post up almost instantaneously about the controversy over the sexiness, and, per usual, some of his commenters did their best to trash Adam for, ya know, not being Barry Manilow or John Mayer. But a number of commenters made the very good point that if Madonna or Britney had done worse, no one would have blinked. Okay, a few people would have blinked, but not like what has happened in the last 18 hours. The AP just reported that ABC, which ran the AMAs, had received 1500 complaints about Adam’s performance. And not for the vocals.
On the other hand, the LA Times said his performance was one of the show’s highlights, simply because it wasn’t boring:
“American Idol” sometimes get criticized for cranking out safe, digestible, inoffensive pop stars. But this year’s runner-up, Adam Lambert, did his best to break out of that rap with his ultra-lewd closing performance of “For Your Entertainment.” ABC censors had to quick-cut to an odd aerial shot of the audience when Lambert had a male backup dancer simulate oral sex on him midsong. Parents may be outraged, but thank God for that. We were thinking music was getting a little too stale.
They also had him quoted on the sexual nature of the performance.
“The energy felt good. Adrenaline is a crazy thing to feel,” Lambert said to Pop & Hiss after the show. “That’s what I love about performing. I’m hoping people were entertained. For those who weren’t, maybe I’m not their cup of tea.”
When asked if he thought the most extreme moments would be edited out of the West Coast broadcast, Lambert wasn’t shy about how he would react to such a move.
“If it’s gonna be edited, then in a way that’s discrimination. I don’t mean to get political, but Madonna, Britney and Christina weren’t edited,” Lambert said. “It’s a shame. Female entertainers have been risqué for years. Honestly, there’s a huge double standard.”
That’s Adam being very political. I wonder if he’s making up for what happened the past week with Out. Because if he was worried about alienating people by being too gay in a magazine read only by gay people, he certainly wasn’t worried about being too gay on a show watched by everyone else. And if you want to see some alienated I’m-not-a-homophobe-I-just-can’t-deal-with-male-sexuality commentary, just read the stuff after the LA Times piece.
So, I’m of two minds about Adam’s performance. Vocally, it was off. And it was too frenetic and thematically unclear. But it pissed a helluva lot of people off. And all the right ones. And it’s at least partly to blame for sending his stuff up the charts on Amazon and iTunes.
UPDATE: People have lost their minds. According to Perez Hilton, ABC has canceled Adam’s mini-concert on Good Morning America that was supposed to happen on Friday. And now #ShameOnYouABC is a trending topic on Twitter. Meanwhile, the dumb twit Elisabeth Hasselback trashed him on The View, and since she’s basically a mouthpiece for the Sarah Palin set, the thumpers must really be in a snit about him. Feministing explains why Adam Lambert scares people with a post called, ha, “It’s OK patriarchy, I understand Adam Lambert made you feel funny.” (And the comments to the post explain why many people think feminists might be sex-negative.) The Times has a wrap-up (minus Perez’s scoop), and the comments are ridiculous. Per usual. In response to all of this, Adam said to Ryan Seacrest, “I’m not a babysitter, I’m a performer.” Oh, snap.
UPDATE #2: The CBS’s The Early Show, which gets a tiny fraction of GMA’s or Today’s audience, saw an opportunity, and they invited Adam to discuss the controversy and perform — the day after GMA threw him under the bus. And Adam gave good interview. From the Times website, which is so all over Adam Lambert and the AMAs that they have a hub called “The Adam Lambert Fallout: Were You Not Entertained?“, some choice quotes:
As his performance from the American Music Awards continues to stoke controversy, even costing him a booking on “Good Morning America,” Adam Lambert acknowledged in a television interview that he “did get carried away” during his awards show appearance. But the singer declined to apologize for his act, saying that it was ultimately “up to the parents to discern what their child’s watching on television.”
Damn straight. As it were.
Mr. Lambert said in the interview that he had “no clue, no clue at all” that his routine would upset viewers. He added: “I admit I did get carried away, but I don’t see anything wrong with it. I do see how people got offended, and that was not my intention. My intention was just to interpret the lyrics of my song and have a good time up there.”
The singer said that some of his sexually charged moves during the performance had not been previously rehearsed. “Those kind of came from more of an impromptu place,” he said, adding: “I think ABC was taken a little by surprise. That wasn’t my intention, I wasn’t being sneaky. It just – it got the most of me, I guess.”
This sounds great, and I want to believe it, but the guy has done a lot of live stuff. In the theater. Improv usually isn’t allowed.
Mr. Lambert said he understood why some viewers, especially parents, might have been offended by his act. “It was almost 11 o’clock,” he said, “it was a night time show. I was there in the audience full of mostly adults. Sometimes I forget, oh, there’s a camera on. I come from the theater, and I’m programmed to look at who’s in the live audience. And that’s where I come from. I was looking at the crowd and saw some of my favorite pop stars, and thought, I want to let loose.”
He’s selling authenticity. And I’m buying it.
Mr. Lambert cited similarly provocative performances given by his fellow pop stars at the American Music Awards that did not seem to generate as much outrage.
“Just to play devil’s advocate with you,” Mr. Lambert said, “Lady Gaga smashing whiskey bottles, Janet Jackson grabbed a male dancer’s crotch. Eminem talked about how Slim Shady has 17 rapes under his belt. There’s a lot of very adult material on the AMAs this year, and I know I wasn’t the only one. I’m not using it as an excuse, and I didn’t take any offense with those performers’ choices.”
And he repeated his assertion that he is the victim of a double standard in the entertainment industry. “If it had been a female pop performer doing the moves that were on the stage,” Mr. Lambert said, “I don’t think there would be nearly as much of an outrage.”
Asked if he thought he was being criticized because he was a man or because he was gay, Mr. Lambert said, “Both. I think it’s a double whammy. I think it’s because I’m a gay male, and people haven’t seen that before.”
Yes, yes, yes. Unfortunately, CBS double-standarded it up in their coverage by blurring out Adams’ same-sex kiss from the AMAs perfomance while not blurring out the for-comparison image of Madonna and Britney Spears doing the same thing. Tacky, tacky, tacky.
He did not believe he needed to apologize for his American Music Awards performance. “I’m not a babysitter,” Mr. Lambert said. “I’m a performer.”
Clearly, he realized this line worked on Seacrest the day before, so he used it again. It is a great line, and it really shows up the fucktards who are screeching “What about the children?!” about a vaguely sexually charged performance of a pop singer at 10:55 PM on a school night. Or, as I wrote in a Facebook comment yesterday: “The censored reruns of Sex in the City that air at the same time in many markets are vastly more raunchy. Of course, that’s all heterosexual sex. And the shows that air on network TV at the same time, or earlier, are more explicitly violent than Lambert’s was sexual. CSI, SVU, and Criminal Minds are pornographically violent — and in-depth. Grey’s Anatomy (ABC) is all blood, all of the time. Or Private Practice — on ABC — had a whole multi-episode arc about someone ripping a baby out of the belly of a major character. Lambert’s split second simulated oral sex — face in groin and that’s all — is nothing compared to what is commonplace on TV. ABC attacking him for that performance is the height of hypocrisy.”
Given the chance, Mr. Lambert said he would change one thing about that performance. “I would sing it a little bit better,” he said.
Yes, that would have been nice. Check out the video of the song at the top of this post to see how it was supposed to be done. I doubt that it could be done like that live, but whatevs.
However, if you want to see him kill it live, there are two videos of Adam singing from the morning that are pretty great. The first is him doing “Whataya Want From Me” (misnamed as “What Do You Want From Me” on the CBS website), and the second is “Music Again.” Okay, he kills it on “Whataya Want From Me.” He does “Music Again” just okay.
UPDATE #3: Sales are up! From the LA Times:
But all the chatter and debate isn’t stopping people from picking up his first post-“American Idol” release. Billboard writes that “For Your Entertainment” should sell at least 225,000 copies when it debuts on next week’s chart, and could possibly move more with post-Thanksgiving shoppers invading retailers. Lambert’s promo tour continues tonight with an appearance on the “Late Show With David Letterman.”
Also from the LA Times, Ann Powers explains it all, and brilliantly:
Few straight white men don’t strut the way Lambert does (sadly!). Most still embody the norm in our society, because racism, sexism and homophobia still haunt us. And the norm never shows itself off. It’s just taken for granted. For all of his media-savvy and strategic approach to stardom, Adam Lambert remains a rock outsider. Though I’m his fan, I don’t think his AMAs’ turn was perfect; it would have been much more effective it his usually excellent vocals had matched the audacity of his dance moves. But I don’t agree with those who are saying his routine was just a tired attempt to shock. What he did won’t be mundane until no one in America flinches when two men kiss on the street. Or until an out gay rock star is no longer an anomaly.
However, it was Alessandra Stanley who hit the nail on the head:
There is a lot of very adult material on television all the time, and mostly it flows unchecked and unpunished, except when it comes as a surprise and hits a nerve. Community standards are mutable and vague; lots of people don’t know obscenity until someone else sees it. Ms. Jackson transgressed during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show because she exposed a nipple, which is one thing that network television normally doesn’t show. Mr. Lambert, who just released his first album, startled viewers because he did things akin to what outré rappers and female pop stars have performed onstage to get attention, only he did it as a gay man.
Mr. Lambert’s context was different, mostly because he is gay and his song “For Your Entertainment” is graphically sexual, with intimations of sadomasochism and oral sex. Straight sadomasochism is suggested all the time in music videos, and early this season Courteney Cox’s character on the ABC sitcom “Cougar Town” was coyly depicted performing oral sex on a younger man
It wasn’t the best musical performance by any means, but it wasn’t the worst display of sexual debauchery either. Mostly it was a reminder of television’s policy regarding gay men: Do tell, just don’t show.
In a similar vein, Newsweek has Julia Baird writing — and well:
It is tempting to write the whole thing off as lame and overblown, a fight over the cautious sensibilities of a middle-American TV audience against the need of a gay pop singer to garner attention, entertain, and push back on shame. But then I think of the self-loathing and destructive behavior of many young gay people coming to terms with their identity and the violence of ignorant people toward them. Homophobia isn’t an abstract debate—it can be ugly and dangerous.
I wonder if Time will wade in with something typically contrarian and offensive…
Disgustingly, ABC has now canceled Lambert’s performance on Jimmy Kimmel’s show and killed his booking on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. (Here’s Michael Slezak’s lame EW story about that.) I guess it’s okay to have a running bit about fucking Ben Affleck, but not to have a split second dance move that makes people think about actual gay men having sex. Meanwhile, and oddly, ABC is letting Barbara Walters put him in her “Ten Most Fascinating People of 2009” show and perform on The View.
I was at the AMAs live and was eagerly anticipating Adam’s performance, so excited that he was honored with the closing number. As I watched him perform, the first thing that hit me was that he seemed super-amped. I said to my daughter (my date for the night) “man, it seems like his adrenaline is running really high” – which, as it turns out, it was. I think that accounted for some of the issues; the vocal performance and the trip (he’s seasoned on stage and admits he never falls). I also think that adrenaline surge caused him to flip the bird, which he later attributed as a kiss off to those who have criticized him and spewed hate, etc. At the time, it felt like an odd send-off to the audience, because the applause was understandably muted -the live audience was in a state of shock.
As a straight woman in her fifites, I fit into one of Adam’s larger fan bases. So how did I react to the overtly sexual acts? The only one that disturbed me was the head to the crotch and subsequent gyrations. It just was unnecessary, for a talent as huge as Adam’s, to kind of “stoop” to shock theatrics. And honestly, I think if he had done the whole performance with more “fun”, more tongue in cheek and a sort of “woops, I’m being naughty smile” attitude, it would have been better received. He was so serious and seemed angry during the performance; that made it seem aggressive. The kiss at the end? Ahh, who cares? But he did it with force and aggression, instead of fun; so it seemed more of an issue.
And yes, the vocals were not Adam’s best — again, because the adrenaline was getting the best of him. He did mention afterwards that when he gets that adrenaline rush he tends to oversing, and he sited his “Black Or White” performance as an example (although I loved it!!).
I love this guy, I’m blown away by his talent and I truly love every song on his record. My 18 yr old daughter also loves the record – how many artists can create music so appealing to two very different age groups?
Adam is a presence on the music scene today, I have no doubt his success will grow and I look forward with great anticipation to his solo tour. I just don’t think the AMA performance truly showcased what is so special about him.
Great comment, Glenda. I agree with you about the performance; it was just weirdly off to me, considering what we’ve come to expect. I think you’re probably right about the adrenalin. I guess even seasoned performers get twitchy occasionally. I remember seeing Better Midler on the Grammys at the height of her popularity. One of her songs had just won a Grammy and she sang it immediately afterward and she was terrible — pitchy, rushed, weird. And you could tell it was her excitement that did it. Since the AMAs, Adam has performed “Whataya Want From Me” (the best track on the album, I think) several times brilliantly… proving how great he can be when he’s on.