Can Adam Lambert succeed? Notes on the ontological homophobia in popular culture
Welcome Lambert fans. Based on some of what I’ve been reading in your comments, I’ve made a few corrections.
Those of you who are interested in Adam Lambert have probably heard his new single, if not seen the video, which is not from his upcoming album, to be called For Your Entertainment, but rather from the soundtrack to 2012, Roland Emmerich’s latest worldwide snuff film.
The song is getting a lot of attention, not just from the usual suspects, like gay blogs and crazed American Idol fans.. Ann Powers, the highly respected Los Angeles Times music critic raved about the single:
Listen to “Time for Miracles,” the single that begins this fall’s triumphant ascent of “American Idol” finalist and hard rock liberator Adam Lambert with a swoosh and bang that does Freddie and Steven (and Ann and Jon and Axl) proud.
Of course, as with anything Adam Lambert does, there are naysayers. A bunch of folks are just revolted by the song, since it is a rather low-rent Dianne Warren-ish power ballad. It sounds separated at birth from Aerosmith’s Oscar-nominated Dianne Warren power ballad “Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” from Michael Bay’s worldwide snuff film Armageddon. This is not an unfair criticism. But I’m a sucker for songs like that, as long as they are sung by someone like Steven Tyler or Adam Lambert, whose voice, for the record, I love. It makes the hair on my arms (and back) stand on end. But some people simply loathe the sound of his voice, and I can see this, since it can go from intense to screechy rather quickly. But it works for me. Because the boy can control it as well as any recording artist working today. When he screeches, he’s doing it deliberately. He’s simply an amazingly gifted vocalist.
However, Adam could sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” without a screech or a flourish, and some people would say it sucks. This guy cannot stand Adam. Since they think he sucks, in more ways than one. Some people just can’t stand they way he moves, or his eyeliner, or his hair, or that he wasn’t spit out by the cloning technology that churned out “masculine” performers like the lead singers of Matchbox 20, Nickelback, The Fray, Coldplay, Kings of Leon, or whatever act you want to list that happens to be led by a straight man. Or supposedly straight. Want to read some hate? Here’s some. Adam Lambert is no less masculine — or more feminine — than David Bowie or Steven Tyler or Axel Rose were at the heights of their popularity, but Adam is actually and openly gay, as opposed to being just ambiguous or faux bisexual like Bowie was back in the day.
And that changes everything. Unlike the guy I linked at the beginning of the previous paragraph, many of the anonymous Lambert haters are not concerned about his supposed pitchiness, but rather that he’s a faggot. A typical string of comments from idol-mania.com:
Coolman // May 24, 2009 at 7:22 pm
Adam is a FAGGOT!!!! He is a “male” Cher. He is the worst contestant EVER. I would rather listen to Sanjia for 10 hours than the FAGGOT adam. He will never be anything
156 Anti-Kara // May 24, 2009 at 7:25 pm
Adam is a pillow biter. Isn’t there anyone left in the USA with MORALS???
157 AdamsGay // May 24, 2009 at 7:26 pm
Maybe adam should get into gay porn. He’ll never make it as a singer. Just goes to show how many queers there are voting. He sure didn’t make it on his singing!! LOL. HE SUCKS—-Literally!!
Want more? Try this.
(By the way, I love how google searches for “fag,” too, when you search for “faggot.”)
(Also, by the way, a lot of the internet hate concerning Adam Lambert is virtually identical, discourse-wise, to the faggot-bashing-shitstorm-tsunami-flamewar that Perez Hilton experienced after his altercation with the Black Eyed Peas’ entourage. Read the comments. If you don’t act like a “man,” you are always already guilty.)
There has never been an openly gay pop star. The closest we’ve ever had are Elton John, George Michael, KD Lang, and Melissa Etheridge, and all were big stars before they came out. And aside from Elton John — with his Disney work and his Princess-Diana-is-dead song — none of them have had a radio hit in the United States since they came out. In case you haven’t noticed, American radio stations are more homophobic than any other popular media format.
While radio only allows gay people to be drag queens or forces them to first pay their dues by pretending to be straight (or both, a la Boy George in the 80s), gay people and gay stories are hugely successful on TV, on Broadway, in bestselling books, and even in Hollywood films. Sure, we complain about homophobia in American films. And we should. Brokeback Mountain lost the Oscar because of homophobia, both the overt “Ugh, fags” stuff from older voters and subtle “Ha, gays are funny! Here’s my Brokeback parody!” stuff from younger voters. Mincing and/or creepy queers are still used for comic relief and/or as easy villains, even after The Celluloid Closet pointed out that it’s damn offensive to do that. The “Gay Steppin’ Fetchits” in He’s Just Not That Into You. Charlie Prince (Ben Foster) in 3:10 to Yuma. Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) in 300. Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker) in The Fifth Element. Albert (Nathan Lane) in The Birdcage. Prince Edward (Peter Hanly) in Braveheart. Scar (Jeremy Irons) in The Lion King. Ra (Jae Davidson) in Stargate. Ted Levine (Jame Gumb) in Silence of the Lambs. Also, everything about Boat Trip and Chuck and Larry.
And then there’s Brüno, which was ostensibly a movie mocking gay stereotypes and homophobia, but was so badly conceptualized, marketed, and made that it simply furthered gay stereotypes and homophobia — except in the people who were already aware of the evils of gay stereotypes and homophobia. It was at times hysterically funny, diamond-sharp satire, and at times so offensive-and-not-in-a-good-way that I was aghast. As in, my jaw dropped during some of the scenes focusing on Brüno’s adoption of an African baby. GLAAD rightfully attacked the film, which caused some gays to attack GLAAD. My response to the criticism of GLAAD (written as a comment to a Facebook update) was (with some editing), “I haven’t seen it, though if I had any money I probably would. But I don’t think I need to see it to think that GLAAD’s press release makes sense. Barrios says clearly that he knows the point of the satire and knows that a lot of gay people will find it funny. But he also points out that the movie will do no good in areas of the country where most people aren’t able to find humor in homophobia. Like Arkansas. I think GLAAD actually has perspective here. And honestly, I wouldn’t want GLAAD to have much of a sense of humor. If they found very un-PC humor funny, they’d be rather useless as an anti-defamation group. It’s their job to complain about representation and to question stuff like Brüno. Even if I found Brüno funny, and I bet I would find a lot of it funny (though A.O. Scott, who I agree with 95% of time, wasn’t thrilled with it, so I may react with a “Meh,” like JoeMyGod), I’m sure I would still think GLAAD’s response is appropriate.” Then I saw it, and I really agreed with GLAAD.
Clearly, we’re having growing pains as a movement. In parts of the country, we’re so accepted and embedded in the landscape that the sort of satire found in Brüno is fine, maybe even needed. Many of us have been lulled into a content, fuzzy happiness because our local leaders are so pro-us. So, we’re flummoxed that Obama hasn’t made good on every single one of his promises to us, even though some of those promises are rather radical positions in much of the country. In many parts of the United States, where anti-gay marriage proposals pass with the 90% of the vote, Brüno was going to play like I’m Gonna Git You Sucka in 1950s Alabama: Badly. These are the parts of the country — and I’m not talking about fly-over country only, but also Orange County and eastern Washington State and north Florida and Staten Island — where people actually believe the lies of Frank Schubert or Tony Perkins or Glenn Beck. They nod along with So You Think You Can Dance judge and executive producer Nigel Lythgoe when he says he doesn’t like it when men don’t dance like men — on a show full of gay contestants who seem not allowed to say or even imply that they’re gay — if they watch the show at all. They voted for Kris Allen over Adam Lambert on American Idol because Kris is so very straight and manly (in a sweet, farm boy way), and Adam is so very not (in a glam rock, showtune, Lady Gaga back-up dancer way).
It also seems that these are the same people in charge of radio playlists. Notoriously conservative Clear Channel dominates radio in the United States, and aside from their back-of-bus, mostly online Pride channel (which has played just two gay acts among their last 200 songs, when I checked), none of their mainstream rock or Top 40 stations play anything by gay acts, so it doesn’t seem terribly crazy to believe that they are either preventing gay acts from succeeding on the radio or tacitly allowing their failure. As someone pointed out, Clear Channel is nice to its gay employees. Awesome. But that has nothing to do with whether or not they will promote out gay artists on the radio. For example, Fox News gives its gay employees domestic partner benefits, but their shows spew homophobic garbage. Yeah, blaming Clear Channel makes me sound like a conspiracy theorist, for sure. But it’s not one that is particularly far-fetched (unlike, say, the theory that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS or that 9/11 was “an inside job”). Worse, however, is that even independently owned stations don’t have the balls to play any gay artists.
In San Diego, where Clear Channel owns seven of the radio stations and more or less controls the radio waves, we have two independently owned alt rock stations. One basically plays the Top 40 hits on the Modern Rock list — it’s pretty corporate. But the other, 94.9, brags incessantly about being “100% Clear Channel-free,” playing only great music, playing music that you haven’t heard of, recommending cool news acts, and having a slogan that claims “It’s all about this music.” It is the best non-satellite radio station I’ve ever listened to, which isn’t saying much but it’s still saying something. They have an irritating habit of playing Alt Rock’s Greatest Hits© over and over and over again. I hear songs from Nirvana and Sublime and the Red Hot Chili Peppers albums from the 90s so often that I actually change the station when I hear songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Not in that rotation? REM and Hüsker Dü. Yep. The two major alt rock groups with out front men. (Yes, REM gets played, but much less than Nirvana or Pearl Jam. Hüsker Dü, never.) But the station introduced me to LCD Soundsystem and MGMT and Metric and Muse and TV on the Radio and Black Joe Lewis and the Honey Bears. And they’ve done such cool things as put Neil Diamond’s excellent last album in heavy rotation. But for a station that plays David Bowie and Queen and Depeche Mode and The Smiths and The Decemberists never to play — not even once — a Scissor Sisters song is bizarre. One of Rufus Wainwright’s rockers? Never. Hercules and Love Affair? Of course not. I wouldn’t expect international-except-for-the-United-States superstar Mika on 94.9, but he’s certainly never going to be played on our local Top 40 station, 93.3, where he belongs. Since it’s owned by Clear Channel. If 94.9 was actually “about the music,” they would have introduced San Diego to Mika’s “Grace Kelly” and Rufus’s “Foolish Love” or the Scissor Sisters’ “Take Your Mama” or Hercules and Love Affair’s “Blind.”
When even the rebel radio station is too weak-kneed to play anything remotely threatening to heterosexism’s domination of radio, it’s hard to imagine that Clear Channel will suddenly embrace something as gay as Adam Lambert. Obviously, Adam Lambert is different. He’s already a star. He lost American Idol, but he got the cover of Rolling Stone. And he’s on the cover Details right now. But Details decided the best way to deal with having a gay guy on their cover is make the entire feature about him be about how women want to sleep with him. The photos of him are gorgeous, but they also look like outtakes from the video for Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.” They heterosexed Adam Lambert. Because gay people are scary! Michael Jensen at AfterElton.com is much less negative than me about this. (They had a lot of fun mocking the spread though.) I’m partial to the view of this blogger:
I don’t have any problem with him being gay, but I still think that Details made the editorial decision to wrap him up in this more hetero-sexualized image of a boob-lovin’ mysterious… bisexual, maybe? And it’s pretty clear he’s just straight-up gay. That I take issue with that, because it’s as if Details thinks their readership won’t respond if they made Adam pose with nude men, you know? Or maybe it was just a way of getting us to talk about their magazine. I don’t know. In Page Six this morning, Details editor-in-chief Dan Peres said: “Women obviously know he’s gay, but they are still crazy about him. He’s no Liberace. To put him with a beautiful female model felt absolutely right.” Uh… no.
Of course, Details has issues with the gays. They have a huge gay readership but they pretend like they don’t. It’s very odd.
I think many people expect Adam Lambert’s album to be a huge hit. It has amazing Amazon pre-sales and lots of buzz. I hope it is a huge. I hope he becomes a massive star. But Amazon pre-sales do not a multi-platinum album make. It’s much more complex than that. To become the hit people expect, singles from For Your Entertainment need radio play, and a lot of it. But I don’t think radio — either Clear Channel or un-Clear Top 40 radio or indy stations or the crass morning DJs — is going to help that happen. I think they’ll chase after the bandwagon when it’s already down the street, but they won’t help grease the wheels.
Oh, and “Time for Miracles” is out and available for purchase and download. Anyone hear it on the radio yet? I haven’t. It’s a serious question — I want to know. It’s only at #28 on the iTunes chart, though it’s at #16 on Amazon.com (as of 12:03pm PST on Saturday, October 24). Hmm. If there’s a god, it will be #1. But I’m worried.
And this is the cover of the album. Zounds! As Andy Towle wrote, it’s “unabashedly gay.”