Adam Lambert: ‘The US is in a weird place, but the climate is one of progress’

‘I see all these queer artists now, who are commercially viable artists, and I think: finally!’

Adam Lambert attends the premiere of A Star Is Born at The Shrine Auditorium on September 24th, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Photograph: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

Adam Lambert attends the premiere of A Star Is Born at The Shrine Auditorium on September 24th, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Photograph: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

 

In a darkened London lounge, Adam Lambert arrives juggling heart-stoppingly fashionable luggage in a beautiful riot of mustard and purple colours. Oh, and black. Everybody in the room simultaneously tries to discreetly stare.

“I’m so sorry I’m late,” he says, bringing his hand dramatically and apologetically to his heart. “My hair was not following orders. It was flopping this way and that . . .”

He sighs and rolls his eyes.

Never let it be said that Adam Lambert has strayed off-brand. And his brand is fabulous.

His allegedly unruly hair is short today and not at all like the glam rock friendly shoulder-length ‘do featured in New Eyes, the recently dropped teaser for Lambert’s upcoming third studio album, Velvet.

“I wanted to give this very seamy 70s look and I decided on long hair,” says the 37-year-old. “It’s fake. Of course. But everyone keeps asking: did you cut all you hair off? And I keep asking: did you not notice that it got long overnight?”

2019 is an exciting year for Lambert. Velvet will drop, well, soon. 

“We don’t have a drop date yet,” he says. “I feel like in 2019 the rules are different in music. And that’s great because we can kind of gauge what’s going on. Everything is ready to go but we’re just reading the tea leaves at the moment.”

I wasn’t used to dealing with that type of attention
 

There are sold out tours on the horizon and he has just completed his first major film role by voicing a despotic Emperor Maximus in Playmobil: The Movie. The new animated feature co-stars Anya Taylor-Joy, Daniel Radcliffe and Kenan Thompson in a wild plastic adventure, but it’s Lambert who steals the show. Remarkably, it’s his first voice role in an animated movie.

“I think it’s something that I’ve been meant to do for a really long time,” he says. “When I was a little kid and I did a lot of theatre whenever I went for the first day of rehearsal, I would get my script, I would come home, I would run a tape recorder, and I would record everyone’s lines. So I went into the studio for this, ready to be nuanced. And they kept telling me: ‘No, go big.’ So okay then; they asked for it.”

Playmobil: The Movie is released on August 9th
Playmobil: The Movie is released on August 9th

Ten years have passed since Lambert shot to fame as a contestant on American Idol. And 10 years, as he notes, is a long time in showbusiness.

Shortly before Lambert, the bookies’ favourite to win the top-rated US show, lost the series finale to Kris Allen, the New York Times wondered if “the only thing standing between (Lambert) and riches and the chance to play arenas may be a question currently burning up the internet: Can a gay contestant win?”

  Elsewhere, Bill O’Reilly fretted over “embarrassing pictures of Mr Lambert circulating on the internet” – photographs that depicted Lambert kissing another man – and wondered aloud if: “These pictures that hint that he is gay, will they have an effect on this programme, which is a cultural phenomenon in America?”

  Entertainment Weekly weighed in by putting Lambert on their cover with the headline “The Most Exciting American Idol Contestant in Years (And Not Just Because He Might Be Gay)”.

  “It makes me happy to say I don’t think that whole thing would have gone down now,” says Lambert who confirmed his sexuality in an interview with Rolling Stone within days of the fateful American Idol final, and again at the 2009 American Music Awards, during which he kissed his male keyboardist. The ABC television network responded by pulling a scheduled appearance on Good Morning America.

“I wasn’t used to dealing with that type of attention,” recalls Lambert. “I’m a performer, so I love attention. But I’m also sensitive. And I was in uncharted territory. I didn’t really know how to handle some of the situations I was in. So that was a bit scary. I was flying out there without much guidance. And there was a bit of trial and error. I definitely put my foot in my mouth a couple of times. I might have put other things in my mouth I shouldn’t have. I don’t regret any of it but I do look back on it and think: maybe that wasn’t the right forum or maybe it was a little early to do that.”

After Lambert’s first Idol appearance, Simon Cowell euphemistically suggested that the performer might be too “theatrical” for US tastes. But Cowell was wrong about that. Within a year of Lambert’s Idol debut he was one of People Magazine’s Most Beautiful People, Barbara Walters’ 10 Most Fascinating People, and had performed on the Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, and the season finale of So You Think You Can Dance. On May 23rd, 2012, Lambert became the first openly gay musical artist to debut an album at number one on the Billboard 200 chart with his seconbd album, Trespassing. It’s a historic record that continues to confound him.

“It’s unbelievable,” he says. “But I think so much has changed since then. Even though the US is in a very weird place socially and politically, the climate is still very much one of progress; especially in the arts community, especially in music. I see all these queer artists now, who are commercially viable artists, and I think: finally! It’s a really nice thing to see.”

Many American Idol alumni have emerged from the show as too grand an artist to return. Lambert, however, has often returned as a mentor or special guest.

“Every time I go back a lot of the same people are still there so it’s kind of like going back for a reunion,” he says. “It opened so many doors 10 years ago when being a queer artist in mainstream pop music in the US, it was unheard of. Without Idol I highly doubt I would have been given the opportunities that I have been given.”

Adam can do all the stuff that Freddie did and more
 

It’s not just the publicity that gives him cause to be fond of his reality show origins. American Idol introduced him to Brian May and Roger Taylor. The Queen founders invited Lambert to join as their new frontman, replacing Paul Rodgers, shortly after they played together on Idol in 2009.

“It was really blindingly obvious that there was a chemistry already between us and Adam,” Brain May wrote in his 2017 book, Queen in 3D. “It just happened completely naturally and made us all smile. The public reaction was massive, and so I think from that moment the idea of us working with Adam was seeded in our brains.”

Lambert and Queen have been touring together since 2011. It’s a great match. And yet , bizarrely, hardly a month goes by when both parties involved don’t have cause to defend the arrangement. “Adam can do all the stuff that Freddie did and more. It doesn’t matter what you throw at Adam – he can do it . . .” Brian May told GuitarWorld in June. “He’s a born exhibitionist. He’s not Freddie, and he’s not pretending to be him, but he has a parallel set of equipment.”

  For Lambert’s part, it’s daunting, but it’s a lot less daunting than it used to be: “I’m definitely more comfortable with it then when I started,” he says. “When I first started it was really intimidating, just the whole idea of it. But we’ve been working together for seven years now and it doesn’t freak me out like it used to. I still realise the weight of it. It’s a big job. I’m constantly thinking: What was the intention here? What was Freddie trying to evoke in the audience? Would Freddie like this outfit? His fashion was very camp and funny so that’s also inspiring for me. When I’m singing a Queen song, I try not to venture too far away from the original because I feel like that is sacrilege. And I keep telling myself, whenever I encounter any sort of resistance to my being there, that at the end of the day Brian and Roger can still rock and they want to get out on stage and play. And I’m providing a service to them.”

The $903,655,259 grossing movie Bohemian Rhapsody has attracted a new younger crowd ahead of Queen’s 2020 Australian tour. As a queer artist, Lambert admits to being baffled by the “not gay enough” criticisms levelled at the film.

“The desire to see an emotional journey doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to see the sexual intimacy,” he says. “Being gay or homosexual is a broad term. There’s a lot to explore in terms of coming out and rites of passage. It’s not necessarily what happens between the sheets. You can’t just assume that it just means sex.”

Playmobil: The Movie is released on August 9th

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