Interview with Adam Lambert: “Controversy is in the eye of the beholder”
The Original High
When Adam Lambert auditioned for the eighth season of American Idol back in 2009, the San Diego native wowed judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson with a rendition of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. Jackson lamented, "I think it's time for somebody like you," catapulting the then 26-year-old into Hollywood.
Now, at age 33 and after six years in entertainment, Lambert has released three studio albums and performed Bohemian Rhapsody (and more) with the remaining members of Queen — Brian May and Roger Taylor themselves — as their lead vocalist. A collaboration which officially started in 2012, the Queen + Adam Lambert act has been touring just shortly before Lambert's third studio release, The Original High, in June this year. Next year, they'll headline the massive Isle of Wright Festival in the UK.
But not before Lambert focuses his attention back to his solo efforts — and it starts this year end with a show in Singapore. Kicking off The Original High tour, his scheduled performance for Celebrate 2016 has attracted controversy, with a petition penned in November to remove him from the show due to his apparent "active promotion of a highly sexualized lifestyle and LGBT rights, both of which are contrary to mainstream Singaporean values." The petition attracted international press such as CNBC, Billboard and The Independent. At the height of this attention, Lambert took to Twitter with this response: "Fighting Homophobia one song at a time."
"I was actually flattered that people cared so much!" exclaims Lambert at a press conference yesterday afternoon. Decked out in a printed Vivienne Westwood blouson and embellished creepers, he exuded glam rock royalty. "Listen, when I work on a TV performance, I work very carefully with the producers and my team to figure out what's appropriate for the programme, and that's what we did for this."
Lambert has been known to court controversy in his racy performances. In his 2009 American Music Awards performance, he had a brief kiss with his male keyboardist and closed the show with simulated oral sex from a male backup dancer. When asked bluntly whether he'll ever get tired of "creating controversy", the artist denied doing anything of that nature.
"I don't create controversy," he replies firmly. "Controversy is in the eye of the beholder. In the past, I did one or two controversial things on purpose, but my mission now is honest and from the heart. Depending on where you're from, certain things might be more controversial, but my intention is not to provoke, but to reflect."
In fact, when pressed on about his reputation for risqué performances, he stresses that he isn't particularly worried about the past. "What's the point?" he retorts. "It's in the past. I'm worried about the present and the future."
Currently, the present isn't too shabby a place. With each album reflecting a different side of Lambert's personality, The Original High represents one that's more serious and grounded. Released in a seemingly uncertain year when he switched record labels (from RCA to Warner Brothers), Lambert worked on it for two months in Sweden, before finishing it in Los Angeles, where he's based. Produced by Max Martin — who also produced Lambert's first hit back in 2009, the Grammy-nominated Whataya Want From Me — and Shellback, Lambert laments that these "pop psychics" allowed him to take the weight off his shoulders and express himself.
The 11-track record has released two singles so far: Ghost Town and Another Lonely Night. With lyrical content that notably connects at both universal and personal levels, Lambert wishes for the songs to help people understand themselves.
"I like to dance around in silly costumes, but I also like to talk about real things," he reflects. "For a song like Ghost Town, it's good to create music that lets people escape sometimes. There are a lot of beautiful, wonderful things but there's also a lot of evil and darkness. How can I sing bubblegum pop songs in light of some of the events this year?"
Naturally, as a fan of the late Freddie Mercury, Lambert looks up to the Queen front man as the embodiment of a rock star, who "doesn't care what people think". When asked if it's a sentiment he adopts in his life in the public eye, he ponders.
"It's a constant balance between doing what I just want to do, and then the other side of it is I want to make people happy and connected. So it's a constant struggle of 'I don't care!' and then I go, 'oh, do they like it?' But I think that's what makes me who I am — the balance between the two."
This balance is something Lambert tries to achieve in his artistic goals. "My goal has always been to unite people and to find the common denominator between all these different people from all over the world," he explains. "I stay focused on the positive, and focus on what unites us, not the thing that defines us...so I just sing my songs!"
Adam Lambert performs tonight at Celebrate 2016 at The Float @ Marina Bay. Tickets on Sistic.