Adam Lambert's A Big Faker

  • 70comments

In case you missed every other pop culture site on the internet blaring about it today, Adam Lambert was the closing performance on last night's American Music Awards and he totally stank up the joint with a big, glittery, hyper-sexual stink-cloud of a performance. And the people are polarized! Some folks loved its silly unabashedness, others found it just too much—because it wasn't family-friendly, because it was trying way too hard, because it was too gay. That last criticism? Oof, it's really annoying.

Given the frequency and intensity of hetero lovin' on TV these days, and the relative paucity of gay representation on the airwaves, the queerness of Adam's performance shouldn't, in 2009, rankle anyone. Sorry folks, but gay people kiss and have sex and do other things. Calling it "sodomy" and decrying its immorality just smacks of dying-breed Puritanism. So that argument really should be off the table.

What truly WAS the problem with the whole debacle was how forced and canned the whole outrageousness came across. It wasn't so much "We get it, Adam, you're gay" as much as it was "We get it, Adam, you think you're some sort of rebel even though you're only famous for coming up second on the least rebellious show on TV." I've often found myself complaining like some sort of Williamsburg purist about how musical success should be a much more brick-by-brick process than the immediate fame that Idol synthesizes. The problem about Adam's performance is that none of it was earned. You want to be shocking and counter-culture, Adam? Then don't play into the most obvious stereotypes that everyone's painted for you since the first time you Frankenstein-shoed your way onto the Idol stage.

Adam's often compared to showy pop-provocateurs like Madonna and Lady Gaga. The latter comparison is only slightly insulting—Gaga is still fairly new to the scene herself, but did at least have a genuinely organic trajectory to fame, rather than Adam's highly-corporate backdoor sneaking in. But the former comparison? Um, puhleeze. Madonna came flailing up from the dirty Bowery club-kid scene of the early '80s, a scene that was glitzy in its true grit. So when she came roaring onto the national stage with envelope-poking live performances like "Like a Virgin," it felt like a nascent artist, an actual thinker, genuinely expressing a lightly sociopolitical message—something about girls and sex, about patriarchy and industry. But in Adam's case, last night's romp into the sex-inferno just seemed so corporately manipulated and ripped-off. The same way the Jonas Brothers are made to look like chaste arevolutionary Beatles, Adam allowed himself to be carefully tarted up like some faux-dark Michael Buble of the Night. The whole thing felt creaky and unwarranted because it was so uncreative, so borrowed from other iconic acts. Maddy did bondage-throb way better in her "Human Nature" video over ten years ago. Plus, for a guy who won America's hearts with his souped-up pipes, his vocals were pretty rank.

The performance certainly won't ruin Adam's career. But it may put a dent in it. I'd say it was admirable that he tried to shoot the moon and missed—at least he tried!—if the whole thing didn't seem so pathetically spring-loaded to shock and awe. Thickly presenting a front of audacity with little thought or reason behind it seems so lazy, much like the whole ethos of going on American Idol to win an instant music career feels. The truly successful Idol standouts—your Kelly Clarksons and your Carrie Underwoods—have succeeded mostly because they used the show as platform to simply showcase big Voices, not some cobbled together pop-persona. I just get that sneaking suspicion that if Adam were really genuine in his baubled counter-culturalism, he wouldn't have tried to hawk his cheap wares on a cheesy reality show.

It's clear he felt he had something to prove last night, though why he felt that anyone expected so much of him, a Vegas act reality show star, is sort of a head-scratcher.