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“I’m not known for being subtle,” laughs Adam Lambert, the former American Idol (runner-up) who has been enraging right-wingers with his unabashed queerness years before Lil Nas X straddled Satan in thigh-high stiletto boots and Sam Smith performed a sexually-charged cabaret number at “The Body Shop” with Kim Petras. It’s difficult – near damn impossible – to envision the current landscape of queer music without Adam’s signature glam-rock aesthetic, vocal command and LGBTQ+ activism. After (not) winning the aforementioned music competition, he blazed a much-needed rainbow trail for queer musicians when he historically became the first openly gay artist to top the US album charts, earned a Grammy nomination for his top 10 smasher Whataya Want from Me and had conservative viewers seething – woo! – when he kissed a male bassist and grabbed the crotch of another during a steamy performance at the AMAs; an act that was deemed “too sexualised” by the – dare we speak their name? – Parents Television and Media Council. And this was all pre-2012. “Now, I think the industry isn’t as scared of [queer identities],” he says of music’s long-awaited LGBTQ+ invasion. “Someone asked me, ‘Are you jealous?’ I was like, ‘Why? It’s great for everybody.’ I’m fucking thrilled.”

This month, Adam continues to brandish his unrivalled vocals – and lack of subtlety – with High Drama, a genre-spanning collection of reimagined classics that he’s flipped to be, like him, flamboyant and bombastic. Speaking with GAY TIMES at Sony Music’s headquarters in London, he admits: “That’s kind of my USP, right? That’s my thing, to camp it up and push things and make it over the top and theatrical. Even if it’s quiet, it’s dramatic.” From a rock-leaning rendition of Lana Del Rey’s West Coast to a luxurious transformation of Billie Eilish’s Getting Older, the album is exactly what it says on the tin – High Drama. “It’s on the nose and that’s what I liked about it,” he says of the title. “It was also the criteria for choosing the songs because we would be like, ‘Is it high drama? Or could it be?’ So, all the songs have an intensity in them in either the lyrics or the arrangement.” The concept for the record originated from the 2018 Kennedy Center Honours, which celebrated the illustrious career of one of pop culture’s most prolific icons: Cher. The Queen vocalist memorably paid homage to the Goddess of Pop with a stripped-back rendition of her seminal 1998 hit Believe, making her cry in the process. “Turning a big dance-pop song into a ballad seemed to strike a chord with people, including her, which was really special… So, I’m working on another project that’s taking longer, right? We were like, ‘Let’s get this thing out. Let’s make some music,’ because during the whole pandemic I was like, ‘I want to fucking record.’ And so we jumped at the opportunity to take songs that people know, flip them and make them me.”

Full marks from us. Most, if not all, covers on High Drama sound like the words came from Adam himself, including Bonnie Tyler’s dance-rock classic Holding Out for a Hero (the best cover since Jennifer Saunders’ in Shrek 2, we should add) Culture Club’s new wave hit Do You Really Want to Hurt Me and My Attic, sung by fellow GAY TIMES Magazine cover star (and Whataya Want from Me writer) P!nk. “That was definitely something we wanted to accomplish,” says Adam, who reveals that he flourished during the recording sessions after learning “a lot about production” during Velvet, his lauded fourth album that was regrettably released in the same week as the first wave of lockdown; effectively ending the album campaign before it had a chance to make much of an impact. As one of the proudest works of his career (so far), Adam laments that it was “fucking depressing”: “I was like, ‘I don’t want to talk to anybody. I’m sad.’ And I was supposed to go on tour with Christina Aguilera! Yeah, I was gutted, but life goes on.” Silver lining alert, however, as the era provided him with the confidence he lacked in the studio for his first three albums, which in turn had a positive impact on the lyrics, sound and overall identity of Velvet and future music, such as High Drama. “I put [Velvet] out on an indie label, so I got to drive the whole way and do what I wanted. It was a bit more alternative, a bit more vibey than some of the stuff I’ve done in the past. Obviously, the pandemic gave everybody a new chapter, but I just feel like I’m done trying to be something other than me. I’ve always been myself, but I’ve been in conflict at moments of my career, or I’ve had a hurdle where I felt like my identity or instincts are being challenged. Now, I’m at a point where I just refuse. If that’s the case, I’m not interested. I’m too grown for that. At some point you’re like, ‘Fuck it.’” 

It’s this feisty conviction and hunger to live authentically – no matter the professional cost – that has undeniably paved the way for the current slate of LGBTQ+ artists. In the past year alone, the charts have been queerified with major hits from openly out stars such as Miley Cyrus, Steve Lacy, Omar Apollo, Dove Cameron and Cat Burns. Then there’s Lil Nas X. Adam’s controversial AMAs stint was like a rainbow-print, of sorts, for the rapper’s viral BET performance of Montero (Call Me By Your Name), in which the rapper ignited a crucial conversation surrounding hip-hop’s treatment of queerness as he passionately locked lips with a male dancer. Sounds familiar, right? History likes to repeat itself, so – surprise, surprise! – the performance was slated by right-wingers. In an interview with Heavy, Lil Nas X revealed that he personally “thanked” Adam for the “doors that he and people like him” have opened for modern queer talent. Reminiscing on his encounter with the Satan Shoes founder (RIP), Adam tells us: “[Him saying that] was a nice acknowledgement. That was really sweet. Yeah, I was at a house party in Silverlake in LA and Lil Nas X happened to be there. I just walked up to him like, ‘I’ve got to say, you’re amazing. I love what you’re doing and it’s fucking great.’ He was so humble and kind.”

With music finally starting to embrace queer identities – albeit, not quick enough – Adam takes a moment to reflect on the industry’s archaic reservations at the outset of his career: “It’s so weird. A decade ago in the States it was like, ‘Is this going to work?’” While he emphasises that his record label ‘wasn’t full of homophobes’ and that his team were “genuinely excited” and supportive of his decision to be as gay as possible, Adam admits they were “scared”: “It’s a business, and if you’re not going to sell, people get nervous.” Adam adds that radio – which still has enormous sway over a song’s success in the US – was subjugated by “middle aged, straight white men” who didn’t exactly welcome his (or anyone’s) overt limp-wristness. “It was a hard business to navigate as a gay man. There were a lot of gatekeepers that you had to win over in order to get your shot, which is why female pop was so powerful and still is. An attractive young woman is exciting for some dude who runs a radio station in the middle of the country. Is that right? No. It should be based on talent and merit. I wish it was based on other things, but we know how sex is. It’s a dirty game.” With streaming now holding more power over the charts than any other format, including radio and iTunes, Adam commends how the audience holds “more power” as a result: “Now, the people decide what they like.” This is one of the reasons why, Adam opines, that MAGA’s are “freaking out” and launching anti-LGBTQ+ tirades at every available opportunity instead of simply choosing to love thy neighbour – the newer generation’s broad-mindedness when it comes to the LGBTQ+ experience, and how this informs mainstream media, has left them “threatened”. He continues: “Now, we have mainstream success. We have proof and reinforcement that you can be queer, and it doesn’t mean that your audience is only queer. It doesn’t matter to young people anymore. No one gives a fuck. I’m 40 and I’m looking at what’s going on, the conversations with pop culture and what young people are into. It’s blown all the way open. It’s the idealistic version of how we all wanted it to be, and now it’s started looking like that.”

Three years ago, Adam launched the Feel Something Foundation – named after the lead single of the same name from Velvet – a non-profit organisation in support of LGBTQ+ human rights. It was a natural progression for Adam, having previously collaborated with LGBTQ+ charities such as GLAAD, The Trevor Project, It Gets Better and Point Foundation. Adam says being in the public eye compelled him to have more of a political presence. “I was like, ‘I can affect change.’ And the journalists interviewing me were asking questions about the gay community. I remember thinking, ‘Fuck, this is intimidating, I didn’t sign up for any of this.’ But I quickly realised that I needed to step up because I’ve been given a platform and an opportunity. And, I do have a lot of opinions.” Feel Something came to fruition after Adam travelled the world and met global members of the community, heard their stories and witnessed first-hand the strife that queer people continue to face. The foundation works closely with Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, which includes a gender-affirming care centre for transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming youth. It’s Adam’s “favourite collaboration so far”. “The trans community, as we all know, needs our support more than ever. They’re under attack, especially in the UK. I went down there and met with some of the families that utilise our services. It’s a centre for the whole family because there’s psychology, caseworkers and medical professionals helping explain what’s going on with their child; if they’re going to do gender reassignment surgery or hormone therapy. They take the stigma out of it for the family and help them understand it’s a wonderful thing to have available.”

This “idealistic version” of how the world should be is continuing to face opposition from Republican politicians, however, who have introduced hundreds of archaic bills in parliament in the past year alone that take aim at the LGBTQ+ community – especially trans people – and are continuing to deflect from real issues by preposterously claiming that drag queens are “grooming” children. Adam passionately hits out: “They’re idiots, we all know that. The thing I find funny is that, even someone who’s not an extremist is like, ‘Yeah but… the children.’ And I’m like, ‘What about the children?’ You’re not in favour of equality. If you can’t get comfortable with the idea that, if you can do it then we can do it, you’re not into equality. You’re a bigot. Just because your Bible says that you don’t like it, it doesn’t mean that it’s wrong legally. Like, mind your own fucking business. I could rant forever because it’s like, ‘Knock, knock knock! What’s wrong with you?’” If the conservatives are right and LGBT’s are indeed going to hell, because there’s so much proof out there that this is, in fact, the case, Adam says: “Sign me up, I’ll wear good shoes.” Before he burns for all eternity, however, Adam has a few projects to see-through.

“I’m writing a musical!” he says enthusiastically. (Tone change!) “That’s what I started working on during the pandemic. I did a lot of co-writes on Zoom after I got over the death of my love [Velvet].” Adam reveals that “over 20 songs” have been written and while he teases that it’s an original idea focusing on a “real life person”, he’s hesitant to divulge more information. “I’m still keeping it sort of vague and under wraps because I’m just not ready to pull the curtain on it yet, but it’s super exciting because we’re really far along on it.” What he can reveal, however, is that the musical will form the basis of his forthcoming sixth studio album, “so it’ll be me singing everything as my next project with a story behind it, and from there we’ll adapt that and turn it into a stage show.” In the meantime, he’ll be enjoying a full album campaign for High Drama and sitting alongside Beverley Knight, Jason Mansford and Shania Twain on the forthcoming second season of Starstruck. Scheduled to premiere in February on ITVX, the reality competition plucks members of the public out of the wild and transforms them into music icons. “Let’s be honest, being on TV is good for business. I’m not going to bullshit about that. Also, the format is fun and the panel, we all get along. Everyone’s laughing.” 

Right now, Adam is satisfied with his place in the industry. As well as all of his aforementioned feats, he refers to his collaboration with Queen as one of the “highlights” of his career, including their performance at the 2019 Academy Awards, where they performed covers of some of the band’s most iconic hits from We Will Rock You to We Are The Champions. “That was fucking wild. I’m proud of that,” he says. “Being content is really difficult in the world of entertainment, it’s like an obstacle course. Admittedly, I have had my ups and downs with mental health, anxiety and depression but I feel good right now. I feel happy. Part of the key to that, which I discovered during the pandemic, is that I’m always going to work hard at my career. I’m always going to make that one of my priorities but it’s also figuring out a way to balance that with other priorities. My personal life, for example, was put on the backburner for years for my career. And then, you find that it’s not always going to make you happy. I’m not saying I’ve totally figured it out, but I’m getting there.” 

High Drama is out now. 

This cover story features in the March 2023 edition of GAY TIMES Magazine. To read the full issue, click here