5.06.2009

Thoughts on the Glambert by a Dawdling Brainiac

Something happened last night on American Idol.

I officially became an Adam Lambert fan. My affection for this year's most viscerally polarizing contestant has been marked by a curious ebb and flow. I've admired his ability. I've cringed at his personal style. I've been impressed by his trouper's collaborative ethic. I've worried for him as he's been tossed to the wolves of the contemporary media. I've thrilled at several of his musical choices (his unfairly impugned take on "Ring of Fire" sold me as a believer in his true potential). Yet, beyond this ebb and flow, there was something bigger holding me back from really signing onto Team Glambert.

I needed Adam Lambert to really sing an actual metal song.

A loud metal song with a thrusting, wailing vocal. And not something by Queen. Preferably one with undeniable headbanger cred. Something from Rush. Or AC/DC. Or Guns 'n Roses. Or Zeppelin. And last night the Glambert did it. He nailed an old school Zeppelin cover. On American Idol. This sissyish, Jewish, Broadway baby who was interested in pretty much everything except sports nailed Zeppelin on Fox (while wearing nail polish, liquid eyeliner, and an emo spike). And, what's more, he sounded great while doing it.
In a weird way that feels really important to me, Adam Lambert also claimed a kind of ownership of the queer sonic pleasures of heavy metal. In a way, Adam Lambert "outed" the sonic queerness (what Wayne Koestenbaum has evocatively called the "queer throat") -- the vocal excesses, the register bending glissandos, the ripe emotional vulnerabilities -- of the male heavy metal singer. And he didn't wear any retro glam rock drag to do it. He wore the skinny jeans and torn t-shirts and too many accessories that seem like, well, Adam Lambert.
Since American Idol's second season -- when another big sissy with a big voice became a big contender -- "Broadway" has been the show's (and now the culture's) "code" for queer. And with his legitimate prior theatrical success on the musical stage (not to mention those boy-boy kissing videos), the Glambert has seemed especially vulnerable to the "Broadway" insinuations. Yet he's also been savvy and unapologetic about who he is and, along the way, he's also walked us through a vocal history of rock masculinity. From his vocally lurid goof on "Satisfaction" early on, to his reappropriation of the emotional sincerity of the pop falsetto with covers of Barry Gibb and Smokey Robinson, Lambert has charted, week by week, the fundamental ways that U.S. pop/rock masculinity has been defined by aural/sonic androgyny. This is a big deal. For generations, scholars and popular culture commentators talking about rock, performance and masculinity have invested most of their interest in the visual, reveling in the spectacularly visual gender play performed by male pop and rock stars. Elvis Presley's eyeshadow, pompadour and rhinestones. The visual theatricality of David Bowie, Elton John and KISS. The glamorshot peacockery of strutting frontmen like Steven Tyler, Freddie Mercury, Bret Michaels or Mick Jagger. Yet, all the while, the genderfuck happening in the male vocality of rock has remained mostly an accouterment of rock's primarily visual or musical (but not vocal) importance. It seems noteworthy then that Adam Lambert has "throughout this competition" placed such a stealthy, steady and queer pressure on the SOUND of vocalized masculinity in U.S. pop and rock. Adam Lambert's "queer throat" -- his distinctive vocal excess, his register-bending glissando, his ripe emotional vulnerability -- has proven especially well-suited to the demands of the repertory of American pop and rock music. And for me, who first fell in love with music while listening to Broadway cast albums AND everything by Rush, AC/DC, Queen and Zeppelin, this sissyish Latin Broadway baby who's always been interested in pretty much everything but sports is grateful to Adam Lambert for "outing" the queer vocal pleasures of heavy metal on national television.
Yet I wonder if that "outing" might be enough to send the Glambert home, possibly tonight, possibly next week. Does the sonic queerness of the metal voice need a strutting cock-rocker as its heterosexual alibi? Can a sissyish, Jewish, Broadway baby get away with this kind of vocal outside the haven of a cabaret/musical audience? I don't know. But whatever happens in the next week or so, two things are certain: (1) Adam Lambert is a star and (2) this sissyish, Latin, Broadway baby and closet headbanger is thrilled to see one of his own doing his thing on the most-watched television program in the nation.

So: Go, Glambert!

7 comments:

Alex in Movieland said...

I have yet to see last night's show (which I'll probably see tomorrow, before the results).
Although I'm impressed by his excellent voice & theatre persona, I found myself not liking him very much and more than that: hoping he won't win.

I do imagine he'll become a great Broadway actor, but I don't think he's fit for American Idol. I tend to get quite personal about these contestants (as I do with any other reality show). I look at Adam and think I'd probably hate him in real life (or just not really like him) and you can tell he's been a mean spoiled rotten child bitch for all his life :D So the personal aspect of it makes me not want him to win.

Though I don't dislike him as much as do with Danny Gokey (who got through half of season by playing the dead wife card - voluntarly or not).

I'd go for Kris Allen. :D he's also got voice, he's charming, he's sweet, he's all american, (I'd kill for him to be gay, but it looks like he's not), and although I haven't seen last night's show, I know/hope he can make it to the final.

so although I admit to Adam's talent, I dislike him on a personal note.

Criticlasm said...

That's so funny.

I actually like Adam because he knows who he is and what he's doing, and feel like Gokey is solid and likeable.

Kris, on the other hand, I think is uninteresting and bland with nothing original to offer.

It's interesting--there's a gay man here at work who really HATES Adam, and every time he talks about him it's the flamboyance that seems to piss him off. It's interesting how polarizing he is--today when he was talking about Adam I said "Well, that's your BS that has nothing to do with him"(making friends!) And he thinks Kris is really cute and should win, which I don't get--I don't find him attractive, and frankly, I'm not listening to anyone's face.

I just love overall that they did a real rock week---I can't remember them having done that before.

Alex in Movieland said...

Criticlasm, I'm your gay coworker. Only hotter. :))

what I will say is: Adam, Kris & that chick are quite cool.

Gokey is like... very uncool. "In the closet" uncool.

Dame James Henry said...

Every time Adam Lambert screeches like a wounded hyena in any of his songs (and you know it's going to happen at least once), I quickly grow disinterested in the song and automatically hate it. And I hate that everyone loves how "emotional" he is with his songs when it's nothing more than a bunch of fake, acting tricks picked up from his years in the theatre. He's about as genuine as a politician up for re-election. Kris, on the other hand, invests his heart and soul into every song and you can see that. He doesn't need to scream or hit that glory note to be taken seriously as an artist.

...And that's my two sense. Sorry, but I live and die for Idol each week and have really strong opinions about the contestants ;)

Criticlasm said...

Yes, Dame and Alex, we all do. That's what's so awesome about these things.

And don't even get me started on the Runway, the Biggest Loser and ANTM!

As Lu will attest, I used to be so above them all. But, alas, no longer. lol.

I can see Adam's fakery I suppose, but I just like that he's so out there and fully formed. It's rare you see that on this show. And he looks a little like Elvis, which is kind of great. Gay Elvis. With a lot of high notes. I would like to hear what his low notes would be.

And if Danny Gokey was gay I'd be the first in line. Srsly. And I bet I'm not alone.

Tavia said...

So interesting that Broadway/theater is code for fake as well as gay. Or rather, even gays can dislike a performer for using tricks and artifice instead of "authenticity": which Kris apparently has because he is none too talented and actually looks like a guy who'd be humble and flattered enough to let you take him home, whereas Adam is a glamazon creature from the black-hair-dye lagoon who would eat you alive because no, he doesn't need you to like him, not in an approachable, all American boy next door way. He is a diva, which you can't stand, and divas know that there is nothing faker than humdrum, approachable authenticity, while, conversely, there is no more powerful vocal truth than that which can only be accessed through tricks, artifice, and theatrical razzle dazzle. That's showbiz!

Alex in Movieland said...

Booooooo to the results.

Gokey should've been history. I dislike him so much I'm quite sure he's winning :(