By now, most of us have heard something about Adam Lambert’s American Music Awards performance in November.
“Vulgar.” “Shocking.” “Disgusting.” These were just some of the nicer words used to describe Lambert’s raunchy number at 10:57 p.m. on ABC.
For those who didn’t see the act (it’s no longer on YouTube), here’s the long and short of it: He rough-kissed a male band-mate, pulled a male dancer by collar chain, groped a female dancer, and simulated oral sex with another woman.
Not exactly Elvis Presley swiveling his hips on the Ed Sullivan show.
Oh, and by the way, Lambert also screeched one of his new songs, “For Your Entertainment.” (One odd performance like this would have gotten him instantly booted off American Idol, by the way).
But what most casual fans don’t realize about Lambert’s ill-conceived, mistimed performance, was that none of this probably would have happened had he opened the show, instead of closed it.
You see, Lambert tried, and failed miserably, to upstage one of his idols, Lady Gaga, who performed about 90 minutes before him on the same show.
The reality is, Gaga’s performance, like most of her shtick, was far more over-the-top than Lambert’s. In a skin-tight white outfit, showing every curve on her incredibly fit body, and phallic tassel on her crotch, Gaga sang “Bad Romance,” and “Speechless,” two songs from her new “The Fame Monster” album.
She had a large dance group, in equally seductive costumes, performing the moves with her. Later, in a violent outburst, swinging her right hand, she broke five bottles over the piano keyboard, as she kept playing with her left hand. All of this while the piano was surrounded by circle of fire.
Lambert was vilified. Lady Gaga was heralded.
What’s the difference? It’s the dancing, stupid.
Gaga’s shows are performance art; it’s a spectacle, and she can dance a little like Madonna, Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson all rolled into one.
Whatever she does on stage (like the wild display of blood oozing from her stomach at the MTV Music Awards), is always an extra or a bonus to her real strength — her dancing, and ability to tell a story through her body movements. She works so hard she even fainted a few nights ago and had to cancel a concert.
Lambert, by comparison, has shied away from moving much while on stage. The closest he’s gotten to busting a move was during those terrible variety show numbers the Idol contestants acted in on the Wednesday results show.
If Adam Lambert wants to be a disco, glam-rocker, he needs to, well, learn how to be a disco, glam-rocker.
An audience can forgive a lot of vulgar behavior if it believes that the performer’s lewd conduct is an added value, not the core essence of the product.
Look at Michael Jackson. The guy spent the second half of his career grabbing his crotch while on stage. And, while it turned off some people, they still respected his entertainment abilities because they knew he could dance.
Even through her weirdness, Lady Gaga’s authenticity shines through. Lambert, at least at the American Music Awards, looked like he was an actor trying to sing instead of a singer trying to act. From a visual standpoint, it was a bad ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ moment.
The other reason Lambert doesn’t work yet beyond just being an American Idol spectacle, simply, is his music. “For Your Entertainment,” his new album, screams of too many cooks in the kitchen. Every song is different, and there is not a tangible sense of story on the album. There’s no narrative. It’s just a bunch of songs, some are good, some are OK, and some are kinda bad.
Both Lady Gaga’s “The Fame,” and “The Fame Monster,” are consistent in their theme. They are dance albums. They have great hooks. And the writing of the songs on Gaga’s albums is sharper.
Lady Gaga’s, “Speechless” : “After all the drinks and bars that we’ve been to, would you give it all up, would I give it all up for you? After all the boys and girls that we’ve been through, would you give it all up, would I give it all up for you?”
Note that there are characters, a scene and and sense human emotion.
Lambert’s “For Your Entertainment” : “Do you like what you see? Let me entertain you til you scream!”
Lambert’s album also seems to lack the euphoric, suspended hooks that Gaga’s music has.
And the biggest reason Lambert’s post-Idol career has also been a train wreck, again beyond the spectacle, is he’s just not being himself.
Lambert soared on Idol because of his voice and stage presence. Lambert can sing like few can. Unfortunately, his handlers drowned out most of his vocal ability on his debut album.
There may be hope. It seems as though Lambert, to some degree has realized he may have deviated from his career script a bit too early. Since his AMA performance, we’ve seen a more relaxed version of the singer. He quickly moved to his second single, “Whataya Want For Me,” co-written by Pink. It’s a great song — it’s too bad he didn’t sing that one at the AMAs.
A man as talented as Lambert will probably figure out a way to endure and enjoy a successful career, despite his false start. On American Idol, he was phenomenal. Finding talent like his is the reason that show exists.
But as he goes out into the real world, Lambert must remember that he needs to continue to shock with his talent . . . not his gimmicks.