Few artists possess such a recognizable effervescence akin to that of Adam Lambert. His name has that punchy gravitas of a high-fashion label that has been splattered over billboards and inside magazines for decades, and his bewitching voice is second to none in its extraordinary range and punch-packing delivery. For anyone confusing the singer with Gen Z Disney star Adam Lamberg, also known as Gordo from Lizzie McGuire, this article isn’t for you. At this very moment, the American singer is swishing around a Shoreditch studio imitating an obscure perfume advert that once starred Liz Taylor, switching out the rhinestone-encrusted anarchy hoodie he arrived in for a pink Gucci coat I know he’s desperate to take home. A few minutes later, he emerges out of a conversation, shocked, possibly even distraught. “You don’t know what a FUPA is?” he exclaims. Slightly taken back by his team’s innocence, it dawned on me that I might be the only person in the room who knows what he’s talking about, cementing an unspoken bond between us both. After all, the abbreviation for ‘fat upper pussy area’ seems more likely part of a queer lexicon than something found in The Oxford Dictionary. Lambert has been a force to contend within the music industry for about as long as I can remember. His first brush with fame came with the eighth season of American Idol, equipped with a set of severe vocals and killer fringe that set him apart from the other contestants almost instantly. Though he placed as the competition’s runner up, this was just the beginning of an entirely new and tumultuous chapter of his life, one he describes in equal parts as overwhelming yet totally thrilling. For Your Entertainment, his invigorating debut album, was released later that year, and went straight in at number three on the Billboard 200. The album itself is a time capsule of hypnotic late aughties trash-pop fused with an undercurrent of rock production, reminiscent of a time where pop-punk hybrids like The Fray and Metro Station would bump shoulders with Beyoncé and Britney Spears in the charts. The album’s second single “Whataya Want from Me’’ even accrued a Grammy nomination for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, hardly a bad start to the game by any means. During the competition, images of Lambert kissing another man were leaked to the press, a cruel attempt to spark controversy in his ascendance to the big leagues. Coming out in an interview with Rolling Stone shortly thereafter, it’s clear that Lambert had always been someone undoubtedly sure of his identity, someone with nothing to hide.
Meet the former American Idol star turned queer-pop pioneer!
“It was a bit like unchartered territory,” Lambert says of his presence as an emerging queer pop star. “There wasn’t really anybody else I could look to in current pop music at the time that was out [..] it was exciting because I knew that it was a change, but also a bit scary.” Although reluctant to call himself a gay icon (despite being lauded as one by thousands such as myself), it’s certainly an undeniable facet of his career trajectory and a label which no doubt fills the pioneering singer with pride. “The queer movement in music is a whole niche now,” he tells me, “but it’s also mainstream, there are so many cases of queer artists having full-on commercial success. You look at Sam [Smith], MNEK, Hayley Kiyoko and Troye [Sivan], they’re really doing it, they’re getting played on the radio everywhere and it’s really exciting to see.” The next few years saw Lambert take his artistry to heights he could have never predicted, I mean, it’s not every day you’re asked to join a legendary rock and roll outfit like Queen. The singer first performed with the band in a performance of “We Are the Champions” at the finale of American Idol, a quick search on YouTube will even pinpoint the exact moment Lambert won over the Brit-rockers with his mellifluous voice and compelling stage presence.
Taking the reins from Paul Rodgers after he retired from the group in 2009, Lambert joined as his own entity, more honouring Freddie Mercury than filling his shoes, and has been enchanting audiences across the globe for nearly an entire decade ever since. Still, I imagine bridging the gap between Lambert’s own Max Martin-produced pop gems and the layers of harmonised glam rock prevalent in tracks like “Bohemian Rhapsody” was no easy feat. “There was definitely a point six or so years ago where the music I was making was supercurrent,” Lambert says of the years between his debut and 2015 release The Original High. “It was a big gap between the two sounds,” he admits, but with his latest endeavour Velvet, things seemed to have come full circle. “I don’t even think I did it consciously, but what I found with this project is that it’s a lot closer to [Queen’s] world, it feels the two have become one more than they ever have been.” The cogs began to turn on a trip back to Lambert’s childhood home in Indiana, the singer recalls unearthing a trove of his father’s crazy record collection and being instantly transported back to his childhood. Lambert’s era of choice was the seventies and early eighties, championing an assortment of classic rock, soul, and electrifying synth-pop – to some these records may be grounded in their respective eras, but to Lambert this period is full of meaning, holding a timeless charm that is often imitated but never replicated. Setting himself the impossible challenge of navigating this in his own music, Lambert’s goal was to capture this feel-good charm, and appropriate it in a way that was authentically his own.
Fundamentally though, Lambert had the drive to go about things in a different way than he had before. “I’ve done the music game on a major label for three albums,” Lambert explains as a team of groomers powder his face, “and I had my share of success. Those were all good experiences, but with Velvet I really wanted to turn a corner and go sonically somewhere very different than I had been.” The pop trailblazer was adamant in strapping himself into the driver’s seat, in creative terms, and decided to release the project on indie label More Is More. “It’s really easy to get sucked into the business side of things and the creative starts getting watered down,” he explains of the decision. “I think with [Velvet] in particular I really needed to insulate my creativity and do this for me, first and foremost.”
The album remains a singular body of work, split over two sides in the format of an actual vinyl record, thus extending the experience for the ravenous listener. Lambert himself believes the album is the most authentic representation of not only his musicality but also his personal life, interjecting at every stage as the album’s executive producer and co-writer. “I think I discovered more soul in my vocal approach, and created an overall cohesive mood,” he says, theorising the process. What Lambert serves us is a perfect balance of his musical roots and ten years of expertise in his field, an awareness of what works, what doesn’t, and a clear map of where he seeks to push his sound. Songs like “Superpower” and “Stranger You Are” for instance, show pop at its most pure and thrilling, with heavenly falsettos with building synths, funk-driven guitars lacing the sonic cocktail. “Loverboy” provides the perfect stage for Lambert to showcase his high octave vocals with effortless flare, a track you’d find yourself whizzing around a roller-skating rink to if your life was a movie. It’s gut-wrenching middle-track “Closer To You”, the album’s first piano-led ballad, however, that fully shows Lambert’s majestic evolution.
Still a main-stay in my monthly playlist 7 months after its debut, calling it an ode to anything doesn’t seem to do it justice. The track is an outpouring of emotion that reverberates into the deepest recesses of your heart, ultimately leaving you reeling, like the best ballads always do. With the album’s B-side fairly imminent, Lambert hasn’t been shy in treating fans to extra morsels of the Velvet story. Live versions of the pulse-raising tracks on Velvet Side A and multiple singles rolled out over the last few months (including a return feature with Chic’s Nile Rogers). So far, his fans seem satisfied, some even hailing the project as his best work to date. “That praise is such a reward for the long road this album took to be born,” he admits. But after the second half drops, what’s next? “More music,” he affirms, not missing a beat, “I just wanna keep making shit. If I’m not being creative, I feel like ‘what am I doing?’. It gives me purpose, which I think is really important, and that may move past just music.” While it’s clear pursuing all the winding avenues and sidestreets of the music world is his primary passion, Lambert still dares to dream beyond these confines. He talks of meandering into acting, designing, maybe even pulling strings behind the scenes as a director, as long as his creative juices are flowing that’s all that matters. Our conversation ends with the resolution of an Internet rumour I’ve been dying to know the answer to for some time now: Could it really be true that your voice is insured for $48 million dollars? He pauses for a moment, taking in the ridiculousness of the question I just posed. “Somewhere,” he says, mustering up an ounce of modesty, with some form of inflation, on some planet… I think?”