Adam Lambert Talks New Song, New Sound, and Those Old ‘American Idol’ Judging Rumors
“I think there’s been talk that I’m going to be a judge [on American Idol], every year since I’ve been off the show,” chuckles Season 8 runner-up Adam Lambert, when he’s asked about recent rumors that he’ll be joining his pal and Direct Management roster-mate Katy Perry behind the judges’ table on ABC’s Idol reboot. “I don’t know where this talk comes from! I don’t think I’m going to be a judge on American Idol. But I’m always flattered by the speculation.”
Lambert is forever grateful for his Idol experience (“I own the show the world,” he says), but the man hardly has time to commit to a regular TV gig right now. Along with his international tour fronting Queen — on which he fills the late, great Freddie Mercury’s mighty big platform shoes and wins over fans in every city – he’s just released his glam slam of a new solo single, the unsubtly and unapologetically titled “Two Fux.”
Co-written with Trey Campbell, Big Taste, and Lambert’s longtime friends Ferras and Sarah Hudson, the delightfully attitudinal rock ‘n’ roll waltz showcases the newly scarlet-haired showman at his sassy, glammy, occasionally hammy best. It’s hard to imagine Lambert being any more confident than he already was, but on “Two Fux,” he sounds almost superhuman. And he sounds supremely comfortable in his (copiously tattooed) skin. At age 35, after eight years of being in the sometimes unforgiving public eye and five years of holding his own alongside Brian May and Roger Taylor, Lambert has gone from Idol to icon — and the role fits him like, well, those skintight red trousers he wears onstage with Queen every night.
On the eve of “Two Fux’s” release, Yahoo Music caught up with Lambert to talk about the bird-flipping, nose-thumbing message behind the single, his feelings about being an LGBTQ role model, today’s scary political climate, Prince, George Michael, and how much the world has changed since that notorious night at the 2009 American Music Awards. Namaste right here and read what he had to say.
YAHOO MUSIC: So the title and message of this song aren’t exactly subtle. What inspired it?
ADAM LAMBERT: Just as somebody who’s left of center, I’ve always received a bit of a side-eye from certain people. I’m used to it at this point. It can affect you in a certain way — I’ve definitely had my moments, since being in the spotlight, of hearing something and letting it get to me. But I’m in a place lately where I feel much more self-assured, in that I know exactly who and what I am — and I know what I’m not. I think with my last project [2015’s dance-pop effort The Original High], it was about that angst of chasing the original high, chasing after and longing for the unattainable — or what I think that I want. I find myself in this chapter of my life saying, “You know what? I know who I am, and I’m cool with it. And if anybody doesn’t like it, they can f*** off!” [laughs]
You say you used to be more self-conscious and you let things get to you. Can you elaborate?
I think I was more of a people-pleaser for a while. I’ve shed a lot of that. I mean, as a performer I’m always going to have a bit of that, but I’m not as concerned with negative opinions now. I just want to do me. It’s just a general feeling of like, “Nah, I’m good. Namaste right here.” I think there were times in the past where I felt unsure if I was really connecting with people, but I’m seeing so many movements percolating now, with this next generation coming up — the conversations that are happening about gender, gender-fluidity, masculinity versus femininity, trans-visibility. There is such an amazing awareness right now, and I’m very, very inspired by it. Even though the world is at a breaking point, I feel like this movement that’s happening, to help people understand each other and accept each other, is really inspiring to me. It gives me the hope to just do what I want and speak my mind.
It’s kind of hard to believe that only eight years ago, when you were on American Idol, the fact that you wore “guyliner” was literally frontpage news. Like, that was shocking to people. A lot has changed since then.
It’s literally an entirely different landscape than it was eight years ago. No one knew if me being openly gay was going to “work” — which was so funny to me, because I was like, “Well, I don’t really have a choice, that’s who I am!” But that was kind of industry’s raised eyebrow on the whole thing. Now we have out artists that are finding total commercial success. Like me kissing a guy on the f***ing AMAs [in 2009] was like, such a scandal, and I really don’t think it would be now.
You pretty much broke the Internet that night.
People just did not know what to do! I got pulled off of Good Morning America the next day, and they censored the kiss [with male bandmate Tommy Joe Ratliff] on ABC when I got interviewed about it — even though right beforehand, they had been showing Madonna and Britney making out [on the VMAs]. Like, huh? The double-standards there were running wild! I just don’t think it would be that way now. No one would care.
Do you think your success has played a part in pushing this movement towards LGBTQ acceptance forward?
Well, I think I’m one of many, many, many pieces. I’m just part of a puzzle. I will say I talk to young artists and meet fans and get messages on social media, and I’ve gotten a handful of really lovely compliments. I talked to a young, up-and-coming, queer hip-hop artist a couple weeks ago. We were chatting online about navigating being gay in the industry, and he said some really nice things. He said, “I was a kid when Idol was on, and I had never seen anybody on TV that was like you — that was clearly gay and was getting praise for what he was doing, not being made fun of. You made me feel like being [gay] would not prevent me from succeeding.” So if that is the case for other people, then I’m really thankful that that inspired them.
What inspiration do you want people to take from “Two Fux”?
I was like, “S***, I wanna lighten the mood up a little bit.” Pop can be very dark lately — even my pop, from my past album, was a little dark — and I think the world is a bit dark right now. So I thought, “Why not bring people a bit of a smile?” I definitely feel like the spirit right now in our country is interesting. There’s definitely a rebelliousness that I’m sensing. Things are tense, and there’s a lot of concern and conflict in our country right now; we’re a bit divided. Even the world’s energy right now is a little nervous. And I feel like [“Two Fux”] is the kind of vibe that hopefully can just help people feel self-assured, but also let them relax a bit and smile, because it’s not taking itself so seriously. It was the right energy that I wanted to share.
When will we hear more new solo music from you, and will it be similar to “Two Fux” in vibe?
There’s more songs in the pipeline, put it that way… I’m sure there will be more music this year… I’m very excited. The project as a whole is leaning back to my glam-rock roots a little bit more. It’s sort of my take on modern rock. The things that I love about my favorite rock stars, people like Freddie [Mercury] and Prince and George Michael — sonically they inspire me, and also their spirit inspires me. They didn’t give two f***s. They did exactly what they wanted to do. They were very individual, and they were very unapologetic. I’m identifying with that right now. So that’s my inspiration behind the project: some of my heroes, and why they were my heroes and how they were my heroes.
We have lost too many rock stars lately. We need more new ones.
I remember thinking to myself when the sad news came down of Prince passing and then George passing, and how not too long before that Michael Jackson had passed away: “Wow, these were the guys that were absolutely who they were.” They didn’t dress like everybody else. They didn’t follow trends. They didn’t edit themselves for people’s benefit. They were very brave to be weird, to be aliens. I’ve always loved expressing myself that way, but I think I felt along the way, over the past nine years, resistance to that. I felt certain members of the music industry maybe going, “Eh, we don’t know if that will work, it’s kind of weird. Is it commercial enough?” I’ve heard that stuff. So I think for me, seeing those iconic rock stars pass away has kind of made me feel like, “You know what? I want to help carry that spirit.” As much as I can, I mean. I’m nowhere near the level of those guys. But I want to carry that vibe. I want to carry that flag of the rebel.
Onstage with Queen, you dedicate “Two Fux” to Freddie Mercury. Did he inspire this song in any way?
I wanted to dedicate it to him because when Freddie would perform live, he really was so free. He did exactly what he wanted. I saw concert footage of him years ago from Montreal, where he’s in a pair of itty-bitty white shorts and no shoes, and he’s just traipsing around the stage — it’s hilarious, actually. It’s like a kid in his bedroom. It’s beautiful to watch footage of Freddie, because he was so wild onstage. That’s the spirit of the song “Two Fux.” Like, I don’t care if you like it; I like it. I’m doing this for me.
Your new song fits really well into Queen’s set; it almost sounds like a lost Queen song. And the audience seems very receptive.
We kind of realized that at the very last minute. When I played it for [Brian May and Roger Taylor], and they said that they liked it, it was like, “Oh, that’s not really a leap stylistically, is it?”
Did your tenure with Queen also affect your move towards a more glam-rock style?
Well, I know from touring with Queen that I’ve found my groove with that classic rock sound, and have found an audience in that world, so that was definitely part of my thinking with the style of this [upcoming album]. But you know, I think people get really hung up on genre — and clearly I never have. I like throwing a bunch of different influences into one song. I like a lot of different types of music. And I think you have to have a lot of different colors to put on a good show. I just want to get back to what I love about music, and the reasons I got into music in the first place. That’s the driving force.
I don’t suppose you care, but is there any concern that this single’s title may prevent it from getting radio or MTV airplay?
I don’t give two f***. [laughs] Streaming services are not censored. That’s all I have to say.