It’s 2015, my 21st birthday and I’m stood in London’s O2 arena about to experience what will turn out to be one of my favourite shows of all time. Beer in hand, lighter ready to wave in the air, the lights go down and within seconds the whole crowd is singing along to every word.
The band I’m seeing is Queen + Adam Lambert. A collaboration between the British rock legends and the American singer, the collab first began back in 2009 when the then-26-year-old Adam appeared on American Idol. “I auditioned for American Idol about nine years ago with ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and I found out that they [Brian May and Roger Taylor] saw that performance online.” He tells me on the phone from LA. “As I progressed on the show, they’d been keeping up with me and then they were on the finale, so that’s kind of when we first performed live together. It was like this sense of – I don’t know if I realised it at the time – but there was an instant comfort and connection to them.”
Placing second on American Idol (side note: he was robbed), Adam dropped his debut album For Your Entertainment later that same year and kept in touch with Brian and Roger throughout. Two years later they asked him to join them to perform a special Queen medley at the 2011 MTV EMA, which then turned into a handful of shows in the UK and Europe and then the rest “sort of snowballed into bigger and bigger tours” over the following years, all whilst balancing his solo career throughout. And you thought you had a busy week, eh?
“At the beginning of working with Queen I was completely intimidated by the idea!” Adam laughs. “I was like ‘What? Are you serious? You guys really want me to do this?’ I was intimidated by what fans would say and probably expect of me. Being in the shadow of Freddie Mercury is kind of a mind-fuck, you know? But over the years, I got comfortable with the show and the set of songs. I went from being intimidated and freaking the fuck out to feeling like it was an honour to continue carrying on a torch for the band and for a man who was so ahead of his time and who was taken from us way too soon. These songs they wrote are timeless and I feel like it’s a real treat to bring that to fans everywhere.”
The role that Adam has taken on as the vocalist for Queen has not been one he’s taken lightly. Although he has one of the most incredible voices in pop and a range that would make Beyonce jealous, he’s singing the songs that the most gifted vocalist to ever walk this earth has performed. “I knew that it would be confusing for an audience, and even for me as a singer, because I don’t want to imitate Freddie but at the same time I can’t get too far away from the original recording because I fell in love with it just like the fans did.” He explains. “I was trying to figure out ‘okay, maybe, this isn’t what he did with his voice but it’s the same intention on an emotional place or a storytelling place and let’s look at that from what I’m doing on stage.’ That’s been a really interesting study.”
“I think it’s had a pretty positive reception.” He continues. “I’m just honoured to be up there and like I’ve said over and over again, I’m just a fan just like the people in the audience! So it’s been like, ‘hey, let’s just enjoy this music and let’s celebrate Brian May and Roger Taylor who were part of the best rock band of all time getting to do what they were born to do!”
And celebrate you should, because seeing Queen + Adam perform is an experience like no other. Making it totally his own, Adam is a flawless performer who is unapologetically himself. This is a trait that he also maintains off-stage.
“I have been gay and out of the closet – very loudly so – since I was 18 and I wasn’t in the closet on the show [American Idol] or around anyone.” Adam tells me. “It wasn’t until the show was wrapping up that I realised everyone wanted me to come out, but I was already out! I’ve always been out. It was just never talked about because it had no baring of what I was doing on stage. It’s not like it was a big surprise with my outfits or my looks or my song choices, you know?” He laughs. “I always think to myself that if I had been in a serious relationship at the time and my partner had been in the audience then it probably would have come up. Or if Ryan Seacrest had asked me about my dream man I probably would have answered his question but it just never came up! By the time the show ended, I had all these interviews lined up and I was an open book, but it was interesting because people said ‘oh, but you didn’t come out’ and I was like ‘but I was out I was just learning the responsibility of celebrity at that point and hadn’t quite wrapped my head around the idea that if not publicly declared, it couldn’t help others!’”
Adam was the first out artist to have a number one album on the Billboard chart. I ask if he’s ever experienced any homophobia in the industry and he pauses. “I think there definitely was more of an element in the business [back in 2009] but I didn’t find that the people I was dealing with were actually homophobic but I definitely think they were a little bit worried about ‘how are we going to sell this artist to the masses?’ I’ve met a lot of amazing people but they’re concerned with ‘is there an audience here and will an audience by comfortable with this?’ and I think there was a lot of trying and a lot of effort because at the time there weren’t any other gay pop artists on mainstream radio. It wasn’t something anybody had any blueprint for so it was definitely interesting. There were probably a couple of cases where I may have done things that affected commercial viability but I was doing them for personal reasons or because I wanted to prove a point and I still stand by everything I did”; in 2010 Adam unashamedly kissed his bass player during an AMA performance.
“It was a lot of guessing and that was fucking scary because I was playing with fire.” He goes on to say. “Can I explore this topic? Can I sing about a guy in a song? Can I display sexuality during this performance? A lot of thing were taboo and got some backlash. It was interesting. But now it’s nine years later and I’m seeing different pop acts come up that are so proud about their sexuality and it doesn’t even seem like it’s a big thing anymore! We’re moving to the other side of it, where it’s the way it always should have been.”
We talk about some of our favourite open singers and Adam mentions Sam Smith, Olly Alexander of Years & Years, Troy Sivan, Hayley Kiyoko as some of the new wave of pop stars blazing the trail for talking openly about their sexuality and LGBTQ issues. “I think it’s the younger generation coming up and being open minded.” He tells me. “I think the music industry has also structured itself differently. I think there’s more power being given back to an audience, so we don’t have these nervous business men worried about everything. We can just put music on Spotify or Apple Music or whatever platform and let the audience decide for themselves which is powerful. There’s a lot more freedom and mobility. I feel sometimes like I’m sitting here going ‘okay, now it’s different than what it was in the beginning’ so I find myself over the last couple of years having to retrain how I look at my career and the industry and go like ‘oh, I can take this on differently, I can try this now because people think differently’.
Now back working on his own new music – “I think the fans have been waiting long enough, and so have I!” – Adam is returning with brand new music that’ll hopefully be out later this year! Working on it in-between touring with Queen, his songwriting sessions see him drawing influences from classic pop, rock, soul, disco and funk to create, what he describes as, a “timeless” sounding album. “I’ve really been trying to explore what I want the sound and subject matter to be.” He explains. “I want it to be authentic and real and something that felt natural for me. Because it’s such a competitive industry, it’s very easy to get lost with producers and songwriters trying to be like ‘this is the trend and this is the sound of the moment’ and all of that’s really cool but it makes you get lost in the game and you lose the heart of what you’re doing. So I’ve been really focussed on trying to stay in my own truth in everything and it’s been going really well because now I feel like everything is coming together. Things are really good. I think this year is gonna be really exciting.” And we can’t help but agree.
Photography Paley Fairman
Fashion Editors Mar Peidro & Leah Adicoff
Words Elly Watson
Hair James McMahon
Makeup Andrea Gomis
Photography Assistant Gilles O’kane