Sunday, June 07, 2009

"Glambert" and the New Gay Stereotype

I’ve never watched American Idol or even seen a performance of glam rocker Adam Lambert, the popular and oh-so-queer second place winner of the show’s most recent season. This is surprising, really, given that I’ve always had a bit of a thing for glam or glitter rock (the British variety, that is, as gloriously celebrated in Todd Hayes’ 1998 film Velvet Goldmine).

Anyway, recently I found myself enjoying and appreciating Rob Sheffield’s commentary about Adam Lambert (or “Glambert,” as he affectionately calls him) in the May 28 issue of Rolling Stone.

In fact, Sheffield’s description of the “new gay stereotype that has been reality TV’s gift to our culture,” brought a smile to my face. And what is this “new gay stereotype” that Sheffield maintains Adam Lambert successfully plays off? It’s the “hyperfunctional gay dude who has his shit together in contrast to all the neurotic, insecure straight guys around him.” How wonderfully queer is that?

Following are excerpts from Sheffield’s insightful commentary. Enjoy!


American Idol is back on top, and it’s all one little black-leather-clad demon prince’s fault. For the past few seasons, Idol seemed to be dying of boredom, but Adam Lambert, a goth student with mascara, black nail polish, and a falsetto from deep in the larynx of Lucifer, has single-handedly rescued the franchise. He can do sincerity and ridiculousity all at once, exactly the algorithm Idol has been striving for all these years.

. . . . Where the hell did they find this guy? There’s a “boy who fell to Earth” quality about him, like David Bowie’s Lady Stardust come to life. It’s a little hard to believe that, until a few months ago, he was toiling away as an obscure understudy in the L.A, production of Wicked. He’s easily the most fun Idol ever, a flam-bam-boyantly queeny California boy who has devoted his nights to making Midwestern housewives slobber into their tubs of Ben and Jerry’s Karamel Sutra. Whether he’s strutting up a rocker like “Born to Be Wild (“wiii-eeee-iiyaaaiild!”) or sobbing his way through “Mad World,” he oozes pure awesome-stosterone.

. . . We don’t know for sure if Glambert is gay – all he says is he has nothing to hide or deny – but if not, it’s the gayest embodiment of flaming youth by a straight guy since Bowie sold the world. Glambert plays off the new gay stereotype that has been reality TV’s gift to our culture: the hyperfunctional gay dude who has his shit together in contrast to all the neurotic, insecure straight guys around him. He reverses the joke from Mean Girls – he’s too gay not to function. Somewhere along the line, this has become an iconic gay image in the mainstream – seen more recently in I Love You, Man, where the only person with any confidence is the gay Andy Sambery character, who gets to be strong while all the straight boys are sulky little bitches.

Glambert doesn’t seem dragged down at all by the neediness or self doubt that eats up the kids trapped in the Idol closet. Clay Aiken went through a five-year struggle to come out, but in 2009, Adam’s flamboyance shows that he knows exactly what he’s doing. He rocks his fingerless black gloves and his lesbian wallet chain (how rio-grrrl is he?) and doesn’t seem the least bit nervous about being who he is – he’s like a younger, sluttier Tim Gunn.

You know how your basic glam-rock epic ends with the hero dying because he’s too beautiful for this cruel world? Adam has left this fatalistic aspect of glam rock behind; he’s picked Bowie, Queen, and Roxy Music clean in terms of stylistic cues, but he’s not content to be a beautiful loser – he wants to be a beautiful winner.


Yes, well, as I said, Adam Lambert finished second to Kris Allen (pictured below at right) on the eighth season of American Idol.

In explaining Lambert’s loss to Allen, one fan opines:

When comparing Adam and Kris there is no doubt Adam had more talent and originality. However, Americans may not have been ready for the metro, flashy Adam Lambert.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Adam Lamert: America’s First Gay “Idol”? - Sheila Mariker (ABC News, April 15, 2009).
Adam Lambert on His Sexuality: “Keep Speculating” - Aaron Parsley (People, May 27, 2009).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The New Superman: Not Necessarily Gay But Definitely Queer
Ian Thorpe’s “Difficult Decision”
A Fresh Take on Masculinity
Out Gay Actor Neil Patrick Harris: “I’m Striving to Be An Example of Normalcy”
Making a Splash
Openly Gay Diver Wins Olympic Gold
A Glorious Pop Moment


Anonymous said...

Like Michael, I've not watched American Idol or any of the similarly revolting programs, birthed in Britain, and which Americans find "amusing."

I would caution, however, "any stereotype," and Glambert is no more representative of anyone, but an entertainer. If he appeared in that getup in San Francisco, he'd be laughed off the street.

He may be talented. He may even be gay (androphile). But he no more represents "all gay men," than I do. On this, Michael and I are in complete agreement.

Phillip Clark said...

Adam is awesome! Michael, please do discover just what's behind his awesomeness! He's really a greay guy and he SHOULD have won Idol. But obviously, America unfortunately was't ready for that. Honestly, that night when the result were announced and when "Kris Allen" not "Adam Lambert" was announced as the winner it dealt a blow to my heart just about as severe and bitter as Prop 8 was... But ultimately, it doesn't really matter, he'll still go far and touch millions of more lives! God has truly given him a gift! Viva Adam!