The most noteworthy thing about this year’s Out 100 — Out magazine’s glossy list of one hundred important folks — wasn’t that there was a black person on the cover. Or that there was a straight person. It’s that Adam Lambert, arguably 2009’s most high-profile entrant to The Gays, almost wasn’t a part of it. Because Out is a gay magazine, you see, and Team Lambert can’t be too closely associated with homosexuals.
Lambert gave his coming out story to Rolling Stone and his first major photo shoot to Details, where he was snapped suckling a woman’s breast. So along comes this month’s Out, with Lambert finally granting the gay press a big get. Except his “people” made it quite the trying experience.
Just after posting photos of Lambert on his music video shoot, we read that Out editor Aaron Hicklin laid into Adam’s camp in his editor’s letter — a bold move, since the negotiations between a magazine’s editorial staff and its cover stars is not something that’s usually put on display, particularly since it won’t be long before said magazine is calling on that celebrity (or his agents, publicists, and managers) for more access, or access to their other clients. Bitching against the machine, while status quo on this website because we answer only to our readers, just isn’t something that’s done with shiny magazines. In recent memory, only OK! has done this, reporting on its disastrous photo shoot with Britney Spears (remember the dog poop on the Zac Posen dress); and OK! is a tabloid magazine, to be sure.
But the ire isn’t just targeted at Adam’s handlers, but the star himself — if he knew about Out‘s overtures and his camp’s arm’s length response. Particularly since this is a guy who claims he was never in the closet. Writes Hicklin:
We’re curious whether you know that we made cover offers for you before American Idol was even halfway through its run. Apparently, Out was too gay, even for you. There was the issue of what it would do to your record sales, we were told. Imagine! A gay musician on the cover of a gay magazine. What might the parents think! It’s only because this cover is a group shot that includes a straight woman that your team would allow you to be photographed at all—albeit with the caveat that we must avoid making you look “too gay.” (Is that a medical term? Just curious). Luckily, you seemed unaware that a similar caution was issued to our interviewer.
Perhaps we should have had you and Cyndi in a tongue lock. That would be radical. It’s odd, because this magazine has done covers with Pete Wentz and Lady Gaga—getting straight men and women to do Out is easy these days. It gives them cred. Getting gay stars like yourself is another matter. Much easier to stick you in Details, where your homosexuality can be neutralized by having you awkwardly grabbing a woman’s breast and saying, “Women are pretty.” So are kittens, Adam, but it doesn’t mean you have to make out with them. Imagine how much more radical it would have been to go down on a guy instead of that six-foot Barbie. We don’t think you would have a problem with that—why should you?—but your record label would, and letting them dictate the terms is the very opposite of rock ’n’ roll. And did you read the article? You would think your entire fan base was made up of women and heterosexual men, or “straight dudes” as the writer describes them, just so we can all be clear. No mention of your gay fans, which is kind of disappointing, don’t you think, given what your success represents? We don’t want to sound ungrateful—you agreed to do our cover, and your interview (page 62) is gracious and frank—but if the Out 100 has a purpose it’s to challenge the kind of apartheid that lays down one rule for gay mags and one for all others. We think you probably feel the same way—you even say as much—so we don’t mean to diminish your achievements this year. That’s why you’re in this issue. You’re a pioneer, an out gay pop idol at the
start of his career. Someone has to be first, and we’re all counting on you not to mess this up. You have to find your own path and then others can follow. We just hope it’s a path that’s honest and true and that you choose to surround yourself with people who celebrate your individuality.
We understand a thing or two about access to celebs, and how their handlers dictate their image. Refuse to shape your article in a positive light? Then there won’t be an interview, thank you very much.
But we also understand the challenges of Lambert: becoming arguably the most famous out gay musician over night (sorry, he’s already bigger than Jake and Rufus), and having everyone look to you as a role model. Does Lambert need to be our role model? You could argue as much, given the reach of American Idol, but Lambert is just a twentysomething young man in the beginning of his career. And yet, he does owe us something. While he didn’t win Idol, America’s gays helped propel him this far because we knew, even if producers refused to publicly acknowledge, that he was family. When folks like Bill O’Reilly attacked him — under the guise of fair cultural criticism — after photos of him kissing other dudes leaked, it was us queers pointing out how terribly normal it all was.
So it’s sad, then, that Lambert had such a hard time committing to appear on a gay magazine. The same way David Unger, the former chief of the just-deceased Window Media, blamed homophobic advertisers for the collapse of his media company, it’s fair to say that homophobic handlers OF A GAY MUSICIAN are impeding what should be a natural bridge between an openly gay music star and his gay fan base. We don’t have Lambert’s side of things, and likely never will — he and his camp won’t want to further ruffle feathers — but usually a celeb’s demands to appear in a magazine include having their fashion line or favorite charity plugged in the article. Lambert’s criteria went in a whole new direction.
As Hicklin notes, Lambert leaves in his wake this unfortunate (and true) scenario:
The irony is that right now it would be easier to get Kris Allen to do a solo cover shoot for us. But only because he’s straight.
Funny, because this was what Lambert had to say in this very issue of Out:
I was just going to make [my sexuality] a non-issue, because to me, it really isn’t about that. It’s about the entertainment factor. And I don’t understand why it has to be about my sexuality. I’m just not going to talk about it one way or another. It doesn’t matter. And then when those pictures came out, I was like, you know what? I thought maybe I’ll just own it and say, “Yeah, I’m gay.” But I didn’t want to label myself. What I did was, I said, “I’m not ashamed of the pictures.” I didn’t do the thing that some people do and say, “I made mistakes in the past.” I didn’t want to acknowledge it as a mistake or something I was ashamed of, because I’m not.
Oh, and this:
One of the things that I don’t like about the gay community is that people define themselves by their sexuality — and that’s bullshit. It shouldn’t be about that. It should be that it just so happens that you’re this or that, and that’s your sexuality. It doesn’t mean that that should dictate what your social group is or where you go out or who you talk to or what your interests are. That’s bullshit. That’s outdated.
UPDATE: Shana Naomi Krochmal, who conducted the Lambert interview for the magazine, further explains what went down between Out and Lambert’s handlers. She writes in part:
Despite plenty of back and forth between the magazine and the label about the cover and the photo shoot, I still wasn’t prepared for what happened when I showed up at the 19 Entertainment offices for the interview. I briefly met Adam, and then the publicist and I walked out to the balcony, at which point I was cautioned against making the interview “too gay,” or, “you know, gay-gay.” Specifically I was discouraged from asking about the March on Washington that upcoming weekend or other political topics. I pointed out the difference between the Advocate, Out’s sister newsmagazine, and Out, which is more broadly a men’s fashion and lifestyle book, but obviously made no promises one way or the other. It was pretty awkward, as if we were discussing two totally different people — an Adam who doesn’t seem to have any real filter when talking about his life or his opinions, and an Adam who could somehow be contained, made safe for mainstream America.
When Adam joined us, the publicist left, and Adam and I sat down for a little over an hour on our own. You can read a transcript of Part One here and Part Two here. (It was very lightly edited, mostly to remove blathering set-up for questions on my part or redundant or vague discussion of an album that, in early October, didn’t even contain a track listing.) He clearly has no trouble expressing himself on any issue, be it political, cultural, sexual or musical.
I still wish I’d been more surprised when I was met with such a ludicrous and offensive request. I am a journalist. I ask questions. Out is a magazine whose primary audience is gay men. Is anyone confused about that? I’ve been doing this for a long time and though I’ve been generically warned in a similar fashion before — “let’s make it upbeat and fun!” reps often say, or “just talk about the album/movie/TV show!” — it’s never been quite so egregious or with such an obvious expectation that I would comply.
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