I admire the way my colleague Michael Slezak has analyzed the shortcomings of Adam Lambert’s AMA performance. He writes like a first-rate music critic, breaking down the ways in which Lambert’s vocals, the show’s sound system, the song itself, and the over-the-top performance failed, from Michael’s point of view as an expert of the American Idol aesthetic.
I have to say, however, that as a TV viewer, I thought Lambert’s performance was a gas, a delight, a blast of brash vulgarity in the midst of merely ordinary vulgarity.
Lambert was an event unto himself. The song he was singing was beside the point — and the point was, “Here I am, Adam Lambert, freed from the shackles of American Idol, I’ll push this dancer’s face into my crotch if I feel like it, isn’t it funny to lead human beings around on leashes, and can you believe how high I got my hair to stand up under these lights?”
As a post-music pop star in the manner of Lady Gaga, music takes a back seat to spectacle. Lambert’s AMA climax wasn’t a commercial for his new album; it was, in the Norman Mailer phrase, an “advertisement for myself.” As he did on Idol, Lambert simultaneously connects himself to pop history (his look, demeanor, and his multiple vocal styles gather together Elvis, Elton, Labelle, Pin-Ups David Bowie, with a dash of Lou Reed circa Transformer and Rock N Roll Animal) and disconnects himself from any earlier tradition.
A day after the AMA broadcast, he’s all anyone wants to talk about, and his was the only performance worth considering in multiple ways. Conventional measures of “good” and “bad” went out the window for a few moments. Flouting convention: how rock & roll. Using TV instead of music as a way for a singer to maintain prominence: how pure pop.
Nice job, Lambert.
UPDATE: Barbara Walters and Elisabeth Hasselbeck just slammed Lambert on this morning’s The View (Elisabeth: “there was a sexual aggression there”). I repeat: Nice job, Lambert.
For more on Adam Lambert and the AMAs: Adam Lambert: Simulated fellatio, bikini-area snapping, and make-out sessions. But what about the vocals?