A hot young singer's television performance causes a scandal with its in-your-face sexuality never before seen on prime time TV. Television critics and viewers across the country slam the performance for its "appalling lack of musicality," for its "vulgarity" and "animalism." The Catholic Church takes up the criticism in its weekly publication. Concerns about juvenile delinquency and the changing moral values of the young find a new target in the red-hot singer, whose talent is undeniable despite his scandalous stagecraft.
I'm talking, of course, about Elvis Presley, whose pelvis-shaking 1956 performance of "Hound Dog" on The Milton Berle Show, of all things, got this very reaction. Adam Lambert should find comfort in this. His wildly controversial performance on the American Music Awards was called everything from "ultra lewd," "disgusting," and "pornographic" to "a delight" and "one of the most awesomely outrageous rock & roll moments to show up on prime-time TV lately." Lambert even managed to briefly knock Sarah Palin out of the blogosphere.
As I posted here and here, no one is a bigger Lambert fan than me, except maybe his mother. But the Elvis comparison is not entirely accurate, since Lambert's song "For Your Entertainment" is no "Hound Dog" and unlikely to achieve such classic status. And as a musical performance Lambert's was a bit of a train wreck, since the focus was not on the music or the vocal but on the gyrating S&M costumed dancers, as well as Lambert's game attempts to navigate the stairs like a tap dancer in 42nd Street. And once a guy's face is in the singer's crotch, you can pretty much kiss the melody goodbye.
After 30 seconds of watching Lambert's performance, I wondered, what fresh gay hell is this? Then I realized that what Lambert was doing was essentially the exact same thing he had done in The Zodiac Show, a whacked-out late night revue in Los Angeles. But that was in the middle of the night and a lot of the audience was probably as bombed as the show. Perhaps Lambert should have had it in his contract with ABC that the entire viewing audience must get high before watching.
Lambert had some of the same reaction to his American Idol version of Johnny Cash's "Ring Of Fire," which in hindsight seems genius. Simon Cowell warned him to never go to Nashville. Country radio stations trashed him with blatant antigay comments. Internet posters said it was the end of his career. That performance was indeed shocking by American Idol standards, but it showed an artist unafraid to take risks.
Lenny Bruce was jailed for saying things said every night in comedy clubs today. Wendy O. Williams of the Plasmatics was arrested for obscenity. Hip hop singers scared the bejeezus out of conservative whites. Police attempted to shut down a James Brown concert. Cher caused a stir flashing her fanny to sailors in "If I Could Turn Back Time." Don't even start about Marilyn Manson.
All of the above instances proved to be a mountains out of mole hills. The republic did not falter, children did not turn into crazed drug-addled zombies, dogs did not have heart attacks, and tsunamis did not destroy low-level islands. All that happened was a bunch of irate conservatives harrumphed their moral superiority and shook their heads at the decline of Western Civilization, then went off to do even nastier things in private.
When Lambert said that a double standard exists that allows female performers to give highly sexual performances and not male performers, he's right. Come to think of it, he wasn't doing anything that Jim Morrison didn't do in the late 60s. Was his performance a bit much for prime time TV? Probably. But, as I posted here and here, a lot of negative reaction to Lambert is based on homophobia. Trust me, it is. A brief glance at reader postings on conservative sites such as Free Republic show the most vile, hate-filled antigay comments imaginable that have nothing to do with his performance and everything to do with his sexuality.
Lambert is not only out of the closet, he's out of the closet and in your face. Rock stars have shown in your face sexuality for years, but it's never before been so gay. Lambert is unafraid to push this particular envelope. That's never been done before, especially by an artist at the very beginning of his career. This guy has major, major cojones. He wears more eye makeup than an 80 year old Jewish lady at the Friar's Club, for God's sake.
I can't wait to see him live.
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