As a global music icon and frontman of one of the biggest rock bands in the world, AMG sits down with Adam Lambert to discuss the thrill of performance, how he handled the pressure of stepping into the shoes of Freddie Mercury, and the importance of pushing yourself beyond your profession.
“It’s thrill seeking,” Adam Lambert says over Zoom, ruminating upon his most cherished aspects of performing live. The Queen frontman is sitting in his living room wearing a pair of tinted, electric yellow glasses that, as he says, are being used to hide the signs of his third day of jet lag - the peak of tiredness, he attests. Within moments of joining the call, it’s clear that Lambert weaves aspects of his performance into his personality, or rather, his personality is what makes his on-stage performances come alive.
Most musicians will often go into great detail about how thrilling it is to play in front of a packed out stadium, but Adam Lambert isn’t most musicians. And neither is the 39-year-old’s story of his rapid rise to fame one that you hear very often. After the world witnessed his raw talent on the US TV show American Idol in 2009, and saw how the stage seemed to be a natural extension of his existence, a pulse of excitement began to beat under the surface of the singer’s future.
Only a couple of years after finishing as a runner-up on the show, Lambert joined the iconic British band Queen as their new singer, slipping into the shoes of the great Freddie Mercury. Alongside bandmates Bryan May and Roger Taylor, Lambert’s journey has taken him to every corner of the world, it has formed who he is today, and proved that his purpose is rooted in performance.
And now, the singer’s career stretches far beyond music. Lambert is using his talent to channel his creativity into various avenues - notably, writing musicals and experimenting with various genres. But he also uses his platform as a global icon to shed necessary light on issues that affect queer folk all around the world. Launching the Feel Something Foundation in 2019, Lambert created an organisation that supports members of the LGBTQ+ community from all backgrounds and ages. Since American Idol back in 2009, Adam Lambert has fast become not only a leader in the music industry, but an inspiration for using popularity and media attention to dig deep into problems of the present and make the world a better place for the future.
In an exclusive interview with the Queen frontman and philanthropist, AMG discovers all about Adam Lambert’s journey to where he is today, the morals and values that produce industry leaders, and how performance can lead to self-discovery…
There was a lot of pressure around stepping into the shoes of Freddie Mercury, how did you handle that?
I definitely felt the pressure. This was over 10 years ago so it’s been a while, but in the beginning I was intimidated by the idea that Freddie’s a rock god, and I knew that the fans would be really hardcore. I kept thinking to myself, can I pull this off?
What purpose do you think musicians have in the world nowadays, beyond making music?
Over a long period of time, the idea of identity has shifted to the front seat for artists. I’m making a generalisation because obviously there are exceptions to all of this. It used to be music first, then talent and integrity and I think that still exists and there are still lots of musicians for whom that’s their first priority, but a lot of the music industry now - probably because of social media - has slung into this, who are you? What are you about? Do people want to be your friend, do they want to sleep with you, or do they want to idolise you? It’s now all about this criteria of identity based on the person, maybe more than it ever has been.
You founded the Feel Something Foundation, do you think musicians should often use their platform to do good?
Yes, if it’s authentic. For me personally, when I first got into the business, I didn’t do it with the intention of wanting to be in philanthropy - it sort of led me there. I found myself presented with the opportunity, and I was like yeah, I do genuinely have an interest in it, especially the direction it took into the queer space. Also, I have fans that aren’t queer, so I thought it was a really good opportunity to bridge that gap between the community and our allies.
Is the genre - and the industry as a whole - as inclusive as it can be? How much more work is there to be done?
There’s always more work to do. But it’s definitely getting better and better. It’s exciting. Look at the American music scene: Lil Nas X, who’s such a great success story - somebody that’s had real, viable music success in terms of what record labels look at: sales, streams and chart positions. In being who he is, he’s been pushing some buttons and been a provocateur - we haven’t really had anybody like that. I tried to make some statements early on and got into big trouble for it. So it’s really exciting to be in a place now where enough people are ready for someone like that to be a mainstream artist.
How did music and performance help you discover more about yourself?
I’ve found that I’ve become more comfortable over the years. Early on, I would get nervous or have a lot of adrenaline. That has its value: sometimes it can charge a performance and make it really frenetic. But one of the exciting things of maturing as a performer is figuring out what it feels like when you’re not super anxious or frenetic, what you can accomplish without that type of energy. So, I like the fact that I’ve been doing it for a long time because it’s allowed me to be a little bit vulnerable. If you do it for a long time, it’s going to evolve for you.
What does performance mean to you?
I tend to get into my head. I think about things a lot. What I like about performing is that moment where you don’t really have a lot of time to think, you just have to act - I like the immediacy of it. You have to deliver in this moment or else you fail. You’re on a train which is moving and you can’t stop it. It’s thrill seeking. I like the adrenaline you get from it, the connectivity of it. I like that you can be in front of an audience of people and everything you’re doing is being registered by the crowd. It's exciting. There’s nothing else like it.
How would you say your purpose might have changed or have been re-shaped over the past year? Did releasing an album at the start of the pandemic make you think that your priorities lie elsewhere?
I think this last year and a half has been really intense, obviously. I think it has really shifted my perspective on a couple of things. The fact that everything slowed down was kind of good. On a personal level, I got Covid last year and it was scary. You don’t know how you’re gonna do. It sounds clichéd, but it kind of made me wake up a little bit; what are my priorities, what actually matters, what are the important things in my life? I think it has shifted my attitude of what contentment is supposed to look like. What do I actually need to be happy and when am I the happiest? It’s stuff I already knew, but it reminded me I’m project-oriented. Even if it’s painting a stupid thing or gluing a craft project. That’s where I’m happy. I’m happy making things and creating things. It was good for that. It quietened down the extra distractions.
Having travelled all over the globe, in what ways do you think the world might be changing for the better?
That’s a mixed bag. There are a lot of issues right now that I think are being brought to light, which is a step in the right direction. If we can’t identify the problems, how are we going to fix them? I also think, in bringing them to light, you’re also creating extra tension but it’s a necessary step. Last year, the Black Lives Matter movement, after the murder of George Floyd, went through the roof and it was such a powerful time. As a white man, it was very interesting to realise it’s time to stop and listen and it’s not all about you, it’s about this group of people who need to be heard right now, and need our support and attention. It’s having conversations. It was scary in the US to see on television how blatantly awful the police were being. It was shocking. We’ve known that’s been the case, but for everyone to see that and to have it covered by the media was really powerful.
Where did you feel most inspired, both musically and personally? Why?
I’ve been in LA for more than 20 years and it's super comfy, I love my home. It’s a great place to have a dog. But I also love travelling. My favourite cities to go to that I find very charming are Amsterdam and Barcelona. I come to London a lot, I have been doing a lot of work here, so this has become a very exciting place creatively. New York is similar, I love New York. It always feels like a creative space.
When do you feel most electrified?
I think it comes back to being on stage. It’s like plugging into a battery. It fills me up in a way that I don’t get anywhere else. When I’m not performing for a long period of time, I feel like there’s something missing.
I understand you like cars, what would you say is the most memorable thrill you have of driving?
I do like a nice car. My car now is convertible, so having that in California just feels great. I like driving around with the top down because it feels so open, especially when it’s sunny out, which is 99% of the time. It’s nice to have the wind in your hair. If I’m in the mood for a little trip, we’ll go over to Malibu in the convertible.
How would you describe your journey from the early days of your career up to now – what can you say about the necessity of determination and drive?
That’s something that I constantly have to check in with myself about. There have been moments when I’ve felt discouraged and then there are moments when I feel really inspired. Ultimately, the team around you is so important. That’s one big thing I’ve learnt, because if the team isn’t right, and things aren’t going right, then you’re frustrated and discouraged. When you have all the pieces in place, it makes everything feel a lot better, a lot more exciting and positive. As I’ve gotten older and progressed through my career, I trust my own instincts more. In the beginning, I was a little more all over the shop. I was trying everything, and I look back now and think, “you were trying way too hard, what were you doing?” It’s been a journey. I’m really thankful for my experiences because I feel more comfortable in my skin now.
Where do you think/want your journey, in both music and life, to take you next?
Career-wise, I just want to keep working. I like getting involved in a lot of different things. I think that’s what makes this journey exciting. I’ve been doing stuff on TV recently, both as a person on TV but also to explore some of the behind-the-scenes stuff, like producing and coming up with ideas. I like working in a team and being a voice on a panel. I love making music and am now enjoying exploring different avenues for music, not just pop music. I’ve been writing a musical… I’m taking what I do and putting it in different lanes. I grew up doing musical theatre, so in a way, my career’s gone full circle and I’m coming back to the things I loved initially. In my personal life, I love my family and friends, I just want to be happy. It’s all about contentment. It’s all about staying happy.