“I’m not known for being subtle”

Winford Hunter

Adam Lambert may have named his latest album ‘High Drama’, but in person he is relaxed, affable and happy to talk about all aspects of his career. Since breaking through on American Idol in 2009, the 41-year-old has recorded prolifically – ‘High Drama’ is his fifth LP – and collaborated with Nile Rodgers, Tove Lo and Demi Lovato. Along the way, he has struck a major blow for LGBTQ+ representation simply by being himself. With his 2012 album ’Trespassing’, he became the first openly gay artist to top the Billboard 200.

Alongside his stellar solo career, Lambert has also formed a prolific live collaboration with Queen. As probably the only singer on the planet with the multi-octave vocal range and flamboyant stage presence necessary to step into Freddie Mercury’s shoes, he has toured extensively with the legendary band since 2012. “It’s a big honour to sing Freddie’s songs,” he says today, speaking at his label’s West London offices. “You know, I’m an entertainer first… so being on stage with Queen and doing songs for an audience that know every word, it feels great.”

Lambert’s flashy charisma also lights up ‘High Drama’, an eclectic and tremendously entertaining covers set on which he takes on hits by Kings Of Leon (‘Sex On Fire’), Lana Del Rey (‘West Coast’) and Sia (‘Chandelier’). “The title ‘High Drama’ came about quickly because it was just the [best] way to describe the approach,” he explains. “It suits me [because] I’m not known for being subtle. I always put a certain amount of theatricality into what I do – even the stuff that’s quiet has drama to it!”

Ahead of the album’s release, Lambert joined NME for a wide-ranging In Conversation interview in which he discusses a humbling meeting with Lil Nas X and the top-secret stage musical he is working on. Here’s what we learned.

He channelled Prince when he recorded his cover of ‘Sex On Fire’

Lambert’s take on Kings Of Leon’s rock classic is funky, falsetto-led and unexpected, but he says it was a “challenge” to get there. “It was scary touching that one,” he admits. “But I love that song and really want to sing that chorus.”

For it, Lambert realised he needed to do something “different” with such a massive tune, which meant thinking outside of the box. “I was like, ‘What if I sing it like Prince? What would Prince do?’” he recalls. “And when I started doing that, everyone was like: ‘That’s cool.’” The final results of this surprising cover? A version of the track he describes as sonically being: “Robyn and Prince’s baby”.

He covered ‘Getting Older’ because he really related to Billie Eilish‘s lyrics

Lambert describes his version of Eilish’s reflective track as having a “’70s pop” vibe with “some Queen guitar homages”. Eilish was always on the shortlist of musicians he wanted to cover “because I respect her artistry and individuality”. But instead of taking on one of her “bigger hits”, he found himself drawn to this “subtle” and “profound” song from her ‘Happier Than Ever’ album.

“I was listening to the lyrics and I was like: ‘How did this 19-year-old land on this feeling that I feel at 40 and that I’m sure that some people feel at 30?” Lambert says in awe. “It’s a universal feeling, the idea of getting older; all the things she talks about in the song are timeless. You can be any age and feel that way.”

When he started out, the media really fixated on his makeup

Because “tons of guys wear makeup now”, Lambert says it’s strange to look back at the fuss he caused when he released his debut album ‘For Your Entertainment’ in 2009. “The guyliner [as] they coined it became this thing that had to be talked about and they didn’t understand,” he recalls. “I was like: ‘Wait a minute. [Male] musicians have been wearing makeup since the ’50s, so what the hell are you talking about?’ I feel like pop culture sometimes has amnesia about what’s come before it.”

Lambert points out that this collective amnesia even stretched into the very recent past – after all, numerous emo frontmen were wearing eyeliner in the early 2000s. “It just made me laugh,’ he says with a shrug. “I was always like, ‘Are we really talking about my makeup?”

Being thanked by Lil Nas X caught him off guard

Last year, Lil Nas X revealed that he approached Lambert at a party to thank him for “the doors that him and people like him opened” for LGBTQ+ musicians. “That was really flattering, actually,” Lambert says. “Because I’m really impressed with everything that he’s doing. I mean, he’s going for it and it’s brilliant and really fun to watch. He’s got a great sense of humour about it and he’s fearless.”

Though Lambert takes no credit for what Lil Nas X has achieved – “that would be ridiculous,” he says – he does believe he was part of a “wave” that made things easier for queer performers. When his second album ‘Trespassing’ debuted at number one in 2012, he became the first openly gay artist to top the Billboard 200. “Looking at the music industry now, 10 years on, it’s totally different,” he says. “Now you can be queer and successful, it’s no longer a question mark; it’s no longer niche. Lil Nas X is mainstream and successful; Sam Smith is mainstream and successful.”

Looking back at the doors he helped to open, Lambert says he realised “very quickly” after American Idol that he could use his public profile for good. “It was [about] getting people to understand the queer community and not be scared of the queer community,” he says. “And even though I didn’t get into music to be any sort of activist or role model, I quickly realised that this opportunity is actually really rewarding.”

Credit: Press

His stage musical is coming along quite nicely

Lambert has been quietly working on a musical for several years now – and he made good progress during the pandemic, but says the theatre world is “definitely slower than the music business”. For Lambert, who grew up treading the boards and later starred in the US touring production of Wicked, the process is a return to his roots shaped by his evolving love of rock music. “I don’t love all musicals if I’m honest,” he admits. “But the edgier pop-rock kind of musicals, I’ve always thought [they] were cool. And with my musical, that’s the sort of approach we’re taking.”

But don’t expect it to sound typically ‘musical theatre’ at all. “I think it’ll truly contain music that people will want to listen to,” Lambert adds. “It takes place in the ’70s so it’s kind of an homage to that decade, musically. It’s about a real person – a musician from the ’70s.” Can he give us a clue? “I’m trying to keep as much of it under wraps as I can, because you know, surprise is a good thing.”

Adam Lambert’s new album ‘High Drama’ will be released on February 24

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