In Does Rock 'N' Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: pop star and Queen’s current frontman Adam Lambert.
1: Name the two frontmen of British rock bands who receive writing credits on your 2009 debut album ‘For Your Entertainment’.
“It was a whirlwind. The album was put together quickly after American Idol, and my A&R was reaching out and getting these incredible tracks. I wasn’t in the room when they were written. Justin wrote ‘Music Again’ and Matthew wrote ‘Soaked’, and I fell in love with both songs. I was a fan of both their bands, and was blown away they’d want me to do it. I later met Matthew Bellamy quickly at a festival after-party in 2014 – he was nice. I ended up writing with Justin a couple of years later. Actually, [Queen drummer] Roger Taylor’s son, Rufus, is now the drummer in The Darkness so we’ve crossed paths a lot now.”
Lady Gaga is also a writer on that record…
“She’s great. We worked on the song ‘Fever’ literally the day after she wrapped the ‘Bad Romance’ video. She came to the studio session in this crazy newsprint coat and all she had on underneath was lingerie – which was fabulous and very rock’n’roll! It turned out it was the jacket she wore in the video – she just took it from the set and wore it to the studio.”
2: In Taylor Swift’s ‘You Need to Calm Down’ video, what does the tattoo that you ink on Ellen DeGeneres say?
“Which I found out later is a song title off her album. I’d met Taylor a couple of times before, but that video was a last-minute thing. We were both on The Ellen Show that day recording, and she came into my dressing room, said hi, we made small talk, then she said: ‘Hey, we’re doing this thing in 20 minutes right around the corner – do you want to be in it?’. And I said sure!”
The video proved divisive, with some claiming it was culturally tone-deaf to equate homophobia with online haters or a spat that you’ve had with another pop star…
“Well at the end of the day, if you get everybody talking, you’ve done your job in the pop world. Being polarising when you’re at that level can be helpful for your career. You know, I definitely could see both sides of the argument that was coming out but I think the big thing to keep in mind was that she was calling people to action – there was a big petition [in support of the Equality Act] that she was urging people to sign that was actually going to do something. So it wasn’t something that was only for commercial gain, there was actual social change being encouraged – and I appreciated and respected that.”
3: What are the names of the two bands you join as Elliott ‘Starchild’ Gilbert in Glee?
“Oh God! (Laughs) I don’t remember!”
WRONG. Starchild joined Pamela Lansbury and One Three Hill.
“I don’t think I ever actually spoke those two band names in my dialogue, so maybe I just didn’t commit it to memory! (Laughs). It was a really ground-breaking show – they explored some topics that hadn’t really been explored onscreen before. It was the first time I’d ever done any television screenwork. I have a theatre background but I was pretty green when it came to filming. I remember being on set on the first day with Chris Colfer [who played Kurt Hummel] who was in the first scene I was in. I said to him: I have no idea what I’m doing! (Laughs) He reassured me: ‘It’s ok, you’ll quickly figure it out’. I’d love to do more work with creator Ryan Murphy, who’s brilliant. If the opportunity came up to do American Horror Story, I’d jump at it.”
4: What gift did Alan Carr once hand you to give to Queen guitarist Brian May?
“Wasn’t it Frizz-Ease? (Laughs)”
“No, I didn’t give it to him – I didn’t think that would be appropriate! It was a rhetorical gift! (Laughs)”
What have been your favourite moments fronting Queen?
“Opening the Oscars this year was a trip for all of us. I’ve lived in LA for 20 years and it’s the city’s biggest night. For years, I’ve driven by the venue and seen them setting up the red carpet – so to actually walk it and open the show and look out into the audience and see all these movie stars I love dancing was crazy. The reason was because of the success and nominations for Bohemian Rhapsody, and it’s been exciting being part of Queen during this chapter because the success of the movie has reinvigorated their pop culture status – and they weren’t doing too badly before that! (Laughs) The movie has kicked things into another stratosphere for us and to be part of the team amidst all this excitement has been cool.”
Any chance of a new Queen album?
“Everyone asks that and we honestly haven’t discussed it – it actually hasn’t come up.”
5: Who said you’d killed your career by coming out as gay?
“Oh, Gene Simmons!”
“I haven’t talked to him since. (Laughs) No need! Ten years ago, I realised that if I’m not 100 per cent transparent about this, it’s going to kill me. It’d be such a burden to carry. I feel strongly about the principle of things and knew I couldn’t not be out and open and verbal about who and what I am. It would be a disservice to fans, the gay community and myself. I was lucky this was happening when I was 27 and had lived a bit. His comment of ‘Oh, he’s killed his career by coming out’, I didn’t feel like I had any other option. I’d been out since I was 18 – I wasn’t going to go back in! (Laughs) Thankfully, things have changed so much.”
“It’s interesting, yeah. I think it’s a whole new conversation and not a widely explored topic. The media loves something that feels new and ten years ago – in America anyway – there wasn’t a lot of mainstream music people identifying as gay, so it was a novelty, and I feel there might be some parallels there. On a personal level, I’m really happy for Sam that they’ve found their truth and they’re feeling liberated by it.”
“At some point, you have to break through the ceiling and discuss trans or non-binary issues and I’m so proud of Sam – they’re really doing a bold thing. It’s time. A lot of the negative reaction to it is because people are just not being empathetic.”
“If you stop for a minute and make it not about you and put yourself in the shoes of the person that’s being talked about and try to understand their experience – just for a second – you’ll realise what’s being asked is just that you be a decent human being. People get defensive, saying: ‘How dare you ask me to change the way I think!’, and just a little empathy would help.”
“I saw that. I’ve met him before too – he was really cool. I think that’s bold! I’ve definitely encountered similar things. When it was announced I would do a televised New Year’s Eve concert in Singapore in 2015, there was a protest saying we don’t like this guy’s lifestyle, what he stands for, it’s not appropriate. I thought: You haven’t seen my show yet and don’t know what I’m going to do. If I’m on a New Year’s Eve family program, I guarantee it will be appropriate (Laughs) And it was.”
6: Who did you once duet ‘I Got You Babe’ with?
“Cyndi Lauper – for the Kennedy Center Honors last year.”
“She was lovely. I did a charity performance years ago in New York with her before. She’s a trip – really funny, a real character.”
You made Cher cry when you performed ‘Believe’ at this year’s Kennedy Center Honors…
“That was special. I’m a huge Cher fan – I owned that album when it came out. I’d just got my driving licence and would listen to it loud in my new car, so I associate it with liberation and being a teenager and feeling free.”
Anybody else who’s said they like your voice that’s blown you away?
“I was watching a musical in New York and was getting a cocktail during the intermission. Patti LaBelle was on the other side of the bar and made eye contact and mouthed ‘I love you!’ at me. I walked over to her, like ‘You know who I am?!’. I was blown away – she’s a legend.”
7: What is the name of the girl-group the drag queens were auditioning for in the episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars that you appeared on?
“Oh God – I don’t remember!”
WRONG. It was the Kitty Girls.
“That’s right! (Laughs) My memory banks are a little foggy! I’ve been around gay bars since I was old enough to drink and drag queens are fabulous and hilarious. What I love about Drag Race is it’s elevated the art form and made it mainstream – and made it a real industry for these guys to perform in. It can be a real career for a successful drag queen – I don’t think that was necessarily the case before. It’s created a lane for the queer community to celebrate itself.”
What would your drag name be?
“I’ve played that game where you do your first street and first pet combination. So I’m Maggie Longfellow. (Laughs) Kinda perfect!”
8: What is the stripper dressed as in your ‘Another Lonely Night’ video?
“What was he dressed as? He was just dressed as like…a guy. I don’t think there was a theme!”
WRONG. He turns up as a fireman.
“Oh – didn’t catch that! (Laughs) I just remember a backwards baseball cap at one point. Oh well – I obviously wasn’t looking at his fireman’s hat! (Laughs)”
Ever rocked any good fancy dress costumes?
“There’s a blurry line between costumes and fashion at this point in my life – I can’t tell the difference! (Laughs) I live for Halloween and take it seriously. One year, I did a ‘70s pimp werewolf, in a three-piece suit. I added hair everywhere, and had long hair, pointed ears, yellow eyes and teeth.”
9: Which controversial comedian invited you to sing ‘Mad World’ with her in 2011?
CORRECT. At the Los Angeles Equality Awards.
“I only vaguely remember that happening! When I initially said no to her! (Laughs)”
What did you make of the backlash she received to her 2017 photo of her holding a decapitated mannequin head of Trump?
“People blew it out of proportion. She was making political, satirical art. She’s an entertainer and she was going out on a limb and doing something edgy – and people took it a little too deep.”
10: You once starred in a production of Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical. Who starred in the original 1978 Debbie Does Dallas film?
“(Quick as a flash) Linda Lovelace!”
WRONG. It’s Bambi Woods.
“Oh shit! Oh – Linda Lovelace is Deep Throat! (Laughs) I don’t watch a lot of straight porn! (Laughs) It’s actually a very funny play – a total parody with camp music, which had been really successful off-Broadway. Unfortunately, this production wasn’t up to that standard – they were trying to turn it into a topless revue. So they did an abridged version and me and the girl who played the lead were the only real musical theatre talent – the rest of the cast were all topless dancers! They weren’t actors or singers. That was interesting. (Laughs) They tried to combine two different types of entertainment that I don’t think quite fit together. It was mostly bachelor parties coming to see us. It was dudes that were there to look at breasts – so they weren’t paying attention to what I was doing! (Laughs) It was a tough gig.”
The verdict: 7/10
“70 per cent! Not bad! Considering how long I’ve been rocking and rolling, that’s a good amount of brain cells to have left!”
Adam Lambert‘s new EP ‘Velvet: Side A’ is out now.