It’s been nearly a month since rapper and social media darling Lil Nas X gave his “controversial” performance on SNL. Lil Nas X, whose real name is Montero Lamar Hill, has taken the world by storm since he dropped “Old Town Road” back in 2019. Whether it’s going viral on Twitter, participating in a new TikTok trend, or shutting down Republican governors, the star definitely knows how to stay relevant – proving he’s more than a one-hit-wonder.
It’s been amazing to see how welcoming the world has become of queerness, especially for a new artist like Lil Nas X. It makes one wonder about the treatment of earlier, very apparently queer stars who received more backlash than was warranted during their heyday.
Since we’re in the age of reconsidering the treatment of Britney Spears – and now even Jessica Simpson – who received apologies and reassessed their legacies in public, I think it’s time we give Adam Lambert his just due. It would be remiss not to examine how we treated the former American idol not so very long ago. Looking back, we owe Adam Lambert an apology.
It’s been over ten years since Adam Lambert kissed a male band member during a performance at the American Music Awards in 2009.
Donning an Elvis-inspired hairdo and glittered outfit, the singer began to belt out the first words to his then hit song ‘For Your Entertainment,’ the title track from his debut album of the same name. Lambert then proceeded to make out with his male keyboard player, grind on two of his male dancers, and then “grab another (male) dancer with a face-to-the-balls manoeuvre,” according to Rolling Stone.
The singer nearly lost everything in his first performance post-American Idol.
Back then, the message was that it was okay –at best—for a male pop star to be gay, but he can’t ever publicly express his sexuality in a little on-stage kiss. Meanwhile, Britney Spears, Madonna, and Christina Aguilera could cosplay soft-core lesbianism for the male gaze because straight men get to enjoy that. Coming as no surprise to anyone, girl-on-girl action has always been well received among the masses.
Ogi Ogas, a neuroscientist and co-author of ‘A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals about Human Desire,’ told the Atlantic that straight men are most aroused by visual cues that emphasize youth and downplay drama and emotional complexity. Ogas co-authored the book with fellow neuroscientist Sai Gaddam, analyzing millions of search databases, erotic stories, videos, and other data to find out precisely what makes people get aroused. Lesbian porn, or its illusion, works for straight men by “doubling up” on the visual stimuli. Ogas noted the only thing better than one nubile, personality-free woman is two of them. Simply put, men enjoy watching other women kiss, not men.
Lambert’s ‘09 AMA performance walked, so Lil Nas X’s SNL performance (and many of his similarly raunchy, unapologetic displays) could run. Lambert was nearly banned from a television network, sparking allegedly 1,500 complaints about the “racy” performance.
Despite them both receiving backlash, Lambert received a wave of homophobic abuse that held him back from the mainstream popularity Lil Nas X has been able to power right through, partly because we are smack dab in the middle of the social media age. Gay artists, actors, and creators have made waves and can transcend audiences with just one click.
Still, the rapper has faced a certain kind of controversy as an openly gay black man that Lambert was not subjected to.
Lambert was advertised as an ‘acceptable,’ palatable queer man. On the other hand, Lil Nas X – who might not have gotten the same shine as Lambert did back then – took the risk and chose to be unapologetically flamboyant, gay, and black on stage – a feat groundbreaking in and of itself, even if much more acceptable today than it was in the ‘10s.
Now, in this new era, we’re blessed to see a whole new crop of queer artists, specifically Black queer artists like Tyler the Creator, Frank Ocean, CHIKA, Kehlani, and so many more.
Lil Nas X has reached certain heights that just weren’t open to Lambert back then. The lack of accessible LGBTQ+ artists has been glaringly apparent due to most pop iconography and idolization leaning toward white, cis, hetero women.
That is why an LGBT+ artist who refuses to sanitize their queerness at the expense of critics deserves praise.
But they aren’t the first in a long history of unforgettable acts that paved the way before them — acts like David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, and George Michael weathered decades of speculation around their sexuality but were still able to preserve their legacies as musical greats. Unfortunately for Lambert, it took over a decade after the incident for him to somewhat recover. Even modern creatives Troye Sivan, Olly Alexander, and Sam Smith, to some extent, have all helped to chip away at traditional industry standards when it comes to the fluidity and grace of queer male and non-binary artists today.
Having had moderate success, dropping several albums, and landing a gig with the legendary rock band Queen, Lambert still lost out on the chance for more opportunities and possible accolades. What makes what Lambert did so brave is that it just wasn’t done before and still hasn’t been done in that way since. Even when Lil Nas X and his dancer had their moment, it was still more sensual and hinted. Lambert gave us a full-on kiss, and his career took a massive hit.
Both Lil Nas X and Lambert took risks performing on live TV. But, if we’re going to go around and start handing out flowers, Adam deserves his too.