Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Miseducation of Adam Lambert

Ladies and gentlemen, we are witnessing the end of an era.

American Idol is officially losing its vice grip on pop culture. Their ratings are slipping to a point that Dancing With the Stars is taking over the number one spot in terms of viewers (or at least viewers with those weird scanner boxes.

Obviously, the producers are trying to save the sinking ship. It's very logical. They're getting mentors that, while people may hate them, are relatively current- Miley Cyrus and Usher come to mind-and now they're going to get Adam Lambert.

Of course, if you haven't heard me fangirl about this guy already, Adam Lambert is last season's runner up and one of the few contestants that has been able to be a game changer. His performances always resulted in hitting notes people didn't know were possible, stylistic approaches that resulted in him owning the song, and being able to have fun with it. Of course, his high notes and his theatrics did polarize the crowd- some people said that he wailed too obnoxiously, others said that he was a big flaming homo that should not be on a family program, whatever. He made it to the finals and as hard as I tried to vote for the first and only time in my life, he didn't win. Adam sort of got the last laugh, for lack of better terms: He got the cover of Rolling Stone, and Details, as well as an album that debuted at number three on the Billboard charts. He's planning a summer tour and has number one singles in Japan, Canada, and all over Europe. He isn't quite taking over the world just yet, but hey, neither did Kelly Clarkson the first album.

Of course, when news got out that he was the mentor, a lot of people were pissed. American Idol has never had a mentor be one of its past contestants, even though some of them are doing very well in the music industry (Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, and yeah, Kelly Clarkson come to mind). Having a mentor that hasn't had a number one single yet, when they do have a small group of talented contestants to mentor instead, does seem a little odd. A lot of people jumped to conclusions- They assumed that American Idol didn't ask past contestants to possibly mentor, or whatever. No one has details on what went down in terms of getting Adam to mentor. However, a brief run through the situation proves that minus Kelly Clarkson's strained relationship with Idol, the other people were most likely too busy to do the gig, should they have been asked. That and Adam is currently in LA taking some down time before he goes on tour in the summer. He also has a remix EP that has come out this week (get it on iTunes, if only for the song "Voodoo", a super sexy, slick b-side). So the idea of Adam being a mentor is convenient for everyone involved.

While this would be simple enough if it was any other musician, it just isn't. I'm kind of shocked I have gone as far as I have minus the album cover saying anything that pertained to his sexuality. In the long run, it shouldn't matter, however, it sort of means everything in the pop music world.

Adam Lambert, in case you have lived under a very large rock, is gay. He was on the American Music Awards in November and did a super sexual performance that resulted in people complaining to ABC and a pseudo ban from the station. A lot of backlash still lurks because of it. It's not even about the fact that he hit bum notes (which is what I personally had an issue with), but the whole "Adam Lambert did something wrong on TV. Think of the children. His homosexuality is way too much." The whole situation was so messed up, GLAAD didn't even take his side (but then they did... and then they kinda didn't? But then they did again and got him as a performer for their award show so I guess we're all right? Why is my relationship with watchdog groups like I'm in high school?).

But anyway, according to the media for the most part, people were over the AMA performance. Well, so we thought. When news of his mentoring came out, many people turned it to "What has Adam done lately? Did controversial shit at an award show and red carper appearances?" Which is kind of silly. He's appeared on TV a lot for various performances, from The Early Show, to the talk show circuit, to Dancing With the Stars (which was live, so suck on that, media). The only reason why he was kind of MIA in the US was because he's been overseas promoting and getting number one singles like a boss. Of course Europe and Japan likes our gay singer import. What people seem to forget is that Adam is a theatre kid, and a damn good one at that. He knows how to give stage presence and how to be well known, whether it's for good things or not... something that this season full of very quiet singer songwriters need on American Idol, a type of musician that may be pretty safe (see Kris Allen), does not necessarily mean that they're the most successful as American Idol winners (While his single is still living like it's dying, his album sales aren't). Disclaimer: I like Kris Allen. Please don't crucify me for my last statement.

However, this whole entire incident, which should be simple (American Idol needs a mentor that isn't Quentin Tarentino, oh hey, Adam's available), isn't. Enter a quick interview on Entertainment Weekly with American Idol's executive producer Ken Warwick. When asked by the interviewer Do you think having Adam Lambert come in this week is going to shake things up and infuse the show with that added bit of drama that he generally manages to bring to the screen?, Warwick replied with this little gem:

I sincerely hope so. Because the guy is an incredible talent, and he had an incredible following. And it kind of upsets me that at the moment he’s not doing quite as well… [Pauses.] I don’t know what possessed him to do what he did at the AMAs, but he’s still struggling to live it down. And everybody says to me every week, ‘When are you gonna bring back Adam?’ They want to see him as he was. And hopefully we’re gonna do that for him this week, and we can start putting him back firmly where he belongs, as a major star. Because the guy is an incredible talent. He genuinely is. And it kind of breaks my heart to see someone with that much talent struggle a bit. So hopefully we can do back for him as he can do for us.

Okay, I'll take off my cray cray Adam Stan goggles for a second. I will admit that Adam's not ~taking over the world by storm. He's nowhere near as close to the level of sales and presence that Carrie and Kelly have, but at the same time, this theory is sort of irrelevant. While all three come from the same show, they are not the same in terms of fanbase and where they stand in the industry. It's like comparing three kids that go to the same school. Sure, they have the same classes, but one of them might be a cheerleader, another might by a video game nerd, and the other might be a theatre kid. Actually, when you break them down to their genres, Kelly is a poppy girl with a little rock infused sometimes, Carrie is country, and Adam is glam and dance music. Those three genres are not exactly the most similar genres, which result in different fanbases and different types of record sales. Plus, you have to point out that while we live in the twenty-first century: Adam's a gay man. Not only is he a gay man, but he's one of the first musicians to be on a major record label and from the start be open about it. Sure, Elton John is gay. We all know that. But like hell he was out about it at first. While there are a lot of rumors about Kelly Clarkson's sexuality, she sings about guys. She sings heteronormal, safe, music that the general public likes. Adam's lyrical content, though mostly safe, is definitely not about girls, once directly refers to a guy, and another time is very cheeky about the whole thing (Please see "Sure Fire Winners" lyric "And all the girls in the club wanna know/Where did all their pretty boys go?").

However, in terms of Warwick saying that Adam is "struggling" sounds silly and implies that he's trying to do Adam a favor, while saying that fans are requesting for him to make an appearance. So what does this mean, Warwick? Is it Adam that's struggling or is it your show that is?

Another issue I have with this statement has got to be the "firmly putting him back in his place" part. Okay, we all want to see Adam succeed. But with the disdain toward his behavior on the AMA performance, the implication of Adam being in whatever place that Warwick wants him to be is unsettling. The implication that Adam has to change and fit whatever standards Warwick has for him is slightly unnerving. Statements and comparisons have proved over and over again if a girl did a performance such as the AMA performance, she wouldn't have gotten in very much trouble at all (and maybe-gasp!-even got reprimanded for the real issue with the performance, the vocalization of the whole thing). Adam is a combo breaker, and because of it, even the show that brought him to TV screens everywhere doesn't know what to do with him.

Will Adam become an international superstar? He probably has a better chance at it everywhere else, but his home country. The fact that the US does not know how to handle Adam and his presence in the music world proves that while he is very talented, and people know that, it is hard to market an openly gay singer in a world in which propositions taking away his section of the population's rights away. And as for him being a mentor? He will probably do well. No, I don't think he's going to tear someone apart and make them cry, but I honestly believe that if Miley Cyrus could do it, fuck it, so can Adam. It's just disheartening how a TV show, which is supposed to be about, well. Fun, I guess, has become a social commentary for the world and its views toward nonconformist behavior in the music industry and society in general.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

If My Father Sent Me to Old Rutgers, Does that Mean My Mom Was in the Kitchen?

In case you couldn't tell, I go to Rutgers. It's a pretty old school, one of the first to be established in the United States, to be exact. With this old age comes a very old Alma Mater that is sang at the end of many sports competitions. The lyrics are so old, you can tell that they're dated in the opening lyrics, which are May father sent me to old Rutgers/And resolved that I should be a man. Thankfully, Rutgers allows more than just guys now, and about fifty-three percent of the school is female-identified.

Rutgers is really well known for its diversity, in fact, your application asks you to write an essay and inform the school about how you will add to it as a student. It makes sense. Rutgers has well known departments that range from gender studies to pharmacy, history to biology, philosophy to engineering. Artsy kids, frat boys, science nerds, and hipsters eat in the same dining halls and live on the same campuses. It's not always harmonious, but it's certianly functioning.

Another part of campus that is particularly unique is Douglass College. Douglass College is an all-girl's program that specializes in the uniting and strengthening of women and their ability to be leaders in the world. The dissolving of all the campuses at Rutgers has resulted in Douglass girls to be a part of the Rutgers community, even though they are allowed perks such as all-girl housing, extra advisers, and required courses with names such as women's leadership.

For some reason, whether it's college, or it's high school, or it's just society in general, being unique commonly results in flack from the rest of the population. I vividly remember that while I was walking through Douglass to my, er, women's and gender studies course last semester, I saw that someone wrote in chalk "Where the feminists live" underneath the Douglass seal on the side of a pathway. There's also the assumption that every Douglass girl is a lesbian (which is sadly not true). Most people complete the Douglass girl stereotype with the fact that every Douglass girl is a crazy, man-hating, bitch.

This image of Douglass girl resulted into a hot mess on my Facebook feed when the DGC (Douglass's student government) announced that the alma mater should be changed to no longer have the male-oriented lyrics.

I'm sure, being known as a lesbian feminist occasional bitch, I'm sure a lot of people assumed that I was pro-lyric change. However, as a history major, I say no way in hell should the lyrics be changed. While, yeah, the lyrics are definitely aimed toward men, you can't deny that it shows the school's age, in a good way. Alma maters are based in tradition that may not always be politically correct. The best way to avoid these kind of issues, because they always do come up, is to simply do things with gender equality in mind.

While going through comments, I've realized that most people, even Douglass students, don't really agree with the alma mater change, and most of this has been made up by the DGC. The DGC's opinion does not necessarily reflect the rest of Douglass campus. However, most people don't realize this, which has resulted in a lot of anger toward Douglass girls in general. I've seen offensive terms be thrown around, ranging from bitches, to cunts, to even taunting them with phrases such as "If Douglass is so progressive, why don't they allow guys in their program?"

It's interesting how a debate about an alma mater become so violent. It's okay to be against the alma mater change. I would even contemplate going up to the DGC and saying, "Hello, we all got bigger things to worry about in the women's rights movement." We should be focusing on the parts of campus that get so dark girls are afraid to walk around at night out of fear of getting raped. We should promote awareness of not just women's rights, but even people that don't fit the gender binary. We should also try and figure out how to make terms like feminist not be used as a weapon, but as a good thing.

While the DGC has brought the alma mater-related issues upon themselves, the violent threats and terms aimed at Douglass campus on a whole is not their fault. The only reason why terms like lesbians, feminists, and dykes are used as derogatory toward Douglass kids is because of the lack of education amongst many students in gender studies.

Douglass girls are required to take women's leadership courses. They learn to overcome obstacles and also learn gender theory along the way. In other Rutgers programs, students are allowed to take classes such as Women in Culture and Society-a 101 class on women's and gender studies-to knock out interdisciplinary requirements. This class can do wonders to people- yesterday we had an intelligent discussion about reproductive rights, which is something that I know for a fact we could not have done two months earlier. The people in the class have grown a lot in the semester. But while we've learned not to be scared of terms such as feminism, queer, and abortion, most people aren't. Because of this, the image of women speaking up in most situations, their opinions become disregarded and dismissed as the opinion of bunch of stupid cunts/dykes/feminists.

But what can the campus do to fix this? Well, we are a research university. Actually looking up the words you want to use can help. Don't call people feminists in a derogatory sense. You probably are one yourself. Realize that the issues of one part of a group doesn't necessarily represent everyone else. Not everyone that's a Douglass girl is for the alma mater change. And if you are mature enough to acknowledge that you need to be more educated in this field, and get credit for it, check out one of the women's and gender studies courses on campus. It'll make you sound less stupid when these kind of school dramas happen.