Gays and lesbians have come a long way in entertainment since the days when George Michael had to have faith and pretend to want a woman in the “Father Figure” video to sell millions of albums. Although there’s no telling whether Queen would have been as successful in the ’70s and early ’80s had Freddie Mercury definitively outed himself as a lower-case queen, for the most part, today’s closeted male superstars don’t have to wait until they are about to succumb to an AIDS-related illness to publicly acknowledge their sexuality (like Rock Hudson did)”or not (like Liberace and, well, Mercury).
That doesn’t mean coming out of the closet still won’t have a negative effect on the bankability of gay music stars. This is why most of them still choose to wait until they don’t have too much to lose. Elton John, Ricky Martin, Clay Aiken, Savage Garden’s Darren Hayes and Michael all did it after their blockbuster days were over.
Though Hayes continues to release solo records that earn critical raves, it’s been years since he was A-list on the charts. John is a superstar for life, but his most notable post-coming out success (the 33 million-selling worldwide No. 1 single “Candle in the Wind ’97”) was with a song he sang to a dearly departed princess. How gay! Rufus Wainwright, despite critical plaudits, has never had gold album in the US.
Then there is Adam Lambert, the perfect example of how to be an out and gay pop star. He has a vociferous fan base, but his commercial performance isn’t commensurate with his level of fan devotion. He should be selling as many singles as Justin Bieber, but his last one, “Better Than I Know Myself,” was a chart dud (No. 76 on Billboard’s Hot 100), resulting in Trespassing, his sophomore album, being pushed back from March to a May 15 release date. Do we blame it on a weak single, or a pop constituency that’s still skittish about fully embracing a proudly out singer? (more…)
It’s been nearly eight years since George Michael released an entire album of new music, and three since he put out a single that wasn’t a cover of New Order’s “True Faith.” But in 2011, the singer-songwriter starred in what must have been one of the year’s most gripping YouTube videos, two minutes as gripping and heartfelt as anything on Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, his essential 1990 album.
There was no music, and Michael didn’t sing a note. In the clip, which was posted on December 23, Michael gave a press conference in which he discussed his recent near-death experience that began on November 21 on the Vienna stop of his forty-eight-date European tour and which he described as “the worst month of my life.” The normally robust singer, who had contracted a chest infection that was later diagnosed as life-threatening pneumonia and spent a month in hospital in Vienna (including ten days in the intensive-care unit), appeared gaunt and gray, often struggling to catch his breath.
In a year that took so many of music’s greats (R.I.P., Amy Winehouse, Nikolas Ashford, Phoebe Snow, Vesta Williams, Clarence Clemons, Dobie Gray, Billie Jo Spears), Michael is truly lucky to be alive ”and he knows it. So what’s next? First, as he said in the interview, he will reschedule the cancelled dates on the Symphonica Tour that he was staging throughout Europe and the UK when his illness struck. The shows featured Michael performing his own hits and non-hits as well as select covers (including Winehouse’s “Love Is a Losing Game”) with a symphonic orchestra.
This was a brutal exercise, listening to at least large chunks of every Number 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 for the years between 2000 and 2010 (I should have stopped at 2009, but I’m a glutton for punishment). Anyway, in order to avoid repetition, if a song was a Number 1 in more than one year (carried over from a previous year), I only considered it for the first year in which it hit the top spot. I thought I might see some kind of trend in quality of pop music, but no such luck”highs and lows abound throughout.
Best: Smooth by Santana featuring Rob Thomas. Rob Thomas tries really hard to wreck this song with his awful singing, but it’s still really catchy. Sorry Rob, but I’ve come from the future to tell you that you’ll have more success offending listeners with your solo record.
Worst: The epic and universal terribleness of Arms Wide Open by Creed beats out such dreck as Everything You Want by Vertical Horizon and a song called I Knew I Loved You by a band that wrote the name Savage Garden on a piece of paper, looked at it and said, Yes. Let’s name our band that. That’s not totally stupid at all.
Dishonorable mention: Independent Women Part 1 by Destiny’s Child, for opening the song with a shout out to Charlie’s Angels, the movie in which it is featured, and for kicking off the verse with the lyric, Question: Tell me what you think about me. Yeah, that’s not a question, that’s a command. What do I think about you? I think that you’re too pushy and have a tenuous grasp on parts of speech.