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Lambert’s Shock and Awe Fizzles

Nick Anderson | Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Everyone loves getting awards. They tend to be incredibly shiny and heavy, have your name printed on them, look impressive on a mantle and normally come with some cash. It’s not at all unexpected, then, that there’s a glut of award shows to honor the humble among us: musicians. Never ones to toot their own horns, it’s important we gather annually to pass out the American Music Awards.

At first glance, the AMAs seem redundant in the presence of the more popular, relevant and respected Grammies, but AMA creator and American icon Dick Clarke disagrees. Since its inception in the early 70’s, the awards have been decided solely on popular vote, wrestling critical acclaim away from professional writers, producers and musicians to its rightful place in the hands of the same population which determines record sales.

This year’s show proved, yet again, that the American public really likes both the records it buys as well as a fair share of misinformed sentimentality. Taylor Swift took several awards to the bank, including Artist of the Year, Favorite Female Country and Pop/Rock Artist, as well as Favorite Album. It’s good to see her four-times Platinum album get some recognition, especially after Kanye West was so mean to her at the VMA’s.

The other big winner of the night was Michael Jackson. Jackson won Favorite Male Pop/Rock and Soul/Rhythm Artist and Album. These awards were won on the merits of “This Is It”, the companion album to the documentary of the same name and one of 13 Michael Jackson collections to be released in the last year. The Man in the Mirror’s winning spree was nothing but a lifetime achievement award, especially contrasted with his last new release, 2001’s wholly forgettable “Invincible.”

After a night of boring, predictable awards, it seems the only talking point could be provided by the show’s closing performer, Adam Lambert. Lambert, whose sexuality is cited as a factor in his loss of American Idol, followed in the footsteps of Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson with an efficiently calculated publicity stunt aimed squarely at conservative America.

Lambert, who spent the previous two weeks complaining about the double standard between male and female pop stars, put his own “edgy” brand of sexuality on display during his performance of his newest single, “For Your Entertainment.” Impressively, he managed to back up his words by working in dancers in bondage gear, male dancers on leashes, an open mouth, male on male kiss, and simulated oral sex. It should be noted that all of these moves could have been taken straight from a Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie concert.  

His actions are gathering a fair share of headlines in the aftermath, as well as a moderate 1,500 indecency complaints (which undoubtedly came from a small number of people who didn’t even watch the performance). Helping his point, Lady Gaga and Rihanna gave sexually-charged performances nearly nude.

Should we really be shocked by Lambert’s actions? Lambert only furthered his career by getting his name in the paper (or more accurately, the blogosphere). The current uproar is evenly divided; one side claiming indecency while the other claims a double standard. One only has to look back to Madonna’s 2003 VMA lip lock with Britney Spears to see that the latter argument appears the stronger.

Lambert wanted to prove a point and make himself some money. Was he raunchy, blatant and vulgar? Yes. Did he manage to alienate most of his American Idol fan base? Not likely. Did he change anything? Other than his own profile, not really. In a post-Nipplegate world, it seems there’s nothing left to shock our culture. The real question remains, is that really a bad thing?