COMMENT: Adam Lambert and the countdown: performance and unpredictability

COMMENT: Adam Lambert and the countdown: performance and unpredictability

Kirsten Han is a Singaporean blogger, journalist and filmmaker. She is also involved in the We Believe in Second Chances campaign for the abolishment of the death penalty. A social media junkie, she tweets at @kixes. The views expressed are her own.

It’s that time of year when the Christmas decorations start popping up everywhere, from the streets to malls to individual stalls. Slowly coasting into the Singapore holiday mood, people are starting to look forward into the new year… and get upset about the upcoming performer line-up for MediaCorp’s Countdown 2016 show.

At the time of writing, over 14,000 people have signed a petition urging MediaCorp to drop American pop star Adam Lambert from their list of performers for the countdown show. The petition, championed by conservative organisation Focus on the Family, objects to Lambert’s controversial performance at the 2009 American Music Awards, during which he kissed his male keyboardist and did some sexy gyrating with his backup dancers. Citing this “unpredictability”, the petition urges MediaCorp not to let his man on live television in Singapore.

But that’s not all the petition takes issue with, of course. “In addition, a simple online search would reveal that he is well-known for his active promotion of a highly sexualized lifestyle and LGBT rights, both of which are contrary to mainstream Singaporean values,” the petition adds.

Adam Lambert is a flamboyant gay man who doesn’t see the need to apologise to anyone for it. But he’s also a professional performer who has been playing to audiences since he was 19 years old. He has been selling records and touring since coming in as the runner-up in American Idol in 2009. He’s even performed in Singapore before: in 2013 he played in The Star Performing Arts Centre, a venue owned by the business arm of the New Creation Church.

He knows what he’s doing. And even if he doesn’t you can bet that he’s surrounded by an army of people – from mangers to publicists to production managers – who do.

Sure, he dropped a bomb on the 2009 AMAs. But stuff like that goes down all the time during such awards shows – remember when both Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera kissed Madonna onstage at the Video Music Awards in 2003? Or Miley Cyrus’ truly painful twerking with Robin “I Know You Want It” Thicke at ten years later at the same show?

“I do feel like there’s a bit of a double standard in the entertainment community, on television, on radio,” Lambert told CNN after his performance in 2009. “I feel like women performers have been pushing the envelope, especially, for the past 20 years. And all of the sudden a male does it and everybody goes ‘Oh, we can’t show that on TV.’ For me, that’s a form of discrimination and a double standard. And that’s too bad.”

Unpredictable he might be, unaware he is not. His actions might have been “in the moment”, but there was an idea behind it, and the performance was during the post-watershed broadcast period, where more adult content is allowed.

Somehow I find it difficult to believe that an experienced, professional performer, launching his latest album tour in Singapore, will do anything onstage that his (no doubt high-paying) client – in this case, MediaCorp – would strongly object to, or that contravenes local broadcast regulations. Performers have to understand their audiences, and adjust accordingly. And even if he does something you don’t condone and your kids happen to see it, you can always turn the television off and explain your point of view to them. That’s part of parenting, after all.

And what’s wrong with unpredictability, anyway? Performances should be unpredictable; they don’t necessarily have to be graphic or explicit, but there should be surprises, provocations and food for thought. Do we really want to watch a countdown show that’s utterly predictable? Isn’t that a long-running complaint against MediaCorp productions? That they’re too safe, too predictable, and therefore boring?

When Lambert played The Star in 2013, there were concerns that he was promoting the “gay lifestyle” too. But the show went on with no incident, and as far as I can tell, Singapore hasn’t been struck by a gay-demic, and there’s still a healthy number of straight and/or anti-gay people here. At least 14,000 of them.