Reality Rocks - Archive

An American Idol, Banned In The USA

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

It was announced today, via Adam Lambert's own Twitter page, that ABC--the same network that aired his controversial American Music Awards performance and then as a result of the fallout cancelled his appearance on Good Morning America--has put the kibosh on two more of his scheduled performances: a mini-concert for The Jimmy Kimmel Show that was planned for December 17, and Ryan Seacrest's New Year's Rockin' Eve special. He tweeted:

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This is indeed unsettling news in light of Adam's GMA cancellation, feud with Out magazine editor Aaron Hicklin, and any number of controversies he's had to contend with ever since racy pics of him same-sex smooching at Burning Man spread across the Interweb back when he was still in the American Idol top 50. But I'm here to tell you, there is a bright side to all this: Banned and censored artists are the artists we all remember. They're the ones that make it into the history books, that have VH1 rockumentaries made about them, etc. Many artists have faced similar "scandals" in their careers, and they not only came out of it all just fine, but actually had their immortality cemented by such events.

Take Elvis "The Pelvis" Presley, of course, one of the earliest and most famous cases of music censorship. A swish of the hips might seem tame now, but in the 1950s, his burlesque-inspired gyrations first televised on The Milton Berle Show caused skittish cameramen working for The Ed Sullivan Show to shoot Elvis only from the waist up during one of his later Sullivan performances. This naturally only made viewers even more curious about what was going on below Elvis's belt, and his superstar status was all but guaranteed from that moment on. (Ironically, the famous waist-up performance was actually a ballad during which Elvis's hips stayed stationary, but viewers didn't know that.) Similarly, censored Sullivan performances by the Rolling Stones (forced to change "Let's Spend The Night Together" to "Let's Spend Some Time Together") and the Doors (asked to omit the word "higher" from "Light My Fire," a request singer Jim Morrison rebelliously ignored on-air) didn't hurt their careers, either.

And the list goes on. In England, the censorship issues the Sex Pistols dealt with--some stemming from the band's live televised swearing on Bill Grundy's talk show, some from their then-shocking anti-Royal Family sentiments--made the seminal punk band's "God Save The Queen" go to number one on the British chart. (Amusingly, the title was asterisked out on the chart listing itself. That certainly was a first.) In the '80s, the BBC's Radio 1's banning of Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Relax" due to a sexual lyric caused the single to skyrocket to number one and stay there for weeks, and the PMRC hearings helmed by Tipper Gore only brought more publicity to the artists under attack (the PMRC certainly didn't derail Ozzy Osbourne or Prince's careers). In the '90s, the hubbub over 2 Live Crew's raunchy raps (which admittedly were distasteful to many, but still had a right to be available for purchase in stores) made Luke Campbell an unlikely First Amendment posterchild and a cause célèbre. And of course, 2 Live Crew sold boatloads of records as a result.

Adam has already benefitted from his scandals, to some degree. Rather than hurt him, which some (including, admittedly, myself) feared, Adam's polarizing AMAs appearance caused his album sales to spike in the subsequent days (his debut record, For Your Entertainment, entered the Billboard chart at #3). It made people who'd never watched American Idol suddenly take interest and wonder why there was all this fuss about this crazy Adam guy. Sure, maybe the focus was not fully on Adam's music where it belonged, but hey, if all the controversy made some curious people buy the album as a result--and then HEAR the album and LIKE it--then that wasn't such a bad thing.

So, will Adam go down in the annals of music history like Elvis, the Stones, the Doors, the Pistols, et al? Well, of course it is WAY too soon to tell. As he himself admitted in a recent tweet, he is learning. He is a very new artist. Most of his history is still very much unwritten. But he's certainly the first American Idol to be banned from anywhere, so he's already made a mark. He's a surefire Trivial Pursuit question for several editions to come. This ABC flak is not necessarily fair, but it's nothing new in pop culture, and it's nothing that any good artist can't recover from. Remember, Adam's aborted GMA concert was quickly salvaged by rival CBS breakfast program The Early Show--which swooped right in to book Adam instead--and now The Jay Leno Show has already slotted Adam for December 21, four days after he was originally supposed to appear on Kimmel.

It's fairly likely Adam will get some plum New Year's Eve alternate offers, too. (Come on, who wouldn't want the Glambert to play at one's New Year's bash? That guy knows how to party, obviously.) He'll surely end this decade playing somewhere special, and chances are good that people will still be talking about him a decade from now.

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