Adam Lambert Takes Control With 'Trespassing'
Dr. Luke. Bruno Mars. Pharrell Williams.
These are just a few of the hitmakers who appear in the production and songwriter credits of Adam Lambert's sophomore album, "Trespassing." But it's not the impressive roster of collaborators that makes the boldest statement in the credits. It's the forthcoming set's executive producer: Lambert himself.
While it is rare for an artist to executive-produce his or her own release, Lambert, the flamboyant season eight "American Idol" runner-up, insisted on having full creative control of what he admits could be the decisive album of his career, his moment to prove himself as more than a TV-fueled seasonal sensation. "That's why I've been so obsessed and neurotic about it and why I wanted to be the executive producer and co-write a lot of it," he says of "Trespassing," due May 15 on RCA Records/19 Recordings.
"This is a big make-or-break thing for me, especially for someone who comes off of 'Idol,'" he says. "I did have a hit, which was great. That was one big step. Now what? Is that going to be it? Am I a one-hit wonder? So I wanted to get really involved in the process to make sure I was doing everything I could to create a great album." He pauses. "And I think I did."
It's a drastic change from the approach taken with the singer's 2009 debut, "For Your Entertainment," which was hastily recorded during an "American Idol" summer tour in the months following his appearance on the TV show. Despite reaching No. 3 on the Billboard 200, selling 838,000 copies (according to Nielsen SoundScan) and nabbing a top 10 single on the Billboard Hot 100 with "Whataya Want From Me," the release felt rushed and was mostly a "guessing game" in terms of choosing songs that would properly portray his musical style and connect with fans, Lambert says.
This time around, Lambert, who turned 30 earlier this year, doesn't have to deal with the pressure of churning out an album quickly to capitalize on the promotional momentum of "Idol." He's spent more than a year writing new material and working closely with RCA senior VP of A&R Rani Hancock to bring on other collaborators, including Benny Blanco, Bonnie McKee, Nile Rodgers and Sam Sparro. The result is a 12-song set (the deluxe edition features three bonus tracks) of electro-dance-funk and dark emotional ballads that display a more contemporary pop sound and move away from the theatrical glam-rock and vocal showboating of Lambert's full-length debut.
"He's really made a record that's different than what he made coming off of 'Idol,'" says Dana Collins, one of six artist managers working with Lambert at Los Angeles-based Direct Management Group, which also helms the career of Katy Perry. "You get off that, you're on the treadmill and you jump into the studio and get presented with four dozen songs. You choose the ones you like, record them and tour at the same time. Then you go out and promote that record."
Lambert says the subject matter of "Trespassing" is much more personal than "For Your Entertainment." "I wanted it to reflect my social scene, not just what I knew my fans were going through," he says. "So I'm writing about my gay friends-you know, going out and getting laid. I'm in a relationship right now, so I'm exploring monogamy and a serious thing, which is really cool. But I was single before that and there's a lot of joy in that, too. So there are songs about going out and getting freaky."
Lambert also feels the new album showcases his maturity as an artist. "Going into album two, I know who I am as an artist now," he says. "The last time I felt like I had to do all this stuff to prove something. With ['Trespassing'] it's a bit more like, 'Oh, that's a dope song. That's a cool melody. That's a cool groove. That's a cool song.' Not, 'Look how high I can sing that note 30 or 40 times in one song.'"
RCA's promotional campaign for "Trespassing" includes a heavy push at mainstream and adult top 40 radio, numerous summer radio station concert bookings and a May 17 performance of Lambert's newest single, "Never Close Our Eyes" (co-written by Mars and produced by Dr. Luke), on "American Idol." To superserve Lambert's hardcore fans, known as Glamberts, the label offered preorder deluxe packages of "Trespassing" exclusively through his website, AdamOfficial.com. The most expensive of them-a limited-edition $274.99 boxed set that includes six lithographs, a deluxe version of the CD, a vinyl copy of the album and a behind-the-scenes DVD of Lambert in the studio-sold out the 100 available copies in minutes.
But even with a fan base that reaches many parts of the world, Lambert and his team say that it'll be a challenge releasing a second album without the benefit of having 20 million people seeing him on "American Idol" twice per week for three months. "I'm sure it's going to reflect in things. It's a different climb right now," Lambert says. "It's through the music that I'll have to get on people's radar. Not based on the TV show."
Direct Management Group's Martin Kirkup, whose firm began working with Lambert last summer after the singer's departure from 19 Entertainment, says the process of reintroducing the artist to the marketplace will simply revolve around getting as many eyeballs on him as possible and then allowing the music to speak for itself. That started earlier this year with performances on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," Logo's NewNowNext Awards and "Jimmy Kimmel Live!"
"We feel he has good recognition because of 'American Idol,' but really when you get to your second record everything is starting off fresh. Whatever audience you brought with you from 'Idol,' whatever the perception you have-some of that remains," Kirkup says. "But basically you're now going to thrive or fail based on your own talent or skills. The most important thing we can be doing is getting people to see Adam, whether that's on TV, live or on video."
RCA VP of marketing Nick Pirovano says that Lambert is still very much in the artist development stage. "We're breaking an artist," he says. "We want him to be more than just an 'American Idol,' and that takes time."
But there's still the matter of where Lambert fits into the current musical landscape. Although he performed classic rock songs from Led Zeppelin, U2 and others during his stint on "Idol" and will front upcoming international dates with Queen, the artist mostly identifies himself as a pop act. It's been challenging finding his place in the female-dominated genre, he says.
"There's not a blueprint for me to follow," Lambert says, referencing how Justin Bieber seems to be following a path mapped by Justin Timberlake. "There are female artists I can look at that I find more in common with than the male artists, because they're blending the pop, dance and theatricality . . . but currently there aren't a lot of guys who go there."
RCA hopes to expand on Lambert's pop appeal through radio. Senior VP of promotion Adrian Moreira says the singer's strongest format is adult top 40, whose listeners tend to be females age 18-34. To build on that demographic, Lambert visited mainstream and adult top 40 stations across the country in March to meet with programmers and music directors and perform acoustically for listeners.
"With the first album you're committed so much to stuff around 'Idol' that there wasn't really an opportunity to get him into these stations," Moreira says. Additionally, Lambert will record a live performance in New York on May 15 that will later stream on more than 100 Clear Channel station websites.
The promotional campaign for "Trespassing" began in December with the release of first single "Better Than I Know Myself." Despite some national TV performances that followed the release, the single failed to garner much attention at radio, peaking at No. 18 on the Adult Top 40 chart in late April. Moreira believes the label will have more success with the uptempo "Never Close Our Eyes," which will be supported by performances on "Good Morning America" (May 14) and "American Idol" (May 17). The single goes to stations on May 28.
In lieu of immediately touring behind "Trespassing," Lambert's summer plans include eight North American radio station concerts and six overseas shows singing for Queen. Direct Management Group's Kirkup says the management team wanted to keep the artist's schedule open as press and media opportunities arise in global markets. Lambert cites the Philippines, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, the United Kingdom and parts of Scandinavia as international markets where he's had the most success. A proper tour will likely occur at the end of this year or in early 2013. The singer's last North American tour of primarily clubs and theaters in 2010 grossed $2.7 million from 30 concerts that attracted nearly 65,000 people, according to Billboard Boxscore.
Kirkup hopes that the upcoming Queen performances in Russia and Europe expose Lambert to an audience that might not discover him as immediately a pop artist. Lambert notes that there aren't any plans to perform additional concerts with Queen but says he's open to any type of collaboration with the rock band, including recording an album together like Queen + Paul Rodgers' The Cosmos Rocks in 2008.
For now, Lambert is focusing on pushing his career forward with "Trespassing." "There are people in the industry or fans who will look at that statement and say, 'But it's Queen!'" he says. "I know that, and I know it's a big honor. But the most important thing for me is to be authentic. And I'll be the most authentic doing the music I wrote."