It’s probably folly to try to peek into the mind of an artist by watching one of his music videos, and yet the lovely new clip for Adam Lambert’s “Whataya Want From Me” plays out in such a personal-yet-enigmatic way, it’s hard not to imagine that the American Idol season 8 runner-up is feeling a little overwhelmed by all the change that’s come to his life in the last 12 months. Think about it: A little less than a year ago — Jan. 20, 2009, to be exact — Lambert caught our attention singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” during Idol‘s San Francisco audition telecast. (If you’re a nostalgic sort, check out the recap of that episode here.) Since then, the guy has been a magnet for adulation, hateration, and controversy. His sexual orientation got discussed pretty much everywhere — even on The O’Reilly Factor! — before he came out as gay on the cover of Rolling Stone last summer. He got struck by flying sex toys on the subsequent Idols Live Tour. This fall, he was dissed by Out magazine for not being a hard-charging poster boy for the gay rights movement — at the exact same time he appeared on that magazine’s cover. And his sexually charged performance at the American Music Awards in November practically caused ABC to remove the first letter from its own corporate logo, paint it crimson red, and slap it on Adam’s chest. Lately, he’s had to ask his most rabid fans to dial back on organized request-line campaigns that have threatened to harm his relationship with radio.
And so it’s impossible, really, to look at “Whataya Want From Me” and not reference all those water-coolery moments in Adam’s public life. Conceptually, the video finds Adam interacting with the camera as if it was a second character and engaged in a strained pas de deux: There’s Adam turning his back, tuning out, fiddling with the remote; there’s Adam, standing by a bookshelf (that, woohoo, is fully stocked with books!) and offering a surly sideways glance; there’s Adam putting on a happy public face for the paparazzi, then betraying a completely different emotion as he slides into a limo; there’s Adam in the kitchen, angry now, bordering on menacing as he yells and charges at the camera; there’s Adam alone, pensive and repentant and reading some kind of note after the unseen character packs its bags and walks out; and finally, there’s Adam, welcoming his reconciled partner back into bed with just the slightest hint of a smile. Does Adam’s invisible partner in the video represent a lover, the media, his fans, his record label, or perhaps all of the above? Just like the song’s lyrics, the video is open to interpretation, but the sparseness of that dreamy apartment (Santa, I would like those kitchen cabinets!), the misty chill of the backyard scenes, the undiscarded remnants of a hastily eaten Chinese meal…they all contribute to a mood of slightly somber confusion, the idea that, yeah, even a pop star occasionally “needs a second to breathe,” to learn to navigate the public and personal relationships that get inevitably altered by the sudden arrival of fame and fortune, of all the good and bad that come with ’em. Maybe I’m getting a little too heavy (handed?) in blogging about a music video on a sleepy January morning, but isn’t that what the best music videos do: Make us think a little more deeply about the lyrics of a song, allow us a little space to take away our own interpretations, let us see the artist in a variety of jaunty outfits/hairstyles? On those counts, “Whataya Want From Me” clip is a smashing success. Here’s hoping we can say the same for the song as it fights for its chance at radio and on the Billboard charts.
What do you think of Adam’s new video? Post your own reviews and interpretations below. Oh, and whaddoIwantfromya? Follow me on Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak, then sign up for all the low-calorie, high-flavor goodness of our Music Mix blog @EWMusicMix!