Mary Lambert: On The Road

Since I last spoke to Mary Lambert, the young singer songwriter has seen incredible success. “Same Love” won the Best Video With A Social Message award at the VMAs, and Mary Lambert had the insanely awesome privilege of singing her gay marriage anthem on live TV.

“Singing at the VMAs was so glamorous and overwhelming; if you look to where I was a couple years ago, or even one year ago, it seems crazy I came so far.” Mary and I meet at OP Cafe, a demure Santa Monica cafe close to where Mary Lambert originally met with MTV.  She’s been on a Cinderella-style whirlwind through the entertainment industry, the players in which seem fascinated by her undeniable potential.

“Same Love” slammed airwaves with a tidal wave of charming tolerance a few months ago and Lambert went on tour with Macklemore to promote the collaboration. When the tour ended, Mary took a brief respite to see her long term girlfriend and sing at the VMAs, then geared up for an American tour. “I can’t believe the tour is doing so well,” Mary happily rhapsodizes beneath rhinestone sunglasses. “Our expectations were limited. I’d heard from a lot of industry people not to expect too much off a small artist solo tour; we were just hoping to break even. Now it looks like we’re actually going to make a nice little profit!”

She isn’t exaggerating her popularity; tickets to the LA show at Hotel Cafe sold out a week in advance, and Mary says she has sold out several other venues as well.

Mary Lambert and AE writer Chloë

With any degree of success comes backlash, particularly in the rugged terrain of Americana pop culture. When a member of a minority (in this case the gays) rises too high, a swarm of naysayers will appear to tear them down to more humble depths. Some queer activists had a problem with Macklemore—aka a straight white guy—rapping about how hard it is to be gay. After all, to be a straight white male is to be in possession of the epitome of privilege.  So why is this man making so much money off the suffering of a group he knows little about?

“I have sympathy for what those people are saying, because I have sympathy for most things. It’s who I am,” Mary begins politely. “However I couldn’t disagree more. Ben’s song wasn’t about being gay—it was about being an ally. People who say he’s somehow re-appropriating our cause need to listen and realize that. Also, I feel like those people are dismissing me and my contribution to ‘Same Love’ to the point it’s kind of offensive.” She pauses, sipping her latte and gazing through the cafe window pensively. “I think it’s great that ‘Same Love’ did what it did. The thing about Ben  is he acknowledges his privilege. He’s said he wouldn’t be where he is without being straight and white and male. But that’s not Ben’s fault, it’s an institutional problem for our culture. Hopefully next time it will be a gay person winning VMAs for a song about being gay, but for now we shouldn’t penalize an ally for speaking out on our behalf.”

Like Lambert, I sympathize; straight reappropriation of gay culture, space, and identity is an increasingly common monstrosity and one that should be called out. However, while internet shit-stirrers police privilege, Mary Lambert and Macklemore did what their cybersnarkers never could: place gay rights at the forefront of hip-hop. They informed millions of young Americans that being gay is OK but homophobia isn’t. After the millionth rap verse about faggot bludgeoning, why in GOD’S NAME are we hating on an artist who only wants us to be equal and safe? Macklemore IS privileged but he’s using that privilege to speak for us, who ‘‘have had their rights stolen.”

Lambert with Macklmore at the VMAs

2013 MTV Video Music Awards - Show
A personal point of honesty: I did not want to like “Same Love.” Months ago, before I spoke to Mary Lambert or began writing for AfterEllen, I heard about some straight white guy by the name of Macklemore releasing a “gay anthem” and was immediately incensed. “WHO THE FUCK DOES HE THINK HE IS?!””I remember bellowing at some sweet acquaintance who suggested I check out the pretty song. But then I listened and, like everyone else, recognized an earnest effort delivered with palpable force. Instead of penalizing Macklemore for being a straight guy singing about gays, we should embrace the ally who helped a gay woman bring down that VMA stage. Where the allies go, we can follow.

But enough of fame’s drama; what about the perks? “There’s one thing I’ve been dying to know,” I tell Mary. “Isn’t one of the perks of fame everyone dying to date you? What’s it like being adored?” She laughs. “I think it’s a little different for me because ‘Same Love’ was about how much I love my girlfriend. So while girls might say ‘marry me’ on Twitter or at a show, it’s not serious. If they do, I probably don’t even notice it because I’m just so in love with my girlfriend. She’s the only one I want. Other girls don’t even register like that, because I literally think no one is as hot as my girlfriend.”

They’ve been together for about three years, and Mary is happily monogamous. “It’s crazy, but we’ve had moments where we looked at each other and said ‘this is it. This is who I’m going to be with.” Stardom does take a toll on any relationship, and Mary admits that touring for months without her girlfriend isn’t easy. “The hardest part might be mornings. You know, when you wake up, reach over, and she’s not there? That’s rough.”

Another perk of fame is the company you get to keep. Mary has been embraced by straight and LGBT celebrities alike. She’s befriended and even performed a private show with lesbian icons Tegan and Sara. After our interview, she’s running to see legendary gaymo Lance Bass. When I tell her I’m recapping Two and a Half Men because of Amber Tamblyn’s lesbian character, she tells me that the two have become close friends. Later that evening, at her LA show, she amuses the audience with an anecdote about how the cast of Glee saved her from being kicked out of the VMAs by an abrasive security guard. “He thought I had snuck in, and I hate confrontation so I didn’t know how to react. The Glee cast, who were sitting next to me, put the guy in his place by shouting, ‘She JUST PERFORMED. She has a right to be here.'”

And now a celebrated producer is vying to direct Mary Lambert’s next music video. It seems like everyone who’s anyone wants to be on Mary Lambert’s side.

Chloë’s tattoo (top) and Mary’s tattoo

Hours after our interview ends, I head to Lambert’s sold out L.A show. The small venue is filled with lesbians: old lesbians, suspiciously young lesbians, lesbians standing alone, lesbians chatting excitedly in large groups. I score a sweet spot leaning against the bar so I can reach back for more whiskey without taking my eyes off the star we all came to see. When Lambert emerges, she is a woman transformed. Gone are the big shades and casual apparel. Gone is the demure, thoughtful girl I spoke to about love and bodies. Lambert’s auburn hair dips down in a wave of glossy sheen over an emerald, Grecian cut dress. She looks epic. And then she opens her mouth: first with sexy banter that whips one middle-aged lesbian in the front row into a worshipful, cat-calling fervor. Then with one hell of a singing voice.

All affection or friendship aside, Mary might be the only musician I’ve ever seen whose live singing voice far surpasses any recording. It is rich and complex and not something I can adequately evoke with a few humble typed words. “I’m a little bipolar,” Mary tells her audience with a mischievous giggle, “and you’re going to feel that tonight with my songs.”  She isn’t joking. Maybe it was the backhanded whiskey refills, but at one point I was actually moved to tears. In a bar. You don’t know me, but if you did you would know that takes some heavy shit. Mary’s songs are aggressively vivid, addressing body image and sexual assault with uncanny honesty. She sings to make you feel.

Mary’s performance was so impressive, I wanted to know how she did it. Talent may be innate, but that level of skill is acquired from years of practice and discipline. She is a pioneer for gay women and feminist artists alike, and any aspiring performer should consider taking tips from this extraordinary young woman. So here are Mary Lambert’s how to’s for giving a kick ass performance:

1. Practice Beyond Perfection

“As a singer, you need to know your songs backwards and forwards. You should know every line perfectly, even isolated from the song at large.” Mary is a long time master of self-discipline. Before her singing career took off, she aced academics with single-minded focus and won slam poetry contests.

2. Master Improvisation

“Thing happen. Being on stage can be a very unpredictable experience; you never know what might distract you, or the people you’re performing with. You need to be able to bounce back quickly in front of a live audience without getting flustered.” At her performance, Mary never let a shout of ‘”STUNNING” or “I LOVE YOU” take her attention away from song.

3. Get Pumped The Fuck Up

“I have a pump up routine that I do before every show. I tell myself that I am badass until I really believe it. You have to believe it.” I don’t think a single person in the audience that night left without knowing that Mary Lambert is a total badass.