“The Original High”, Adam Lambert’s most recent album which was released today (13th of June 2015), has a black and white theme, from the album artwork to the music video for first single “Ghost Town”. However, “Ghost Town” itself is anything but black and white, with several layers of meaning running through the song as well as all of the other songs on the album.
First of all, if you don’t analyse the lyrics closely you could easily come to the conclusion that it’s simply a song about Adam’s love life – his heart is a Ghost Town, it’s empty, he has no one to love. However Adam himself has a different perspective on the song. In an interview with Shazam he describes the meaning of the song as being about life’s disappointments, having certain expectations for the way your life is going to turn out then finding out that, “hey, it’s not that” and, “wow, my beliefs are being challenged” and, “I need to re-evaluate kind of everything”. He says the song was given an uplifting beat hoping that people could listen to it, realise that being lost in life is ok, “let’s dance about it” he said.
While that is a great message for the song, it is far and away from my initial interpretation of it, an interpretation I personally believe Adam may have had in mind while writing it but considering his comments to Billboard about approaching the album with “more restraint” and leaving the song meanings “open to interpretation”, he may purposefully have left the specific meaning of this song for people to figure out on their own.
The lyrics of “Ghost Town” go much deeper and explore one particular disappointment in life – that of our world’s still largely homophobic attitude, with specific reference to the entertainment industry. As he mentioned in this Billboard podcast interview, he spent some time in Stockholm, Sweden and commented on how “liberal” the country is, how as a country they are very accepting of pretty much everything, and this may have influenced the direction the lyrics of “Ghost Town” headed in.
I tried to believe in God and James Dean, but Hollywood sold out
Adam is very open about the fact that he’s gay, but in a world where this isn’t universally accepted Adam has faced backlash, from people simply questioning whether America was ready for an openly gay American Idol (and considering he came in second maybe they weren’t), to his infamous gay kiss at the American Music Awards in 2009 which caused an uproar in the media. James Dean is speculated to have been bisexual/gay so mention of him in the song, along with Elvis Presley who has also had gay speculation thrown his way, makes the “Hollywood sold out” lyric more poignant. Adam raises the idea of the entertainment industry, if not explicitly not allowing entertainers to be openly gay, creating or not pushing back against an environment that won’t allow it.
Saw all of the saints lock up the gates / I could not enter / Walked into the flames
These lyrics put forward very specific religious imagery of heaven and hell, with Adam being denied entry into the prestigious gates of heaven and having to walk into the flames of hell. The reason he was not allowed in? Well, I’m sure you can figure it out.
And all of my friends have been disaffected
Ok, now I had to look “disaffected” up because I wasn’t sure what it meant and I found out it means, according to a quick google search, “dissatisfied, especially with people in authority or a system of control” which further cemented the meaning of this song for me. By friends it seems Adam may be referring to the gay community who have been disaffected by the system of control in the entertainment industry that, although things are getting much better as exemplified by Sam Smith’s sweeping of the Grammys despite being openly gay, makes it a hard decision for people to decide to be open about their sexualities in fear that their careers might suffer. Perhaps Adam’s heart is a Ghost Town because of the limited pool of people in his industry that are out as gay.
Now I’m searching for trust / In a city of rust / A city of vampires
Is Adam searching for someone to trust him with their sexuality? Someone who, despite living in a rusty city full of the vampiric media who thirst for those kind of juicy stories, can trust him with their secrets and let him into their life?
And love is a satire
In a world where the gay community isn’t always free to get married but straight couples are getting divorced and cheating on each other left, right and centre love really is a satire, it’s hard to take anyone seriously when they try and tell you that allowing gay people to marry will ruin the sanctity of marriage.
There’s no one left in the world / I’m gunslinin’ / Don’t give a fuck if I go down, down down
Adam has put himself out there, he is openly gay, became the first openly gay person to reach number 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, he has nothing left to lose. He will continue being unapologetically himself and doesn’t give a fuck if doing so might cause backlash. There’s no one left in the world who will stop him from doing as he pleases.
Despite what Adam Lambert would like you to believe I think this song goes deep and explores things probably not delved into by any other mainstream pop artist before him. Hidden behind 90s house music and a captivating whistle, there is a lot of depth to Ghost Town and it serves as a fantastic intro to what is a very solid and cohesive album.