100 & Single: Buy An Adam Lambert Album, Strike A Tiny Blow For Gay Rights
Queen, "I Want To Break Free"
Janis Ian: The only thing less likely than a lyrical 17-year-old Janis Ian getting a date was the real-life 24-year-old scoring a chart-topping album singing about it. But that's precisely what happened to Between the Lines, Ian's 1975 album, featuring the wistful Top Five mopefest "At Seventeen." Ian's album-chart victory came nearly two decades before she came out publicly.
Jonathan Knight (of New Kids on the Block): One of two Knights in the hugely successful late-'80s boy band (along with brother Jordan), Jonathan sang on the 1989 chart-topping album Hangin' Tough and the 1990 followup smash Step by Step. New Kids' inability to return to the penthouse after 1990 was entirely related to the aging of their fanbase, rather than issues over with any member's sexuality. Fun fact: Knight's 2011 revelation came after an accidental and reportedly friendly 2011 outing by fellow late-'80s teenpop star Tiffany, one of the few girls he dated. Interestingly, unlike fellow boy-band alumnus Lance Bass, the decades-long delay in Knight's coming-out meant he emerged as a working boy-band memberNew Kids have been reunited and recording for several years.
Ricky Martin: Few music stars must be as relieved to be off the public's gaydar as this guy. Martin's 1999 transition from established Latin radio fixture to cross-cultural megastar was dogged by the most intense sexual-identity speculation of any act in millennial pop. His self-titled English-language debut, sporting the über-hit "Livin' la Vida Loca," debuted in the penthouse with 661,000 copies, still the best sales week for a Latin pop star in historybut he spent his peak fame years dodging questions about his sexuality, lobbed by everyone from Rolling Stone to Barbara Walters. In 2010, long past his explosive Anglo-pop moment, Martin finally ended the speculation. After all that agita, the revelation didn't seem to hurt his career much; his 2011 album Música + Alma + Sexo debuted at a healthy No. 3.
Freddie Mercury (of Queen): Somewhat belying the premise of this column is the fact that everyone's favorite mustachioed rock god told a U.K. interviewer, way back in 1974, that he was "as gay as a daffodil, my dear." But Mercury's openness during his storied two-decade career is a matter of some dispute. The thing is, when that interview quip occurredthe March 12, 1974, issue of New Musical Express, to be preciseQueen was a curio of a rock band with exactly one medium-size British hit, "Seven Seas of Rhye," under its belt. And even less U.S. chart presence: their debut album had peaked at No. 83 here in 1973 and didn't go gold for another four years. On both sides of the Atlantic, the band was months away from their first big hit, "Killer Queen." After that NME interview, Mercury never directly addressed his sexuality again and, in later years, asked the few journalists he trusted not to mention his boyfriends.
By the time Queen scored their transatlantic No. 1 album The Game in 1980, the band was an American rock-radio fixture, releasing nude-women-bedecked record covers and music videos and generally not addressing Mercury's hiding-in-plain-sight orientation. Moreover, it's difficult to regard the Queen frontman as a paragon of openness given his sad end: denying his HIV-positive status to the relentless U.K. tabloid press until days before he died of AIDS in 1991 at age 45. That galvanizing death, followed immediately and coincidentally by the release of the Queen-celebrating movie Wayne's World in 1992, led to a resurgence of Queen sales. But other than a brief U.S. chart-topping appearance by the film's soundtrack, which did include "Bohemian Rhapsody," no Queen album has occupied the penthouse since Mercury's passing. Ironically given the theme of this column, Adam Lambert has served as a replacement singer for Mercury in recent performances by Queen's Brian May and Roger Taylor, and they are about to go back onstage for a handful of shows later this year fronted by Lambert.