100 & Single: Buy An Adam Lambert Album, Strike A Tiny Blow For Gay Rights
George Michael & Queen, "Somebody To Love" (live in 1992)
George Michael: The only person on the list of gay chart-toppers to crown the Billboard 200 both with a group (Wham!'s Make It Big, 1985) and as a solo star (Faith, 1988), Michael was the male pop star of the late '80s save perhaps Michael Jackson. Like so many on this list, George Michael's identity seems obvious only in retrospect; at the height of his fame in 1988, he was a major straight-identified sex symbol, appearing in his "I Want Your Sex" video with women in varying states of undress. A '90s war with his label Sony, which led to a lawsuit in which Michael accused them of underpromoting his recordings, meant the falloff in his career is attributable to many factors besides his sexuality. By the time he was thrust out of the closet in 1998, his days as a chart-topping star, at least in America, were over; he remained a chart-topper in England.
Michael Stipe (of R.E.M.): One of very few out gay frontmen of a major rock band, Stipe has always been as elliptical as his band's old lyrics. Which makes it hard to say when, exactly, he came outwhether, for example, the 1994 interview in which he dubbed himself "an equal-opportunity lech" makes that year's R.E.M. chart-topper Monster the work of a closeted man per se. Since it took until 2001 for Stipe to fully vocalize his sexuality after years of speculation, we can't really attribute that 1994 album or 1991's No. 1 smash Out of Time as out works per se. However progressive his politics, Stipe waited to make his full revelation for a moment when the band's fortunes were secure and its hitmaking days behind it.
There are not many common threads among the backstories of the above artists. With the exception of Elton John, few indisputably suffered a direct career impact from their gay statuseither at moments of speculation or revelation. But we'll never really know, and these are artists whose careers were solid enough that they could eventually come out; of course most of them look unstoppable with 20/20 hindsight. Other than intermittently successful Janis Ian, this is not a list of small-time acts; even the two boy-band dudes, neither one the star of his respective group, were members of acts considered demigods in their day.
Even among these established stars, one also senses that the pressure, spoken or unspoken, to remain closeted must have been intense. Finally, the simple fact that these eight artists couldn't top the album chart while out speaks for itself.
(Anyone taking to the comments section to offer other examples of stars who are "in denial" or fall into that "Oh, come on, everybody knows about him/her" category are only backing up my point. I know I'm avoiding listing a handful of other widely rumored stars, alive and deceased. Again, we don't need rumors to present the case here.)
By comparison, what Adam Lambert is attempting in his career is remarkable and perhaps unprecedented: full-on mainstream pop stardom combined with early gay identity. While on Idol, Lambert was coy about his sexuality, saving the full revelation until immediately after the competition was overfurther evidence that the mainstream spotlight is intense for even the most secure performer.