mary-lambertWhen it comes to spilling her heart and soul to thousands of strangers, Mary Lambert is no rookie.

The singer, songwriter, and spoken word artist are skilled at digging deep and bringing forth the most vulnerable topics. Arenas, full of listeners, have no choice but to let her powerful emotions wash over them. Well-known for her feature in Macklemore’s hit “Same Love,” Lambert recently signed with Capitol Records and performed live at the 2014 Grammy Awards.

She is rising as a breakout solo artist and making a name for herself in a hugely competitive industry. Identifying her greatest strengths as singing and crying, the openly gay feminist is honest and up-front about everything—from love to body image to sexual abuse. Prepare to be slammed with a slew of emotions as Lambert’s voice and lyrics encompass your heart and connect with you in a way no one but your best friend has before.

Her relationship with femininity, her body, and self-doubt intertwine with her vocals to wrench your gut while somehow embracing you warmly. Whether you need something deep and dark or an empowering message that you won’t be able to resist, Lambert has you covered. She’s a woman you can expect to hear much more from with her forthcoming full-length album, which is being finessed by the producers of Sara Bareilles, Tori Amos and Adele.

How has life changed since your success with “Same Love” and “She Keeps Me Warm”?

It hits me every day—like, is this real? Does this happen to people? Why am I this person who gets to have all these incredible things? Does this bring to happen to me? I get worked up about it. I’m just trying to take it in every day and not for one-second feel entitled. I just want to feel grateful for every moment.

How did you feel performing at the VMAs with Macklemore and Jennifer Hudson?

Stupid. All of it was stupid. It was ridiculous. I have to create this other person who can handle all this shit. A year ago, I was working a bunch of jobs; I broke my ankle and was trying to figure out how to pay rent. Then I sang about social impact with Macklemore and Jennifer Hudson at the VMAs in a glittery dress, which was beautiful. It takes time for your brain to catch up with what your body’s doing. I just don’t want to take any of it for granted. I want to be just as excited as I am right now, always. I’m terrified that I will get blasé about my life, so I tried to take in every moment at the VMAs. I get overwhelmed easily, but I’ve created this person who’s like, “Yeah, I belong here. I’m fucking standing where I need to be.” I’m waiting for someone to tap my shoulder and say, “Get out.”

After your performance at the Grammys, do you feel more comfortable in the spotlight now?

It takes me a while to remember that I’m an anomaly—I’m a plus-sized queer woman that wants to talk about body image and sexual abuse on a major label. It’s not only accepted but also supported by the brand, fan base, and audience. That is how it should be, but it’s not always, so I feel lucky to be in my position. I think the Grammys sort of solidified that for me. I’m singing about gay rights and explicitly about being a lesbian, and Keith Urban’s crying at it. The beauty of the entire performance, of Queen Latifah being there, and I sang with Madonna, so, you know…I didn’t even have that on my bucket list.

Gay rights at the Grammys. Do you feel that suddenly we are making progress as a community?

I think it’s a very rapid evolution of thought, at least from when I was in high school to now. Even the last three years, in terms of gay rights and social acceptance, stretches beyond tolerance—it’s genuine love for your friends and neighbours and the queer community.

Madonna is known for picking hot young female musicians to perform with at awards ceremonies, but her performance with you seemed utterly heartfelt. 

Yeah, it was. When I found out she was performing with me, I was speechless. I couldn’t even believe that was happening to me. Part of me was a little worried, making sure that the song’s integrity stayed there so that it wasn’t like her previous duets on award stages. But as soon as we started having rehearsals, it seemed like everything was taken very seriously. Everybody knew how important and impactful the performance would be. I know I did because I was the one crying all the time. I cried for almost ten hours straight the day before during rehearsal.

I heard she wiped your tears.

She did, she did, she wiped my tears! I remember standing there. We’re at dress rehearsal, all of the gay couples are there, Queen Latifah is there, Madonna’s standing next to me singing about gay rights, and I just start crying, and Madonna stands there wiping my tears, and I’m like, In what world does this exist when last year I was bartending? How does it happen?

You’ve earned it! And you’re out and a role model for our community. How do you feel about queer celebrities who don’t come out? Should we push them or let them be?

I think we should let them be. I think the public thinks they know a person’s gayness is unhealthy. You’re not in their situation; it’s not your career that you have to go through. We’ve come a long way from Ellen DeGeneres’ show being cancelled when she came out, so it’s becoming more common for celebrities to come out because there’s more widespread acceptance. The industry is hopefully not going to discriminate. It’s also aided by visibility. The only way the industry will change is through visibility, but I don’t think it’s anyone else’s responsibility to push somebody into accepting their sexual orientation.


What does the hook in “Same Love” mean to you? Has it changed over time? 

When I first wrote the hook, I wanted it to be something that hit people emotionally. I felt like the song hit people in a very rational way and made them think, but I wanted to be able to make them feel. The good news is that I’m super emotional. It was straightforward to write this because that’s what I do. Then it sort of became an anthem for allies. People have adapted it to be a universal love song, and that’s amazing. I’ve also struggled with it. My girlfriend and I broke up, so how could I sing “She Keeps Me Warm” every night? I’m vulnerable on stage, and those words become lifeless and don’t have meaning to me. I can shout all day about how I can’t change, but the song felt applicable to me because I was in a relationship. But if you don’t love anybody, then what are you singing about? Then a couple of nights ago, I just felt it. It all came back. I sang the snot out of it, and it felt so good. There was emotion in it and rawness and joy at the end. I’m excited about it again.

What made it change?

I’m seeing someone. I don’t base it solely on that, though—the crowd was also excellent. The group was so intensely excited to see me. It was all of that welcoming energy, along with my just having signed with Capitol Records. At that moment, I thought, “No, I’m regaining control. This is my career.”

Some people have said that Macklemore is exploiting queer people as straight artists by writing a gay anthem. They’ve criticised him for it. What do you think about that? 

I think that we should always be critical—especially of things people are being congratulated for. But honestly, in this case, the criticism is offensive to me. It discounts me as a gay woman. It tosses me aside. This is my story, too. I think the beauty of the song is that we’re both speaking from our points of view. I don’t think he’s appropriating the gay struggle. He’s coming from his point of view, which is as an ally. You can hear it in his lyrics. I think the best writers only write from their perspective. I know criticism is welcome in all these avenues, but it’s also essential to validate small steps. That’s what it is. I say, “Screw ’em.”

What do you think about other people covering your work?

It’s crazy. When I watched it on The Voice, the whole crew piled into my hotel room, and it was like a family thing. We were so excited. When the performer said, “I’m singing Mary Lambert,” I was like, “Shut the fuck up.” I couldn’t believe it. I don’t have words.

Tell us about your “I Know Girls (Body love) Love.” 

That poem is the most important thing I’ve ever written. I wrote it when I needed it—I was self-harming and sleeping with everyone who thought I was attractive. I hated my body, was miserable, wanted to die, and was being reckless. Since I perform it so often, I now have the most fantastic view of my body. It’s because I have a mantra. I love that it’s had such an impact on girls. I want the song to be big and not just for my ego. The reason I want it to be heard and to be on the radio is because of the impact it can have. This song can do so much good. I’m pushing hard for it to be on the radio. I just feel fortunate to be able to perform it so often.

You’ve said that you’re good at both crying and singing—are the tears excellent or bad? 

I cry all the time. I thought last night, “How many times did I cry today?” I’ve already called twice in this interview. I feel everything so intensely. I’m crying about how excellent everything is because words can only express so much. The night I sang with Ed Sheeran at our show in Buffalo, he played us his new record, and I cried in Macklemore’s arms. I was sobbing because it was so beautiful—and I was a little drunk. It’s widespread for people to see me crying on tour. I’m moved easily.

How have you coped with the changes since your last relationship ended? 

I think I’ve learned some lessons through the breakup. Much of that had to do with my being very vocal about my relationship with my girlfriend. I always talked about it in interviews; it was on my Wikipedia page, and there are pictures everywhere. Those will stay with her. It’s not fair for her anonymity. I’m going through some massive changes and am not the same person I was three years ago—hell no, not even close. Three years ago, I wasted my time and slept in my car. I’m not that person anymore. I’m now independent and self-sufficient. I’ve never felt more sure or clear of where I am. I think perfect about that.

Your book 500 Tips for Fat Girls doesn’t have any tips. Describe the poems in the book and what purpose they serve.

The poems span my life. They are locked into the idea of vulnerability. I talk about being bipolar, about my incest, about rape, and body image sincerely and terrifyingly. You can say those things in music and often disguise and structure them. With poetry, you’re writing exactly how you feel. It’s much rawer. The book is just a series of experiences that have affected me, and I hope to influence other people because there are a lot of shared experiences in it.

Your poetry is so frank. Was it hard for you to go there and reveal so much of your inner life?

That’s the crazy thing—it’s not. It’s harder for me to tell a coworker, “Yeah, I was molested by my dad,” than to say it in front of a thousand people. When I look at my audience, I know they’re there because they want to be. My audience supports and likes what I do, and I automatically feel safe with them. That’s why it’s easier on stage. I’m very open in my personal life, too. I’ll talk about it all. You don’t want to hear that shit at dinner, though. I want to be talking about it on a larger platform.

You’ve talked about femme invisibility in the past. Now that you are an out artist, has that gone away? And if so, how does it feel to be more visibly queer? 

I joke that people didn’t know I was gay before, and I had to prove myself constantly. I wrote this song, so I wouldn’t have to fight for myself at a gay bar [laughs]. I’m so happy and grateful to go around the country singing about how gay I am and have people be cool with it. It’s crazy. Sometimes in the queer world, I didn’t feel like I fit in because I didn’t have an excellent haircut. And I tried. I cut my hair short and had my flannel jacket, which was fine. That was me; that was where I needed to be when I came out. Now, I’m just not that person anymore. I’ve gone through different incarnations, and I’m pleased about wearing beautiful dresses every night and proud of my femininity and gayness.

When do you first remember feeling the pressure to maintain a particular body image? How has that changed since you’ve become more famous?

When I was 9, that wasn’t the first time I cried about my body, but it was the first time I realised I was more significant than everybody else. God, that sucked. I lost a lot of weight when I was dancing in high school, and then I gained it all back. I hated myself and tried to commit suicide for several reasons. I was miserable. I wrote “Body love”, and then went through a series of healing years. Now I’m in the public light. People have embraced me as a plus-size girl, an advocate for gay rights, and talking about body image. I feel so accepted and loved by all communities. I’ve never felt better about my body. I feel more beautiful than I ever have before. It’s amazing.

You’ve been open about your relationship with your body when dealing with abuse and mental illness. But as an artist, your body is your instrument. Do you often think about it in that way?

I honestly think about it less than I have before because I’ve come to a beautiful place of understanding with my body. I’ve been practising listening to it for so long now that we have a perfect relationship. I think I just care less than I have before. Writing is one of those things where you’re constantly picking apart a process. You have to sort through all that shit, or you’ll be crazy for the rest of your life, hate yourself, or feel sad. That’s what writing was for me—exposing many of those parts that sucked. It also felt good—talking about them and having others to relate to.

What best advice could you give someone dealing with sexuality and body image issues?

You are in control of your happiness. I believe that everybody deserves happiness and the absolute best. Self-worth has been depleted for so many people, and it’s the root of a lot of sadness. We forget how worthy and beautiful we are. The way I figured it out is having a great support system. I surrounded myself with people that got me. They’re out there. The sooner you understand yourself, the sooner you can embrace yourself.

How have you felt about some of the reviews for your EP Welcome to the Age of My Body?

The cool thing is that I went to an arts college where they gave me adjudications every semester and sometimes ripped me apart, and the times that I was picked apart were because it was too personal and too vulnerable, and not to say that they just don’t get it; I think that a lot of the criticisms are sometimes that it was put together too quickly. To be honest, we did put it out soon because we wanted an introduction to who I was to the world. We tried to get “She Keeps Me Warm” onto an EP, and it made sense to do it quickly. As far as the integrity of the music goes, I’m proud of it. If anything, I can’t wait to show you what’s. Next, I can’t wait to show you the other thing I’ve been working on. I’m just excited to show what’s going on in my world?

What can you tell us about your full-length album?

I’m shooting for June or July. I’ve been working hard, and I’ve been co-writing for the first time in my life. I’ve been pushing myself in ways that I probably normally wouldn’t. I feel like I’m making a sound that I’ve never really heard before and that I’m excited about and other people will be excited about. I think it’s going well. It’s confessional, but I think it’s got a bit of edge too. I wrote my first sexy song, and I wrote my first angry song, so there’s some range in it. I want to explore different facets of my emotional connection to my music.

You’re currently seeing Michelle Chamuel. What did you two do for Valentine’s Day?

I had a show in New York that was very special; it sold out, and I was so happy. It was a beautiful night, and I wore a beautiful dress and [Michelle] came out to New York, and we had a lovely time. You really want to treasure those moments that you have with your partner.

How did you meet?

We were working on music together, and I think music is one of those things—it’s a soulful connection. I thought she was beautiful, instantly. But it wasn’t in my head, though. The focus was music, which also translated in ointo lives. I want to be focused on my career, and when we were working together, that was the intention.

Do you think that new love can heal past trauma?

I think in a lot of ways, yes. But I think you have to make sure that in a relationship, those wounds you’ve felt in past trauma are taken and healed by yourself and that the relationship is not a Band-Aid or a crutch—it’s not a solution to problems. But there’s a comfort that someone else can bring.

Now, having witnessed the big group wedding at the Grammys, do you see yourself getting married?

Definitely, I mean, no time soon. I have a lot to accomplish before I settle down. I’m just really excited about everything that’s happening.