Pop's New Queen
By Matthew Breen
For better or worse, the question of what it means to be Mika'a pop star whose rise in Europe and the U. K., in particular, has been nothing short of meteoric'has become inextricably bound up with what it means to be a gay artist in 2007. The musician, whose debut single, 'Grace Kelly,' earned him comparisons to Freddie Mercury, has made a fine art of dodging the question of whether he's gay, straight, or something in between, but the more he ducks and weaves, the more pertinent'and persistent'the question becomes. Is he being coy or calculating? Is he part of a new generation of artists who feel able to divorce their sexuality from their music, or does he reflect a more typical (and dispiriting) scenario? George Michael, Morrissey, and Elton John have all been here, coming out only after their careers had peaked or when events forced their hand. Is Mika just the 21st-century version of Mozza?
Or is Mika not gay at all? He may even be making a profound point about the inherent futility of labels. 'Why pigeonhole myself like that so immediately?' is his practiced response to the question, but given the ubiquity of the words camp and flamboyant in profiles and interviews, it's clear that many writers have already made up their minds. So should we care if Mika resists clarifying the media's implicit assumptions?
Yes, according to R&B singer Ari Gold, who has been open about his gay sexuality for the duration of his adult career. 'Ultimately it's someone's prerogative to disclose their sexuality, but it definitely irks me when someone is deemed more intriguing and press-worthy if he or she refuses to say anything, or later has some splashy coming-out,' he says. 'I personally find artists who aren't afraid to say they are gay and are willing to risk a little popularity in the hopes of social change far more interesting.'
'In a way, I find it slightly cowardly,' says alt-pop singer Patrick Wolf. Though Wolf bristles at labels, he readily admits to relationships with both men and women. 'We're living in more liberated times than we were 10 or 20 years ago, but it's still very tough in many parts of the world. There are still kids being beaten up, committing suicide. In Egypt, if a boy kisses another boy, they get hanged. You make the choice whether you want to be a political artist or an entertainer, or somebody who's very aware. Obviously, [Mika] belongs to a canon of musicians that are entertainers.'
At first blush, Mika's answer feels like a cop-out. How many artists have ever said they didn't want to discuss it when they were in fact straight? The George Michaels and the Morrisseys and the Boy Georges all said it was industry pressure that kept them closeted early on, but times have changed. Does Mika's refusal to say whether he's gay mean something different than it did when others said the same thing two decades ago?
Indie rockers Tegan and Sara express weariness when on the topic. 'We always get, 'Oh, you're twins? And you're gay? And you're from Canada? Wow!' ' Tegan Quin told the San Francisco Weekly. 'Half the time, I don't know why anyone writes anything about us. They should just write, 'Twin lesbian duo from Canada.'' Too often'there's no time left to talk about the music.' Perhaps because they're more PJ Harvey'punk than pop, their following is predominantly straight, and the press seems to care more about their sexuality than audiences do.
Dan Gillespie Sells of the U.K. band the Feeling has little difficulty discussing his homosexuality, having grown up with two lesbian mothers in an activist household. He officially came out in the British gay magazine Attitude, though apparently he hadn't actually been closeted prior to that. Despite or because of songs like 'Sewn''in which Gillespie sings 'Danny boy, don't be afraid / To shake that ass, and misbehave''the Feeling's Twelve Stops and Home has gone double platinum in the United Kingdom.
Kele Okereke of Bloc Party came out this year in London's Observer magazine'sort of'by quoting a lesbian novel, comparing himself to famous bisexuals, denouncing the 'definite homophobic bias-slash-persecution' in music media, and admitting that a gay love song, 'I Still Remember,' was autobiographical, at least 'partially.' In rock, Okereke'who is black, media shy, and somewhat openly queer'is an enigmatic anomaly, one we may feel less entitled to scrutinize. While queer fans can't be faulted in looking for role models, Bloc Party's audience probably wonders less about Okereke's sexual orientation than Mika's fans might rightly wonder about his.
Would it make any difference to the way we listen to his music if we knew his sexual preference? Last October, Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters told 'The fact that three of us are gay is the least interesting thing about us.' But does anyone really buy that?