Pop's New Queen
By Matthew Breen
Does one confuse the art with the artist when finding contradiction in Mika's refusal to discuss his personal life? His songs give off the unmistakable whiff of an I'm-OK-you're-OK acceptance. 'Big Girl (You Are Beautiful)' is an anthemic paean to fat women. More to the point, 'Billy Brown' is a musical tale of a married man who leaves his wife and kids for another man. Is this a philosophical inconsistency?
'You could look at it that way. It's easy to misinterpret as just a simple contradiction. It really isn't about that,' he says. 'I suppose it's because I never really wanted to box myself in. Anyone can label me, but I'm not willing to label myself. Does it limit the way that I live my life? No. I still do whatever I want. Nothing like that can be a business decision.'
Mika insists that executives at Universal, his label, never told him how to answer questions about his sexuality. 'I think they know that if they brought that up in a conversation, I would probably not talk to them again. They've never controlled me that way. There was a time'when I handed in 'Billy Brown,' there was talk from certain people that the song shouldn't be released in the United States, and I completely lost it. I went right to heads of the company and just said this is ridiculous.'
It is difficult to believe that Mika is guileless on the issue of sexuality alone. He's a bit of a paradox, admitting that he's very proud to have done cover photo shoots and interviews for Out and Attitude. His claim that his sexuality is no one's business is one matter, but the insistence that his position is not calculated does not easily fit with this astute young man who has carefully engineered every step of his career to date.
The differences in sales figures between the United Kingdom and the United States suggest that gay doesn't sell as well this side of the pond. Scissor Sisters and Antony and the Johnsons, for example, have topped U.K. charts but fare less well here. Mika knows that many openly wonder if he's triangulating his media approach accordingly.
'Anybody who says that I don't talk about sexuality or that I don't politically sexualize my music because of taboos, because of being afraid of selling records, especially in the United States, is completely wrong. I've made a record that doesn't compromise in any way about what I'm allowed or not allowed to say in my lyrics.'
Keeping his sexuality out of the press must interfere with one of the boons of celebrity: hooking up. Of his record release party in New York City, where he was consistently mobbed by eager 20-somethings of both genders, he says, 'Like at the party last night, did I meet anyone? Hardly! Got a lot of phone numbers; people would stick them in my pocket. The physical molesting is one thing that really bugs me! Or when people are pinching your ass all the time, sticking their hands down your pants, it's just like, Whoa, easy! That's when Perez [Hilton] got jealous and said, 'Hey, that never happens to me!' '
Perez Hilton was one of Mika's early online champions and is no doubt responsible for a share of Mika's stateside visibility. After Hilton's initial blog postings on Mika, in which he declared that Mika is gay (actually, 'gay gay gay'), the two met at a series of events and became friends. Since then, Hilton has been silent on Mika's sexuality. It's a curious pairing, not only because Hilton is unabashedly queer, but because he's strident about the importance of celebrities being out. That discrepancy is glaring to other bloggers, some of whom assume that Mika befriended Hilton to escape targeting.
'A dance with the devil?' says Mika of the friendship. 'No, I think that if I do something stupid and I go out and make an ass of myself, he will write about it just as viciously as he would about anybody else. He's been a huge supporter of mine, and I'm not as famous as the other people he writes about. I'm not Sharon Stone; I'm not Cameron Diaz. But if I did stupid things and tumbled out of a nightclub with crap around my nose, you can be fucking sure that he'll put it out there and he'll go, 'What a shithead. Look at Mika. He's made a complete dick of himself.' I wouldn't do that anyway'I'm not into that kind of shit.'
For his part, Perez insists the two never talk about the pink elephant in the room. Of that first post, Hilton says, 'I thought it was obvious that he was gay. That's just what I'd heard from people in London, but it may be an erroneous assumption. I'm also assuming he read [the posts], and he never clarified it.'
'As far as I'm concerned,' Mika declares, 'the most important thing is what is in my songs and the music itself, much more so than what I talk about in front of the press. This is where things started to change. I consider myself a singer-songwriter first, a performer second. It's obvious now that because of the whole celebrity aspect, because of becoming a personality, the performance part of my job is the one that's taking over. And that is the one who is getting exposure.'
He's getting more exposure all the time. In April, Mika played the main stage at the Coachella music festival, holding his own in front of a tattooed rock crowd, and this month he's starting a tour that will take him through the United States and Europe.
That Mika feels he must evolve in the way he deals with media is apparent. 'I admit that I'm young,' he says, 'and the biggest part of my job now is finding my feet with this new performance-celebrity aspect to what I do, and that goes right down to talking about sex and talking about labels and people wanting to label you. But it depresses me as well. Will it change with me? Possibly. I'll probably change the way I respond to things; I'll probably change the way I talk or don't talk about certain things.'
Denial and obfuscation are different things, and Mika is acutely aware of this. But we'll likely have to wait for his second or third album for more'to find out whether Mika becomes part of the pop establishment and to see whether his views on this subject have changed. Regardless of his reasons for not discussing it, sexuality is problematic, for Mika and for other artists who choose not to divulge. He may very well be ahead of the curve on this issue. Nevertheless, the likelihood is that more artists rather than fewer will opt not to discuss sexuality. In an ideal world the question would be irrelevant, yet as Ari Gold notes, we haven't as a culture 'reached the point yet where being coy is somehow more subversive.'