When pop singer Mika, 24, appeared on Outs cover last July [Pop's New Queen], he firmly declared, Im not willing to label myself. His consistent not-quite no comment continues to ruffle the feathers of out and proud queers -- and, of course, rile up his staunchest defenders.
He recently checked in with Out from London, updating us on his whirlwind year, his most obscure and infamous inspirations, and just exactly what he thinks of the folks who say hes hiding in plain sight.
Out: In 2007, you played at Coachella, won three World Music Awards and were nominated for a Grammy. What was the highlight?
Mika: Being able to pay my bills? [Laughs] No. Im kidding. Everyone always wants me to say the big stuff, the huge festivals and performances. But it was just being given an insight into how to do things. A profession youve always wanted to do your entire life finally becomes real, and you have to make the most of it.
Are you going to the Grammys?
I dont know. Im more concerned with my own show the day after in Los Angeles. The nomination is quite an honor -- yet award ceremonies are always a little bit of a meat market, arent they? I like the nomination more than anything. I think if I was performing itd be different because Id have a purpose. Well see.
Whats going to be different about this tour?
Unfortunately, I cant bring the same show all over the States. In L.A. and New York and some of the Canadian shows where were doing 10,000 seaters, weve got the full show. But because were playing clubs down to 1,500 people, we cant physically fit [everything] into the venues. For the bigger shows, it is a lot closer to this total gig vision that Ive got. We work with an 18-foot puppet, a snow machine, stuff like that. Its fantasy. As long as its all based around a good set of songs and a good set of performances, its important to create magic and stretch the world.
How do you describe your ideal vision for a show?
Ive been to a lot of arena gigs, and some are very disappointing because they rely too much on a big bunch of screens. Theres a disadvantage being 9,000 people away from the performer, and its that hes quite small. But there is also an advantage to that, because you can create illusions that you never could within a small club, a sense of scale and magic. In the next two years when Im developing my big shows, especially in Europe and Canada and in Asia, Im looking forward to creating this virtually delicious show that happens all over at different stages of the arena -- so you never feel like youre far away whether youre in the third row or the 300th row.
Whose big arena shows do you like the best?
I think that the Madonna concerts are really entertaining. Its not like going to a Led Zeppelin gig, but its still kind of a visual feat. Prince -- hes the master, and that relies mostly on music too, the tightness of the band, the tightness of his performance. And also theres that whole Cirque du Soleil thing, you know? When you see some of those shows, youre literally sitting there scratching your head, wondering how the hell theyve managed to create that visual effect.
Who has inspired your music and the way that you perform?
I always go on about Harry Nilsson. Hes just this victim of his own profession, very underrated. Hes so talented, undeniably so, both as a writer and as a singer -- but just not quite fashionable enough to be famous as a household name. And ironically enough, he was the favorite songwriter of the Beatles for most of their career, both Lennon and McCartney, and very good friends with them as well. And I love Prince, because hes a musical genius and hes the opposite end of the spectrum. Whereas Harry Nilsson was introspective and fragile, Prince is a superstar and kind of the short man who kind of dominates the arena.
Youve sold nearly 5 million records worldwide, and yet such a small percentage of that is in the U.S. Are you frustrated about not being a household name here?
No. I mean, its a mixture. I think the U.S. takes time. If someone asks me, Have you reached the climax of your success in the U.S.? I would immediately say, 100 percent no. Is my career growing in the U.S. steadily? Yes. Is it growing as fast as it is in other countries? Maybe not. But when I put my tickets on sale, my tours sell out -- and Im on my third U.S. tour. The fact that Im doing so well in Canada is a good reflection that the American market isnt really that alien to me. My gigs in America are pretty intense. Its not as if Im going and getting disappointed. What confuses me is that my gigs are pretty mental, yet I just cant get the radio support.
Why do you think that is?
Its very simple. I didnt get radio support in the States with Grace Kelly, even though it was number one in most territories around the world, probably in the top two or three songs in the world by radio play in every single country. I heard from a [U.S.] radio station a couple of months ago, and the programmers excuse was, Its because he says he wants to be like a woman. He has the line where he says he wants to be like Grace Kelly, and we just dont feel comfortable with this song. And then when it got to Love Today, and we tried to get radio to play it they said, Impossible -- its a man singing in the vocal range of the woman. Its kind of depressing, really. Its just confusing. But I see the humor of it. Far more people are listening to me online than are listening on radio and, quite frankly, thats the contact Im quite comfortable with at the moment, because it means I can sell tickets to my live shows.
If Lollipop were a Fergie song, I think it would have been a huge summer hit on American radio.
Well, yeah, theres this thing where you should know your place. But you can bitch about it, or you can just create other ways to make your career grow. And Im certainly not intending to bitch about it -- I hardly ever do, actually.
Are you working on your next album?
Ive been working on it for a while actually. I was recording demos for my second album as I was recording the first album. I really like the opportunity that I have in front of me. I just want more. When I was making my first album, I wouldnt talk to anyone about it, and I think Im going to have to keep the same attitude for this one. Even though Im fucking tempted to go on and on!
Please, let me tempt you! You could go on a little more.
[Laughs] No. No more. But Im certainly not going to kowtow to the pressure of trying to get radio support in certain territories. Im not interested in manipulating what I do for anything. Im going to do what I do. I write songs for myself, and Im going to continue doing that. If it gives me that funny feeling in the back of my spine, the kind of feeling that makes me want to go to the loo, then I know that its good.
Lets talk about the reaction to your Out cover story.
So how did it go?
On our side? There were a lot of people who were just thrilled to see it and hear what you had to say. And we also got a lot of flak, people who said, How could a magazine called Out put someone on the cover who seems ashamed to admit hes gay?
Whats your reaction to that?
Yeah, well, Im sure you heard that a lot. But I always polarize opinions, whether its my private life or the music that I make, and Ive had to deal with that over the past year. I think thats been one of the biggest learning curves. Ive gotten a huge amount of success, but if you had any idea of the amount of flak that I get for the kind of songs that I write or the way that I talk about or refuse to talk about almost any private aspect of my life -- youd be pretty astonished. And one of the biggest challenges that Ive had is just saying to myself, You know what? Just stay the same. Stay the way that you are. I can understand that you got polarized opinions. Of course you were going to. That doesnt surprise me.
Do you think theres a way to describe your sexuality without using labels?
Of course theres ways of discussing sexuality without using labels. I think that if you want to discuss sexuality or just kind of sexual things to begin with, I think there definitely is. I think thats far more interesting than talking about whether someone is agreeing to or refusing to use labels. I think thats what your article -- and definitely your [cover] headline [Mika: Gay/Post-Gay/Not Gay?] was getting at.
Is that a conversation you want to have more of? Is it that you wont talk about anything in your life regarding sex, or that you dont want to talk about it in the terms that people have been asking you to?
Ill talk about my opinions, and Ill talk about my music, and Ill write about my opinions or about my personal life stories in my music. I will not talk about labels, and I will not talk about over-categorizing things, because labels are the one thing that Ive never agreed with -- simply because I just dont fit into them in my own personal life. And yes, if someones willing to have an interesting conversation and take the time and patience to go into stuff like that, then yeah, I think its fascinating. But I write songs -- thats what I do first. I dont politicize myself or my life, and I am who I am. If you know my lyrics and if you know my songs, you probably know a lot more about me than if you just read an article about me.
Mikas North American tour kicks off this week in Montreal. Go to imeem.com for more information.