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Pop’s New Queen

 

The more Mika avoids the question, the more persistant the question becomes.

 

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.â€

 

“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.â€

 

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 “Sewnâ€â€”in which Gillespie sings “Danny boy, don’t be afraid / To shake that ass, and misbehaveâ€â€”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?

 

Mika’s preternatural cheeriness, seemingly boundless energy, and celebratory circus-stage imagery belie the traumas in his oft-repeated back-story: Born Mica Penniman to an American father and Lebanese mother in Beirut, Mika was evacuated with his family to Paris when he was just a year old. They later moved to London, where as a student Mika was bullied by peers and teachers at Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle.

 

“School was really hard,†Mika says. “I had a lot of trouble with the kids in my class, but at the same time I had a lot of trouble with teachers because I had a lot of learning disabilities. I’m very dyslexic, and by the age of 11, I couldn’t read or write. My life was kind of falling apart. I was a complete outcast freak. I got into trouble for everything that I said, so I stopped talking. I got pulled out of school [and] didn’t go for about seven, eight months, and during that time I started to learn how to sing because I had nothing else to do.â€

 

Trained as a soprano, he joined the chorus of a Richard Strauss opera at the Royal Opera House at age 12. At 19 he enrolled in the Royal College of Music in London. While on breaks from school, he began discussions with record companies. One label executive told Mika he’d make the deal if he changed his style and sound to match that moment’s hit makers. “They didn’t care what—that was the worst part of it. They just wanted a hit,†Mika says. “Of course, they’ve no idea what a hit is. No one does. What’s a hit?â€

 

Unwilling to bend creatively, Mika delivered “Grace Kelly,†a buoyant middle finger to the sausage-making tendency of the industry. “I had this realization that no one in the music industry would wave a magic wand and turn me into what I thought I could be,†he says. “So if I was ever going to do it, I would have to proscribe every single aspect of my career, from my logo to the clothes that I wear. I realized that it was that vulgar and you just had to spell things out that much.â€

 

He and his older sister Yasmine (a.k.a. DaWack), his stylist and Life in Cartoon Motion’s cover artist, handmade 110 elaborately adorned boxes for his demo; the hype that followed the release of the boxes was what landed Mika a deal—on his own creative and financial terms. “I had fought so hard to get where I wanted that I really needed the money with no interference in order to have fun and make the record I needed to make,†Mika says. “So no one A&R’d my project—I just did it! I was even adding up the budgets for the horns myself, to see how much overbudgeting I could possibly conceal until the recording was already done and all they had to do was just pay the bill. I did a lot of that. Who said the music industry was clean?â€

 

 

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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.â€

 

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.â€

 

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.â€

 

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!’ â€

 

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 gayâ€), 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 ****ing sure that he’ll put it out there and he’ll go, ‘What a ****head. Look at Mika. He’s made a complete dick of himself.’ I wouldn’t do that anyway—I’m not into that kind of ****.â€

 

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.â€

 

“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.â€

 

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.â€

 

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.â€

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Thanks for posting, Satu! :)

 

God, people are so overreacting about it! It's sex! Something that is none of our business in other people's lives! I wish people would just shut up and let him make music without all the gay/not gay/in between gay implications. Who really cares? If he's gay, awesome. If he's straight, awesome. I honestly don't give a damn, just as long as he stays himself and keeps on being such a great influence in my life. He's an artist, not a museum exhibit for us all to ponder and say witty things about who he sleeps with.

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…as Ari Gold notes, we haven’t as a culture “reached the point yet where being coy is somehow more subversive.â€

A pity the article ended there; this needed exploring further. Or, at least, qualifying with reference to which culture.

 

B+ :bleh:

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Thank you very, very much for uploading! Whoa, that must have taken ages for you to type (you did type it yourself, right). It was a fascinating article (for me, anyway). :biggrin2: Thank you once more. :thumb_yello:

 

Heh, it's straightly from out.com.

Thank you noticing the thread!

 

Avoca (and everyone else), here's one pic.

mika.jpg

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:( reading this article made me sad. cause people won't leave him alone about it. and then all the mean things people say....its horrible!!! i get worried about him having another meltdown. he's a great guy that doesnt deserve this!!! its just not right!!!

 

altho reading some of his quotes in that article i dont know if i like him or not lol.

 

thanks for posting the article :)

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why is it so important?? i wonder how those journalists would react if someone keeps asking them if they're gay or straight. give him a break and stay off his private life!:sneaky2:

 

btw, the article mentions tegan and sara too!

 

thx, sweetey, seen this :wub2:

 

it said in the listing there are 8 full pages devoted to mika and I am dieing to see all the photo shoots.. :boxed:

 

me too!! today i went to a shop which also sells foreigner magazines but there wasn't OUT..

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I think it's a good article!

 

And I'm sorry, but I kinda have to laugh at all the peope who are going "why do they always have to talk about his sexuality, waaaah?" when the magazine in question here is OUT. If he'd agreed to be on the cover of, I dunno, Dog Lovers International, that would be another thing, but with OUT, that's kind of the point of the whole thing, don't you think?

 

I don't think Mika is shocked that they'd talk about his sexuality--he didn't walk into their office and go, "Oh my god, you want to talk about what?" I think they treated the subject with restraint and respect, considering.

 

--Jack

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Why can't all people f**k off who keep bothering him about this. Come on, leave him alone about this subject. If he doesn't want to talk about this then let him. I feel the incontrolable urge to track the people's life down who is doing this to our boy and hunt them down like a dog and then throw all their personal information on the internet. See if they would still be so pushy:roftl:

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I think it's a good article!

 

And I'm sorry, but I kinda have to laugh at all the peope who are going "why do they always have to talk about his sexuality, waaaah?" when the magazine in question here is OUT. If he'd agreed to be on the cover of, I dunno, Dog Lovers International, that would be another thing, but with OUT, that's kind of the point of the whole thing, don't you think?

 

--Jack

I don't know. Just what *is* the point of gay magazines, Jack? I've never checked. :wink2: Are they flooded with gossip over the possible alternative sex lives of celebrities (like, 'Did you see the twinkle in Tom's eye when Brad walked up to him and gave him a particularly manly hug?'); are there columns of special gay events/happenings in particular cities?; do they debate the pros and cons of lycra underwear? I need your expertise here. :mf_rosetinted:

 

(edit: Which is not to say they shouldn't be asking questions about his sexuality. Indeed, it would be interesting to see more sexually ambiguous figures in gay magazines. It's just that if it's entirely celeb-oriented the format could get tired rather quickly.)

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thx, sweetey, seen this :wub2:

 

it said in the listing there are 8 full pages devoted to mika and I am dieing to see all the photo shoots.. :boxed:

 

8 full pages! Whoa!

Although I would've enjoyed it more if it was mainly about his music. :mf_rosetinted:

Well I guess I can't quite get the magazine to myself anyways...

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I think it's a good article!

 

And I'm sorry, but I kinda have to laugh at all the peope who are going "why do they always have to talk about his sexuality, waaaah?" when the magazine in question here is OUT. If he'd agreed to be on the cover of, I dunno, Dog Lovers International, that would be another thing, but with OUT, that's kind of the point of the whole thing, don't you think?

 

I don't think Mika is shocked that they'd talk about his sexuality--he didn't walk into their office and go, "Oh my god, you want to talk about what?" I think they treated the subject with restraint and respect, considering.

 

--Jack

 

I agree with you on this, but still I think it doesn't matter which magazine he is in. Maybe he chose Out magazine for a certain reason, I don't know. But the whole point is, why is everybody so freaking obsessed with whether he likes man or woman? What's the big deal? I don't want Mika to end up doing a Britney:blink:

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I don't know. Just what *is* the point of gay magazines, Jack? I've never checked. :wink2: Are they flooded with gossip over the possible alternative sex lives of celebrities (like, 'Did you see the twinkle in Tom's eye when Brad walked up to him and gave him a particularly manly hug?'); are there columns of special gay events/happenings in particular cities?; do they debate the pros and cons of lycra underwear? I need your expertise here. :mf_rosetinted:

 

(edit: Which is not to say they shouldn't be asking questions about his sexuality. Indeed, it would be interesting to see more sexually ambiguous figures in gay magazines. It's just that if it's entirely celeb-oriented the format could get tired rather quickly.)

 

Silly Cyp. You know they are often concerned with questions of sexuality as opposed to necessarily questioning someone's sexuality. And they didn't try to figure out what Mika *is* here, they just wrote an article about what all the hoopla around him means or does not mean for how sexuality is perceived right now. Of course it was possible to maybe do an article without mentioning anything, but since everybody knows that everybody is curious, it would be kinda disingenious to their audience... From what I've seen on blogs, people are already complaining that it dodged the question too much.

 

I bet they do debate the pros and cons of Lycra underwear though.

 

--Jack

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I agree with you on this, but still I think it doesn't matter which magazine he is in. Maybe he chose Out magazine for a certain reason, I don't know. But the whole point is, why is everybody so freaking obsessed with whether he likes man or woman? What's the big deal? I don't want Mika to end up doing a Britney:blink:

 

I think Mika's stronger than that. He doesn't seem to be letting it get to him at all. As long as he continues to not let it get to him, I don't think there's any real chance he'll end up doing a Britney. :-)

 

I guess people are just curious, that's all. And somehow, they think they have a right to know. I mean, I think no one who is sane and decent would go up to a stranger and ask him/her if s/he were gay, but yet when it comes to celebrities, people act as if they're close-enough friends and ask. When they, in fact, are practically strangers -- they really don't know them. It's a weird dynamic. Plus, it sells.

 

I understand why this magazine is interested in Mika's sexuality because it's, well, a gay magazine (or a magazine that's aimed at a gay public who may be wondering about Mika's sexuality). So, I don't hold it against them at all.

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I don't know. Just what *is* the point of gay magazines, Jack? I've never checked. :wink2:

 

My name's not Jack, but still I'd like to comment about this. If you ask what is the point about Gay magazines, you can also ask: What is the point of fashion magazines, tabloids, dog magazines, music magazines etc.

 

It's all about informing someone about a subject they like ofcourse. I'm not reading a gay magazine, but I have friends who happen to be gay and do read them, while they look kinda strange at me when I'm reading a girls magazine. Got my point:biggrin2:

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Just what *is* the point of gay magazines, Jack? I've never checked. :wink2:

 

I don't know much about gay magazines and nothing about Out in particular, but wouldn't you expect a publication called Out to want Mika to come out? Even if the interviewer doesn't care personally, obviously it would be a huge coup to get him to make some sort of admission.

 

That's really the issue here. It's gone beyond idle curiosity regarding who he is or isn't sleeping with. Now they want to know why he hasn't hasn't publicly come out. Does he really just want it to remain private simply for privacy's sake? Is he afraid of the consequences? Is it a ploy to add to his mystique and keep the little girls pining and maintain a gay following? Is he *gasp* actually straight so he obviously feels no need to come out??

 

The issue is not going to drop until Mika lays it all out on the table. We can all bitch about it for the next 10 years because it's not right and it's not relevant, but unfortunately that's just the reality of the situation.

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