NEWMAKERS_by Richard Burnett

The triumphant return of Mika

Richard Burnett
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Richard Burnett

The first time I met Mika some years ago, he turned to me, legs crossed and, pretending to hold a cigarette, did his finest imitation of Freddie Mercury.


“Yes, dahling,” Mika said à la Mercury. “Hello, dear!”

Mika looked fabulously fey.

“And he holds his beer like this,” Mika continued, imitating Mercury from the famous backstage British TV interview on the Queen – We Will Rock You: Live in Montreal 1981 DVD. “And he hardly drinks it!”

British pop star Mika shares more than just music with Mercury. “You must get a lot of comparisons with Freddie!” I said. 

“For being condescending?” Mika asks.

“No, for being fabulous!”

“Of all the comparisons with Freddie Mercury – which I don’t think are fair because he was far more talented than I am – there was one I got from Brian May who came to one of my concerts in London. It was me on stage with 17 musicians, all acoustic, an orchestra with two classical singers, and Brian went crazy! He said to me, ‘You play the piano just like Freddie. You lead the band just like Freddie did.’ Brian made me so happy, so proud.”

mika

Like Mercury, who was born in the onetime British protectorate of Zanzibar and raised in India, Mika was born in Beirut, in the former French protectorate of Lebanon, before he too moved to London.

And, like Mercury, questions about Mika’s sexuality dogged the singer from the moment he shot to fame in 2007. “I’m not going to ask you any personal questions,” I told Mika, “but I will ask you this: You have always said your private life is private. But as a pop star, don’t you think your private life is public property?”

Mika stared at me. “Because I don’t offer it up for sale.”

When I saw Mika again this past February in Montreal, the singer had just sold out three nights at the Maison Symphonique, performing newly-orchestrated interpretations of his songs with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. I actually gained admission with a hand-written OSM ticket and sat in an usher’s chair!

The next day I met up with Mika in his Old Montreal hotel. He was still flush from the excitement of opening night with the OSM. “I enjoy Montreal, it’s an easy place to be creative, it has all the good sides of North American culture as well as French and European culture, yet it is not in the shadow of the United States, which I think is great. It is a place that has fought to preserve its cultural identity and by doing so procures culture. The first response you get when you come up with a crazy idea in Montreal is not ‘No’ but ‘Maybe.’ And that’s pretty great. That’s why crazy things come out of this town.”

Mika was also excited about his new album No Place in Heaven (Virgin EMI / Universal Music Canada) which will be released on June 16, ahead of his July 4 concert at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. The album follows Mika’s 2013 hit single Popular Song which featured Ariana Grande and has hit 100 Million views on YouTube and Vevo. During his run with the OSM, Mika also sang a beautifully-orchestrated version of Last Party, an ode to Freddie Mercury on the new album.

So I remind Mika about the time he imitated Freddie’s famous backstage British TV interview on the Queen – We Will Rock You: Live in Montreal 1981 DVD the first time we met.

“That interview is something straight out of Absolutely Fabulous,” Mika laughs. “It’s funny that you mention Freddie because in the song Last Party, it started with this idea that I had, when Freddie Mercury found out that he had AIDS, he closed himself up in a nightclub and he had a crazy party for three days, with drugs and everything. It was the worst possible thing to do after discovering that kind of news, but that’s what he did. That’s why that song is called Last Party, and it’s one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard.”

I then tell Mika a story openly-gay Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford told me some years ago, about what it was like to rise to showbiz fame in the 1970s at the height of the homophobic “disco sucks” movement, which segued into the AIDS hysteria of the 1980s. 

“I saw Freddie, it must have been in the early 1980s, and I was going to Mykonos with friends from London via Athens,” Halford recalled. “We got to the hotel [in Athens] and did what we all did then – the clubs, the parties. At one club Freddie was holding court at the other end of the bar. We were two ships passing in the night. He waved, I waved. The place was packed and we never got the chance to connect. The next day we all went to Mykonos and I was on a beach when his yacht sailed by.”

When Mika publicly came out in 2012 the showbiz closet was still difficult to negotiate.

“Things take time,” says Mika, now 31. “From the viewpoint of the press and the veil of marketing – external things – you can often forget that things take time. There is a personal side to every story. How do you deal with something publicly when you don’t deal with it personally? That should be the last thing you do, if you’re not dealing with it. Otherwise you fuck yourself up and you end up in a really dark place.

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“One thing I will say ¬and said even back then – and nothing has changed in this regard ¬– is that the concept of coming out is a very dangerous one because it is not the most in-depth thing. It’s like a firecracker that goes off. Then what happens afterwards? Sexuality and identity have been the ingredients of my music and lyrics since the beginning. It was always there. It’s just that my figuring out was done in a different way and under a lot of pressure, a lot of negative pressure, which was the worst possible thing that could be done. What was the point?”

LGBT activists wanted Mika to be a poster boy, I replied.

“But they already had me. Just read my lyrics. I’m still very private about my private life. Developing a sense of candidness takes time.”

Is Mika happier today then he was five years ago?

“I was happy then too,” Mika says. “Then, as now, I have the privilege of doing what I love. I’m really happy that I have the freedom to deal with the concept of sexuality, labels and breaking those preconceptions and how you are supposed to deal with it. I gave myself that freedom.”

Mika’s new album No Place in Heaven (Virgin EMI / Universal Music Canada) will be released on June 16. Mika then headlines Salle Wilfred-Pelletier at the Montreal International Jazz Festival on July 4 and 5.

 

RICHARD BURNETT

Read Richard Burnett’s POP TART blog for The Montreal Gazette at www.montrealgazette.com/tag/pop-tart

Read Burnett’s national queer-issues column Three Dollar Bill online at www.bugsburnett.blogspot.com