“I don’t think anyone has an obligation to do anything”: The pop politics of coming out

Curator's Note

If you live in the United States and you’ve not heard of Mika, you’re not alone. Although his debut album has sold over 3 million copies worldwide, he has sold only about 200,000 copies and has yet to chart a top 40 single in the U.S. (Wikipedia). Indeed, he is perhaps most famous for refusing to answer direct questions about his sexuality. While there has been some controversy over his refusal to answer “the question,” this interview with Logo’s Jason Bellini allows Mika to articulate his position that he should not be expected to answer questions about his sexual orientation, despite the fact both his music and his marketing seem to suggest that, yep, he's gay. In sum, Mika says here that artists who claim a gay identity are both political and defined by their sexuality, whereas he would be prefer to be neither; likewise, he does not accept Bellini’s suggestion that being out is a “social obligation” that could help young people struggling with their sexual identity. So, what's driving this strategic ambiguity? A marketing effort to avoid offending conservative US record buyers who might be put off by an openly gay artist. Or, more positively, an effort to inject some "is he or isn't he" mystique into the Mika "brand." Or, could Mika's rejection of a gay or straight label be a expression of "post-gay" identity politics (even if he doesn't exactly endorse this position in the interview)?


interesting clip and questions, Craig. While Mika's unwillingness to be "political" by articulating his sexual identity (as if that isn't a politicized position) might be part of a coalition audience building strategy that attracts consumers from different camps, this, of course, does not preclude those audiences from debating both his sexuality and the politics of coming out. In effect, his ambiguity might be inspiring more identity politics discourse than if he just came out and said if he were gay or straight. I'm curious about the term "post-gay". While I realize it is unfair to compare/contrast identities, in your articulation, does the term have more in common with the "post-feminism" (i.e., lets have it both ways/play with identity) camp or the "post-racism" (i.e., color-blindness/ I don't see sexuality) camp?

I think you're right that his non-answers have inspired more talk about identity politics than a straightforward response probably would have. I think Bellini's question about whether "sexuality matters" and whether "there is a gay community or needs to be a gay community" seems to me to be inviting an articulation of "post-gay" identity analogous to your articulation of 'post-racism." Mika doesn't bite, but he doesn't really offer an alternative in his response. That is, he seems to be saying, you're either gay, straight, or you don't want to answer the question (notice how he distances himself from the quote where purportedly says he likes to confuse people). However, outside of this interview, Mika can be read as offering alternative conceptions of sexuality and identity by not linking his music and persona to a particular sexual identity, even if that's not his intention.

On some level, I love that Mika refuses to be impelled to come out. Within a year, he'd be grinning like an idiot on float at every parade pride from Manchester in the UK to Manchester, NH. On another, it infuses this notion of "choice" into debates about identity politics when, too frequently, for many people, there is little "choice" involved in such questions. The risk is in equating this particular "media ritual" with rituals like this as they unfold in other contexts.

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