The flamboyant singer and the burlesque performer share their thoughts on fetishism, sexuality and pop as the ultimate masquerade
They’re the perfect couple: the internationally famous pop star and the globally notorious burlesque bombshell. Both do flamboyant, but in their own ways. Following a photo shoot at Guardian HQ, Mika is wearing a blue pin-striped suit, sans jacket, with a yellow knitted tie, while Dita Von Teese is, as befits the former Mrs Marilyn Manson, dressed head to toe in black satin and crepe, some of it courtesy of Messrs Galliano and Vuitton, some of it from her wardrobe.
They have just flown in, her from Vienna, where she performed her celebrated martini-glass routine at the opening of the Ritz Carlton, him from Frankfurt, where he has been promoting his new album, The Origin of Love.
“I’ve been bounced around like a bizarre ping pong [ball],” he says – the night before he was in Berlin; tomorrow, he heads to LA for 24 hours. Now all he has got to do is make sure Moo, the golden retriever that he takes everywhere with him, behaves.
“He can be very controversial in interviews,” he warns. “He’s a bit of a Morrissey: he loves to be hated.”
The pair, who have been friends for a while, look as if they are about to go clubbing, even if Mika will not get into Torture Garden dressed like that.
“What do you normally wear on a Saturday – black leather pants?” jokes Von Teese. And before we know it, talk has turned to fetishism, sexual preference and pop as the ultimate masquerade. “Fetishism is not about exposure,” she says. “It’s about the exaggeration of the feminine form.”
Have you ever damaged yourself in the pursuit of perfection?
DVT: “Well, corsetry is a form of body modification.”
Is it painful?
DVT: “I’m not in it for the pain, I’m in it for the perfect hour-glass shape.”
Mika, are you into fashion?
Mika: “Not at all. It doesn’t suit me. I look at Dita and totally appreciate how far she goes to create her version of perfect beauty. But I don’t stomp around wearing a corset like the guy from the Rocky Horror Show.”
Is what you do performance art?
DVT: “I don’t like that term, it’s pretentious. I want to be seen as an entertainer.”
You refer to yourself as a stripper, don’t you?
DVT: “I do, and I love to. It’s sensual, titillating, risque entertainment.”
Mika, are you part of that tradition of showmanship more than you are any rock’n'roll trajectory?
Mika: “No, my trajectory is Harry Nilsson and records like Pandemonium Shadow Show. Opera is where I started.”
So you weren’t born out of Broadway and showtunes?
Mika: “One hundred per cent no. I was born out of classical music. I was kicked out of school when I was 11 and was dyslexic so my mother decided to get me music lessons. She said: ‘My son is so ****ed up. He’s not functioning well.’ She knew school wasn’t going to fix it. A friend of hers taught me to sing and I got really good really quickly. My first gig was at the Royal Opera House, a Strauss opera.”
How did you meet?
DVT: “I was a fan, and I felt like every time I met you, you were warm and fun and sweet, not intimidating. I felt like I could be myself around you and not have to be cool. Sometimes I can’t be myself, because I’m just from a small town in Michigan, my hair’s naturally blond – this is all something I made up!”
Mika, there’s a line on your new album that goes: “You’re only ever who you were, as hard as you hit your head against the wall.” Is that you both?
DVT: “Yeah. When people say I look intimidating, it’s hard for me to relate to. I hear that a lot. I don’t know why.”
Do men hit on you all the time? Or are they too scared?
DVT: “People say: ‘Oh, you’re too intimidating, everyone’s afraid to ask you out on a date.’ Which is unfortunate because I’m pretty shy.”
Do people assume you’re having incredible sex all the time?
DVT: “That’s part of the problem, people assuming that. Just because I’m wearing this, it doesn’t mean I’m about to …
… have a wild encounter with a stranger?
DVT: “Right. [Laughs]. After this I’m going back to my hotel room to work on my show.”
Mika: “I was such a big fan of your act. I first heard about you through Marilyn Manson – another good example of theatricality.”
DVT: “We [Manson and Von Teese] were cut from the same cloth. We both changed our entire identity, coloured our hair black, did our own makeup and came up with our own outfits – that’s why it worked so well. We could relate to each other in a very profound way.”
Our fascination with your married life propelled you into the super-league. Was that a bonus or a hindrance?
DVT: “It was both. We were very much in love, which people seem to forget. I didn’t really think much about what it could do for my career. I was just so happy being ‘his girl’. It wasn’t always easy, though. I got death threats! It was intense.”
Did you ever sit at home with Manson and laugh at what we must have imagined you doing, all those epic feats of satanic bacchanal?
DVT: “I can’t say we ever sat around pondering what people thought of us, no. We were pretty outrageous [laughs]. If you opened up the doors it would have been exactly what you’d imagine. It was never mundane.”
Are you, Dita – nee Heather Renee Sweet – and Mika – born Mika Michael Holbrook Penniman, similar in that you’ve both created alter egos?
DVT: “I don’t feel I have an alter ego.”
Mika: “I’ve always been this way. I’ve just had to work quite hard to stay like this.”
On your new album, you’ve said that you wanted to reveal yourself more …
Mika: “I wanted to strip away my complexes. Musically, though, it’s not stripped away at all. I tried to make something quite ambitious, that comes from that golden pop tradition of Fleetwood Mac and the Bee Gees, where melody was at the forefront. Melody is disarming. It’s anarchic!”
Are you both subversive presences in the culture?
Mika: “Do you think I am? I never try to analyse **** like that, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to write another song. I know I’m still argued over – the verdict’s still out on me and I hope that it will be till the day I die.”
Are you amazed that in 2012 people are still fascinated by someone’s sexuality?
Mika: “It’s funny. You can’t believe the amount of speculation you get over your private life.”
You recently came out, didn’t you?
Mika: “I did, because I was happy.”
Has it made a difference?
Mika: “No, because the question still comes up in every ****ing interview! Only now it’s like: ‘What are gay stereotypes?’ ‘Are you a gay stereotype?’ It has not ended.”
Did you feel bullied into coming out?
Mika: “No, because I have been bullied and I know what it feels like. You’re being kicked in the stomach, you want to vomit – that’s bullying.”
Are you both taboo-busters?
Mika: “I don’t really know what ‘taboo’ is so that probably means yes.”
DVT: “We’re both sharp dressers.”
Mika: “We have quite a lot of fun getting drunk together.”
Would you be the perfect couple, if things were different?
DVT: “He’s, like, my ideal man.”
Mika: “Oh my god, really? That’s awesome.”
DVT: “I like your haircut, the way you dress – you’re my fantasy man.”
Is Dita your ideal woman?
Mika: “I don’t know how to answer that because I can’t – she’s, like, my ideal sister.”