Overnight success and instant critical recognition are a rare phenomenon in the music industry. But if your name happens to be Mika and you’re the voice behind an instantly likeable hit such as Grace Kelly, then you might succeed in achieving just that. Not heard Grace Kelly yet? You must be living under a rock, my friend, as there will be few songs as big – and artists as interesting as Mika – in 2007.
The ridiculously catchy – if not downright infectious – song entered the official UK Download Chart at number one, prompting a debut on the UK singles chart at number three. A week later, Grace Kelly rocketed up to number one on the singles chart despite still only being available on download, knocking Leona Lewis – the latest winner in the UK’s X-Factor – off the top spot. Not bad for an unknown, 23-year old singer with big hair…
Born in Beirut in the mid-‘80s, Mika’s family moved to Paris at the height of Lebanon’s brutal civil war and eventually settled in London. By age nine Mika – real name Mica Penniman – already knew that songwriting was the career he wanted to pursue. After he started singing, he landed jobs everywhere, even recording a jingle for Orbit chewing gum. At 11 he was catapulted onto the stage for a Richard Strauss opera, quickly seduced by the glamorous environment. Mika describes this time as living in a magical world, a parallel universe that was illusory and enchanting.
When it came time for college, he enrolled at The Royal College of Music. An obsessive songwriter, he would crash parties, hijack the piano and start performing his tunes. One such occasion led to a development deal, which, unfortunately, ended up crushing his spirit: music executives wanted him to follow whatever style of music was popular at the time – something that went entirely against the flamboyant Mika’s nature.
It is because of these dark times that we today have Grace Kelly, a song he subsequently wrote as a “fuck-you” to the executives he had worked with. Written under the spell of genuine anger, its bold music brilliantly combines with lyrics like ‘Shall I bend over/Shall I look older,/Just to be put on your shelf’ to create a sound that has become the benchmark of his music. Believing that one must not be afraid of standing out, Mika found himself in Miami, recording demos with anyone who was interested, in any studio he could get for free. Eventually the right deal came along, and the result is the ridiculously camp, startlingly appealing and well-crafted album entitled Life In Cartoon Motion.
Mika lists an eclectic mix of artists as musical influences – singers like Prince, Elton John and even Michael Jackson. The common denominator with all these singers is that no-one else can really sing their songs. Sure, some artists have tried and will continue to do so, but these singers have created music that is unique to their own capabilities – artists who have thrown conformity to the wind, if you will: exactly what Mika has done with Life In Cartoon Motion.
“I never talk about anything to do with my sexuality, I don’t think I need to…” ~ Mika
There are endless comparisons to Freddie Mercury, Scissor Sisters and even The Darkness, but Mika remains unique. He doesn’t wear strange outfits, doesn’t have an outrageously camp hairstyle and certainly doesn’t wear spandex. Mika is simply Mika – a bit strange to some, but one hundred percent unique and true to himself.
Is he gay? Many seem to think so, but he’s not saying. Mika recently claimed that he had received death threats from “fans” because he refused to say whether he is gay or not.
“I never talk about anything to do with my sexuality, I don’t think I need to. People ask me all the time. In order to survive I’ve shut up different parts of my life, and that’s one of them, especially this early in my career, I don’t really feel that it’s necessary to know in terms of my music,” the singer told the Evening Standard.
Either way, Mika is a brilliant ambassador for being yourself at all times – something the fickle, image-conscious gay community desperately needs! This non-conformity shines through in every track on Life In Cartoon Motion. The album is beautifully produced with a wide range of brass, strings, loops, synths and heavy bass filling out the gloriously simple, catchy melodies.
Genre-wise it’s a kind of over-the-top, quirky, exaggerated pop: something familiar, but strangely fresh. Mika’s voice provides loads of dramatic falsettos and wonderfully flamboyant parts highlighted by strong harmonies. Fun, smart, musically adventurous and thematically provocative, the thirteen songs on the album combine euphoric rushes of melody with darker unexpected elements.
They range from bright daytime melodramas to night-time tales of love, loss, abandonment, hope and happiness. Each is a blend of fresh imagination and nifty pop craftsmanship. Whether praising the delights of the larger-framed woman on Big Girl (You Are Beautiful), describing the journey of a married man who discovers that he’s attracted to men on the burlesque Billy Brown, or simply celebrating the joys of being alive on Love Today, Mika is unafraid to revel in the pleasure he takes in making music.
At the other end of the spectrum, Any Other World – with its big cellos and accompanying female vocals – is a gently rousing ballad that wouldn’t be out of place at the emotional peak of an Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical. What is very obvious though is that there is a lot more forthcoming from the handsome Mika. Its style and execution makes Life In Cartoon Motion a once-in-a-lifetime album, something most artists often only achieve with a debut. We can only hope that he is no flash-in-the-pan and retains his playful individualism on future releases Yes, my friends – for now we have a new icon. And Life In Cartoon Motion is quite possibly the album of 2007.