International musical sensation Mika opened his career in 2007 with defining single Grace Kelly, which sold over 3 million copies worldwide and was the second British single ever to top the chart on downloads alone. The debut album, Life In Cartoon Motion, went straight to #1 in UK and 11 other countries, going on to sell over 7 million copies worldwide, plus over 6 million single sales.
His 2nd album The Boy Who Knew Too Much went top 10 in 11 countries and his 3rd, The Origin of Love released in 2012, saw collaborations with Pharrell Williams, Nick Littlemore and Ariana Grande, amongst others.
Mika has been nominated for and won awards from the Brits, the Grammys, the Ivor Novellos, World Music Awards and MTV’s Europe, Asia, Australia and Japan, Capital Radio Awards, Q Magazine, BT, Vodafone and Virgin Media, amongst others. He is also the recipient of the prestigious French award “Chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres”.
His contagious joy and colourful performances have delighted audiences from the beginning and have led to sold out tours worldwide. His videos have racked up an impressive total of over 250 million views!
Mika has now sold over 10 million records and has Gold or Platinum awards in an impressive 32 countries worldwide. As well as being a songwriter and performer, Mika has designed clothes and accessories, is a writer (including magazine columns, blogs and work on a book), illustrator and artist. He is currently working on his 4th album.
The story of Mika……
Both astonishingly musical and profoundly thoughtful, his tunes combine a heady euphoric rush with darker unexpected elements: daytime melodramas and night-time tales of love, loss, abandonment, hope and happiness. Throughout his many releases, these themes all run together for attention, each one a golden nugget.
Mika is a true young internationalist. Born in Beirut in the middle of the 80s, Mika’s family soon found themselves having to move to Paris at the height of the war. When his father was subsequently taken hostage and held at the American embassy in Kuwait the family eventually settled in London. An inevitably turbulent experience for a young Mika, he found himself bereft, lost in the chasm of a displaced upbringing. “It was the combination of moving as well as a horrible time I had at school in the first few years of living in London that lead me to forget how to read and write, and stop talking for a little while. I was pulled out of school for over six months; in order to sort my self out and find a new school. This is when music really became important. It got me back on my feet.” He says now that by the age of 9 he knew that songwriting was his destiny. The electric performances that would win over some of the most hardened musical ears on the planet would come later.
“After I started singing as a boy I started to get jobs everywhere. With the help of a terrifyingly tough Russian singing teacher, I got to be really good at professional gigs. I did everything from recordings with the Royal Opera House to the Orbit Chewing gum jingle. I’ll never forget calling up British Airways to get a ticket, only to be placed in a line, listening to my own voice! That was a painful 8 minutes.”
A self-taught piano virtuoso, gymnastic vocalist and born entertainer, Mika has music in his bones and at a prodigiously young age he was ready to go. Mika wasn’t hunched over a radio under his bedclothes or seduced by the glitz of “Top of the Pop’s” on the TV screen when he had his first performance awakenings. Instead, he was catapulted onto the stage of a Richard Strauss opera at 11. David Hockney was pottering around at rehearsals in the background, with models, designing the set (Mika still has the poster for the opera on his living room wall now, signed by Hockney). After near complete social exclusion at school – “I wish I could say I was a self-imposed loner but it was imposed on me” – this was a life he fell in love with, instantly: “It was a magical world that you could live in. A parallel universe for people that is illusory and enchanting and amazing.”
“I grew up listening to every thing from Joan Baez and Dylan, to Serge Gainsbourg and Flamenco. My musical tastes have become more eclectic as I’ve got older, but I’m always going back to great artist songwriters, people who make great records to their own vision. Prince, Harry Nillson, Elton John, Michael Jackson. These people make amazing pop records that couldn’t be performed by anybody else and that’s what I always wanted to do.”
However, this musical vision might never have been realised. At 19 he left home to study for an academic degree at The London School of Economics. He quit on the afternoon on the first day and enrolled at The Royal College of Music two weeks later. An obsessive songwriter as a student, he would gate-crash parties and take to pianos to deliver 5 song sets, unannounced. One such occasion led to an early development deal, which he now sees as essential to his progress as an artist. Amidst the struggle to get his own voice and vision heard, he wrote what quickly became his signature song, “Grace Kelly”, a spoof 4/4 opera set to a technicolour pop backdrop. “It was a f***-off song to people that I was working with at the time,” he explains now. “It is where the line ‘shall I bend over, shall I look older, just to be put on your shelf’ comes from. I was so angry. That company had every resource except a soul.” The infectious pomp and deliriously catchy chorus of Grace Kelly became a benchmark for where he wanted to go. “You can’t be afraid to stand out. If no one was going to take a punt on it, then so be it. I would do it myself.”
Unafraid to stand alone, his intimate first person and third person storytelling connect with outsiders while subverting the mainstream from within. Attention to detail. Personal care and attention. Making sure everything is sitting in the right place. These are the watchwords at Mika’s heart. His artwork, developed with his older sister Yasmine, is the first key that unlocks his work – and the music will do all the talking. Enveloped in an imaginative musical world of his own creation, he is one of the few British male pop stars of his age that doesn’t run with the pack. Classically trained, racially mixed and prone to theatrical physical gesture, he has become a scion of ambitiously delivered self-expression. He says his music can be condensed easily, ‘the basic principals are that it is joyful and empowering and doesn’t cowtow to fashion or convention,’ calling to mind an old and almost forgotten pop notion: individuality.
If his debut album ‘Life In Cartoon Motion’ was the brazen calling card of this individuality, then its follow up, ‘The Boy Who Knew Too Much, was the maturation of an unapologetic pop sound that he made entirely his own. ‘My biggest mindset when I set about making (TBWKTM) was not to be reactive,’ he says, ‘I had to go back to the start, when people hadn’t given me their opinions on what it is that I naturally do.’
Second time out, the songs may be different, but the attitude remains the same. With huge choruses, nods to 40’s Disney soundtracks and 80’s synth-pop, up-beat disco and melancholy reflections on personal experiences, Mika’s music continued to be underpinned by an open-hearted and accepting idea of what living in the 21st century means in all its contradictions and complications.
‘The first album, to me,’ he continues, ‘was about childhood. It had that innocence. For this one we have moved on ten years and into the adolescent mind. Adolescence is one of the most glorious times in your life. It is when those life experiences, like sex, drugs and relationships, are still new and untainted. If I was to think about these things in song I knew that I had to become more personal.’ Mika has stepped aside from the character based storytelling of Life In Cartoon Motion for album number 2. ‘I still believe in mystery and I don’t feel like I have to justify anything about my life anymore. Because it is all in my songs. Songwriting for me is a way of catching up with myself.’
Part of the beauty of Mika has always been attempting to trace the correlation of his own personal insecurities or hang-ups into the choice of characters that he sings about. They often revel in or battle with their own difference, something he has done since he was a child. That outer layer has been replaced, but there is no lesser sense of grandeur or intrigue to the new, more open performer. A generic call to arms for people to throw a little glitter on their differences and celebrate them has been one of pop’s most tremendous gifts to music. Mika’s come with their own unique darkness too.
At the start of 2011, Mika packed his kitbag to travel to Montreal to make his third record. The music that he had pulsed around the globe as an artist had been fuelled by ringtone appropriate hooks, streaming out of his musical mind like twisted nursery rhymes. In Montreal, that was all about to change. The sounds made by Nick Littlemore, the Australian electronic pioneer behind Pnau and Empire of the Sun, had caught his imagination and Mika went in search of this potential new collaborator. ‘Before meeting Nick, I was my own taskmaster,’ he says now, ‘I didn’t know how else to work. I was a 22 year old making up sounds in the corner.’ It was just Mika, his piano and his imagination. In the intervening five years since Grace Kelly went astronomical around the world and span off two multi-million selling albums and five global tours in its wake, a personal shift had occurred. As a songwriter and human being, Mika had grown up.
For album number 3, a sensational collection of nimble, multi-faceted and spruce electronic noise has been fashioned. As a counterweight, Mika found himself enthralled by the Laurel Canyon sound of the 70s, the airily utopian noise of pastoral idylls in a new bohemia. These two strands have fused to form a sweet, harmonious new soundbed for Mika’s songwriting. A certain lightness of touch has been found, though always adhering to Mika’s clever signature rule for the record: ‘A lightness of touch does not have to mean a lightness of substance.’ Within all this something intentionally intimate emerged. Mika matured into an artist that no longer needed to hide behind costumery and artifice. In fashioning this acoustic/electronic sound-clash with Nick in Montreal he ironically made his most human sound – on The Origin of Love, his imagination has been fuelled by reality, not fantasy.
‘In a strange kind of way it makes sense. It was about expanding my musical horizons. Nick allowed me to go somewhere I hadn’t been before. There’s more humanity in taking a sound you have made and manipulating it electronically or digitally than there is calling up a session player and asking them to play bass guitar for twenty minutes and taking what you want from that and putting it on a record. I loved the atmosphere Nick curated in the studio. We danced. You don’t dance when you are alone. It made me feel endless. It was a great starting point to be in a studio set-up where everything felt possible and there were no rules.’
A brace of songs emerged in Montreal, fluctuating on the subject of love, tolerance and joy. First single Celebrate could not be more joyous in its evocation of the transformative powers of love, a call to arms in a cynical world. If Celebrate is The Origin of Love at its most straight-up dance-pop, Lola is the acoustic-driven Fleetwood Mac-inspired flipside given free reign. He found inspiration from unusual triggers. The rasping build of Heroes was summoned from reading an A E Housman poem on returning war veterans. The hypnotic swell of Underwater was inspired by a 90s Michel Gondry denim ad, a seemingly slight but beautifully realised 90 second polemic on the idea that when you are in love it consumes you so much you can breathe below sea level. ‘That is exactly how it feels,’ he points out. ‘That undercurrent of ecstasy will see you through anything. I had removed myself from the isolation of being alone in front of a piano.’
‘I am a difficult artist,’ he says, ‘I know that. I make artist-driven, alternative pop music. I do this sincerely, in a time when so many album statements are incomplete and insincere. I am not from the Brill Building school of pop. These are my own statements.’ Inspired by the incredible human emotions conjured in electronic experimentation by Laurie Anderson and Steve Reich, Mika wrote his most open-handed and clear love song yet – Make You Happy, opening with a robot voice repeating the line ‘All I want to do is make you happy.’ It was released virally as a taster for what was to come. ‘This was about people being able to approach my music clean. The first bit of new music that anybody heard around the world was sang by a robot. That was cleansing. It is quite fundamental to the philosophy of this record. My campaigns are slow, sometimes quite hard. I make alternative pop music that’s not easy to promote. But if it wasn’t hard then I wouldn’t be doing it. It’s every single fibre of my being. There is nothing else.’
The Origin of Love was a deeply important record in the career trajectory and personal journey of Mika. ‘What we have done here is joy catching. Every moment on the record reflects how joyously I feel about my life and what I do.’
2014 and the start of 2015 saw Mika working tirelessly on his fourth studio record, ‘No Place In Heaven.’ Mika enlisted long-time collaborator and Grammy nominated producer Gregg Wells (Katy Perry, Pharrell Williams, Adele, Rufus Wainwright) to produce the new album. The pair created a mature new record that exhibits Mika’s incredible song writing talents and breath-taking vocals, evoking memories of classic 70s pop albums created by acclaimed song writers Billy Joel, Todd Rundgren, Elton John etc. The album was released to critical acclaim in June 2015.
Mika has spent the past couple of years conquering the hearts of audiences across Europe, appearing as a judge on the X Factor Italy, a coach on The Voice France and topping the charts in France with the release of “Boum Boum Boum”. In addition to his musical achievements, Mika has been working closely with global watch company, Swatch, as their creative ambassador to create some unique designs for their collections.
Following the release of the record, Mika went straight to work with a summer of festivals, a European tour in the Autumn and another season of XFactor Italia underway, as well as undoubtedly a few surprises….. The year ahead is set to be an exciting one!