Stephen Taylor / Special to The Daily Yomiuri
|Mika in Kensington, London, on 28th April 2010|
The 26-year-old's basement audition led to the release of his debut album, Life in Cartoon Motion, in 2007 and his collection of catchy pop tunes were an instant hit, especially the single, "Grace Kelly" with lyrics that Mika says are about "a man saying that he was trying to be like a woman."
The Boy Who Knew Too Much, released in September, cemented the global popularity of his infectious melodies. Born in Beirut to a Lebanese mother and American father, Mika sees his upbringing as a major influence.
"Because I was born in Beirut, raised in France [with] an American influence, then raised in England, it transferred itself into my musical tastes. I was exposed to so many different types of music that, to me, music was not about a scene, or about an image or a statement--it was about how it made you feel. So it was totally normal to listen to a 1940s French crooner called Tino Rossi next to Shabba Ranks, next to a little bit of Nirvana. One was theater, one was drama, one was just beauty, one was sadness. That's how I still listen to music to this day and I think that that's where I get my sense of melody from," he said.
Spurred by his sense of melody, Mika drew on his international background when it came to songwriting.
"Everyone needs an impetus for writing a song. If you don't know who you are or where you belong, you create your own world and I think that's why so many songwriters, I think, have displaced dispositions--it's a nice way to put it. It can either f--- you up or you can use it to your advantage," he said.
The world that Mika creates in his music has its roots in fairy tales, especially the darker elements of traditional storytelling.
"I was obsessed with fairy tales, nursery rhymes, but I was also obsessed with Nostradamus when I was a child. I was convinced we were all gonna die.
"Part of growing up is part of understanding the concept of fear and I think that's what we use nursery rhymes for. But fairy tales are a very powerful thing because they enable you to talk about subjects that you'd normally never broach, or never want to get close to, and they deal with a lot of macabre things, in a very nicely presented way. To me, it's all about the gory fairy tales, the gothic fairy tale," he said.
This interest in the darker side manifested itself in The Boy Who Knew Too Much, with a melancholic mood that Mika compares to one of his lyrical contemporaries.
"It's a darker record. I'm sitting there thinking it's a collection of songs like 'Toy Boy' and 'Blue Eyes' that are these weird, twisted little fairy tales that have more in common with a Rufus Wainwright story," he said.
Mika's disjointed childhood also led to a feeling of alienation that he admits was an influence on his work.
"[I was] an outsider. My taste in music, probably, was different, and then as I grew up everything, my attitude towards sexuality--especially being in boys' schools--immediately made me an outsider. I think it drove me towards being good at something.
"I think you have a choice when you're isolated in your adolescence, or even as a child, and you can either waste your time assimilating yourself and wallpapering yourself so that you blend in with the background--which is, I think, dangerous--or you can claim your ground like some kind of mad maniac and just say, 'OK, this is where I've been placed, I'm gonna make this my own,' and build a wall around it by getting into music, by getting into this and by being really good, because then maybe they won't be able to touch me anymore. Maybe I won't have to make excuses or be afraid," he said.
One thing that Mika has never been afraid of is taking chances with his live performances and his shows in Japan will draw their inspiration from Charlie Chaplin's daughter and a minimal form of drama pioneered by a Polish theater director.
"It's completely new to what I had before. It's based on this French circus show I saw when I was a child--Victoria Chaplin's company, Le Cirque Invisible, and it's like [Jerzy Grotowski's] Poor Theatre. It's a very handmade, tactile show, it's like a macabre carnival," he said.
Mika will play at Zepp in Tokyo at 7 p.m. on June 7-8, (03) 3599-0710; Zepp in Nagoya at 7 p.m. on June 10, (052) 541-5758 and Namba Hatch in Osaka at 7 p.m. on June 11, (06) 4397-0572.
(May. 28, 2010)