I love reading interviews where Mika talks about deep, personal topics. I’m particularly interested in his creative process, thoughts about themes related to his songs and learning to know what his music means to him. I would love to learn more about the practical side of writing music. How it really happens and how it is to work with other musicians. Also, I would love to hear how it feels to share music with his audience and to allow people interpret songs in their own way, sometimes differently than he originally meant.
I spent a rainy Sunday going through old interviews and some clips Mika has during years posted on his social media. These days his relationship with media is different than it was in the beginning of his career. He’s more open now but – I want to believe – always on his own terms. The media can’t harass him anymore, not the way it did before.
Topics like sexuality have been in his music since the beginning, music has always been his way to process difficult issues. In 2012 Instinct told us that “the boy who knew too much grows up” and that “pop star Mika is falling in love, joy-chasing and coming out… with confidence”. This is how the magazine quoted him: “If you ask me, am I gay, I say yeah. Are these songs about my relationship with a man? I say yeah. And it’s only through my music that I’ve found the strength to come to terms with my sexuality beyond the context of just my lyrics. This is my real life.” (Instinct Sept/2012)
About the same topic in The Attitude Awards Issue seven years later: “If I didn’t have music I would not have been able to understand or deal with my sexuality in the same way. It’s always been at the centre of my writing.” (Attitude Nov/2019)
After Life In Cartoon Motion (2007) Mika’s happy, cheerful tunes, bright colours and cartoon characters were occasionally seen something directed to children. Obviously, everyone who listened to his lyrics and paid attention to what happens on stage knew that wasn’t the case at all. Remember the animal characters on stage during his first world tour? British Q magazine wrote an article about Mika in June 2009 and this is how they quoted him:
“People thought I was putting on a kids’ show but really, the animals were inspired by a sexual craze called plushing – people getting dressed up in furry animal costumes and having sex with one another. My animals came on stage, hung out and started drinking. Then they had an orgy. But I don’t care whether people get it or not. I’m a marmite artist: people either love me or hate me.” (Q magazine June/2009)
I don’t think the marmite sentence is totally accurate anymore, Mika doesn’t divide opinions the way he used to. The world is different now, Mika has grown up and the more people learn to know him – both his music and personality – the more they seem to just love him. His songs are not only happy tunes. He includes in his music all colours of life and every possible emotion, there’s a lot of darkness in it as well. The Songs For Sorrow EP that came out summer 2009 was seemingly darker than Life In Cartoon Motion. This is how he described the EP: “The lyrics are dark and emotional. There’s a track called Toy Boy, which is about a toy that gets used and abused by different owners. I guess these songs are the antidote to my first album.” (Q magazine June/2009)
About the same topic in Observer Music Monthly: “Toy Boy and Lady Jane: They are strange nursery rhymes… odd morality tales. When I was writing the first record I made so many allusions to fairy tales and nursery rhymes. And the funny thing is that when you’re 16 you read them again and realise they’re the most violent things ever. The EP allows me to explore that side.” (Observer Music Monthly June/2009)
In The Sunday Telegraph Seven magazine from 2010 Mika is unpacking the darkness of The Boy Who Knew Too Much. He talks about wanting to create another reality, something that is – for many different reasons – familiar to people listening to his music as well: “Sexuality, identity, goofiness! Physical appearance. Cultural confusion. And social rejection. This desperate feeling – desperate – desperately wanting to create something else. Desperately wanting to create another reality.” (The Sunday Telegraph 15/8/2010)
That time it wasn’t so easy to follow his album making process. There was information about the songs on The Boy Who Knew Too Much (2009) in different interviews, there were bits and pieces of knowledge here and there. The article in Observer Music Monthly had gorgeous photos and interesting descriptions of the new songs. Mika’s explanation of the genesis of Dr John made the song if possible even more mystical:
“When you’ve had too much to drink and you’re reminded of things you’d rather forget… I always wished there was this mystical figure I could talk to. I started to call him Dr John. He’s this triangular-shaped perfect older man with just the right ingredients of madness and humility, he’s got a big white beard and he’s covered in feathers that he steals from his pet peacock.” (Observer Music Monthly June/2009)
Obviously, even better than reading interviews is being able to watch recordings where Mika talks about his music. That way it’s possible to be sure about his exact words, even catch the tone in his voice. My personal favourite song on The Boy Who Knew Too Much is I See You and I love this tiny video clip where Mika talks about the song and plays piano. Only a short clip but so sweet to hear him describe the song.
The Origin Of Love album (2012) had a warm place in my heart since the beginning. Partly because of the love theme and big, powerful songs like Underwater and Heroes, partly because it was possible to hear the album at a special pre-listening party that became an unforgettable memory, but also because there’s a lot of video material where Mika talks about the album which helped to learn to know the songs. I love the small making of clips published around the time the album was released. In these clips Mika talks about songs like Heroes and explains how Underwater, one of the most amazing songs I know, was actually quite unromantically inspired by an old advertisement.
The Origin Of Love started a new, more open era and “revealed a completely different Mika – more confident, more comfortable and more honest than ever before”. Instinct quoted his words: “The album kind of tracks the cutting up of my personal life, really for the first time. I said I was going to write about myself and not just put characters in my songs. The first, and to an extend second, record had this kind of precociousness, childlike and brazen in a good way. But now the caricatures have disappeared. Now it’s a lot more to heart.” (Instinct Sept/2012)
After No Place In Heaven (2015) Mika’s television work was focused on Italy and France and accordingly many interviews and articles were in Italian or French. I have collected magazines with gorgeous photo shootings from that time period but feel safer not to quote anything here simply because with translations I always worry about missing important nuances or tones. I randomly chose this Korean interview in English to remind myself of the No Place In Heaven era and really enjoyed watching it. The interview is hilarious yet at the same time quite informative as Mika talks about concerts and performing, being in front of his audience, the way he wants to step on stage and even a little bit about Last Party which is my personal favourite song on the album.
Reading the earlier quote from 2009 about the animal costumes made me laugh out loud and wonder if Mika really said something that direct. Maybe he did, in the Attitude interview exactly ten years later in 2019 he confirms “with a naughty glint in his eye” that his summer banger Ice Cream “talks about receiving a fellatio on the lawn”. I think the exact words came from the journalist and not from Mika himself but I still showed the article to my husband who didn’t see Ice Cream referring to sex. It’s a summery tune, my husband had said, usually those refer to nothing.
That can be true with many songs created in pop factories with dozens of songwriters. However, if an artists wants to create a whole new world with music, there has to be a meaning behind the songs. There has to be a thought, they have to refer to something, whatever it is, to offer a door that allows people to step into that world.
With My Name Is Michael Holbrook (2019) we saw Mika move on to a new level with his relationship with publicity. He explained the background of the album in a deep way and talked in interviews about extremely personal issues, just like the fifth album does. When something like that happens I always wish people understand to be respectful, that journalists and readers understand how privileged they are, how important it is to show the artist respect as a return. The more personal the topics are, the more carefully Mika seems to choose the media and people he talks to, which I think is very wise.
After My Name Is Michael Holbrook Mika talked about the album in a detailed way and I particularly loved how he described several songs in the interview he gave for EDGE in September 2019. Blue is one of my favourite songs on the album and I love how deep the song is, how many levels it has and in how many different ways we can look at it. This is how Mika described Blue in the interview:
“My favorite song is “Blue,” because it is the most romantic song. It challenges your preconceptions. And it plays on so many different levels. Blue is about gender, sexuality. It’s about the idea that you’re only okay if you’re so fucking upbeat and smiling at everyone all the time. When sometimes, actually, that’s the biggest sign that you’re fucked up. And it’s a love letter to the people that I love in saying that, from the deepest part of my heart, I will always love that blue in you because within that blue is the deepest color and the deepest version of you… It starts off as one thing and ends up as something completely different. And that kind of pirouette is really what makes me happy as a writer and its fun to sing because you’re going on a journey.” (His Name is Michael Holbrook but You Know Him as MIKA Sept/2019)
As an example of interviews Mika has done with his designer friends I went through an article in TAR magazine from spring 2010. The article is a collection of notes written between Mika and Christian Louboutin. They talk about their everyday life, how they live, travel and work and in his little notes Mika mentions for example the first concert of the Imaginarium Tour he did in Belfast. “Belfast. First night of my new tour and it was a disaster. I’ve been sick, so tonight was effectively my first rehearsal.” Reading that made my heart hurt. The memory of that first night of the tour in Belfast is absolutely precious to me, it’s something I will be forever grateful for. Experienced in the audience the night felt totally different for me than it did for Mika. It felt joyful, warm and valuable, and I hope that now, eleven years later, he wouldn’t see it as a disaster either but rather as an important starting point for a legendary tour.
Another designer collaboration article was published in Celebrating Made In Grazia in September 2018 and in it Mika talks with Pierpaolo Piccioli from the Valentino Fashion House. The conversation between these two men shows how different yet very similar they are: two creative persons, two obsessive perfectionists. In the discussion they talk about creativity and identity. What Mika says about his background can in my opinion well explain his deep feelings for his roots and his love for the Lebanese culture:
“I don’t have a place to go back to, I have people to go back to. That’s why I’m more interested in knowing who I come from than where. I am the migrant child of migrants. The culture I come from has become essential, because it’s the one that gives me my sense of identity. I don’t want to belong to any place. I’d rather belong to people, ideas, gestures, to the mythology of a country more than the country itself.” (Celebrating Made In Grazia Sept/2018)
When I went through material from the past decade I paid attention to how easy it has always been for Mika to give credit to other musicians and artists. He seems so genuinely astonished by other people’s talent, almost like he couldn’t see the amazing talent in himself at all. I wish it could be equally easy for him to see his own value, to understand how much he deserves. The articles I mention here were all familiar but going through them gave me a sudden feeling of being back in the middle of the Mika world and that felt so comforting and lovely. Without concerts it’s not always easy to be a part of his world.