The creative crisis
The farewell to the TV
The weight of family ties
«With the new album I start again from me»
of SIMONE MARCHETTI
Flight like this
Malpensa airport. I'm waiting for my flight to New York, a short business trip. A hand caresses my shoulder. I turn around and he is there, Mika. He greets me, he's about to leave on my own plane. Last time we met in Hydra, a Greek island, during the holidays. Let's chat, I'll show you the latest version of the cover you see in this issue. He likes it, he is happy.
On the flight we talk about projects, ideas. Then everyone in his place. Michael Holbrook, this is Mika's real name, he is 36, he said goodbye to television, he was away from music for four years and now comes back with a new album. After 12 years of success, the crisis has arrived for him. Strong, intense, disorienting.
The notes, disappear. Inspiration, gone. The motivation is absent. The future, very nebulous. Clearly, there was only one question: what should I do now? New York, the evening after the flight. Paola Turci is the surprise guest of fashion designer Michael Kors at the party after the show. The public is mostly international, a little distracted and quite noisy. Paola takes the stage and is alone with her guitar. Attack with a cover of Mina, Still again. Then another song. And finally, with one of his most famous pieces, Volo thus. The public suddenly shuts up even if he doesn't understand a single word of Italian.
I seem to fly, even though I am still here / And I take my dreams back hopes the illusions all you know about me / And I fly like this, with open arms in the clouds / Flight in the clear air without limits / Flight in the soul of these tender nights / Volo so because that's how I have to live / Volo in the heart of those who want to make a mistake / Flight in the sun because I want to burn / Flight like this
Manhattan, Feroce, a club / restaurant above the thousand lights of skyscrapers. After the concert, Paola dances like a child, standing on the sofa next to me. It is free, like water that slides between the hands: in the same way, it caresses everything as if it flew away a moment later, light, weightless. Fragile and powerful. As soon as midnight passes, a small cake arrives with a candle: the singer turns 55 today. He closes his eyes, blows on the flame and then returns to dance and sing at the top of his lungs.
This issue of Vanity Fair talks about the weight and lightness of crises. Of that difficult and very important moment in which one says: and now what do I do? In the interview, Mika, indeed Michael, claims to have found the wings of inspiration in a cemetery. On New York night, Paola shows how for her wings are a constant, a little madness to always carry with her, like a lucky charm that hides in a pocket.
And you? Where did your wings go? Enjoy the reading
PS: keep writing to me thoughts, advice and thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org
MIKA I made peace with myself
36 years old, photographed by Jasper Abels.
Dior pinstripe suit with satin band. Grooming Anna Maria Negri @ W-MManagement using Womo / Bullfrog.
Hair Geraldine Fougerat Gay using Ever Bio Cosmetics, Huile de graine de figue de barbarie.
I HAVE MADE PEACE WITH MIKA
The crisis came after 12 years of international success. So, before writing his new album, the pop star wondered: why do I do it? The answer is in a cemetery, in the history of his family and in a project of his mother
by VALENTINA COLOSIMO
photo JASPER ABELS
RAMONA TABITA service
THE FIFTH TIME Mika, 36 years old. After 4 years of recording silence, October 4 returns with My Name Is Michael Holbrook, the fifth studio album of his career, 12 years after debut Life in Cartoon Motion.
My mother accepted jobs for me even though they didn't pay us for travel and hotel, so we ended up sleeping in the car
Two years ago, at Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia, in the southern United States, Mika had a revelation. On the graves of the ancestors there was his surname, Penniman, in some cases even his two first names, Michael Holbrook, and so, perhaps a little macabre but "funny, to Tim Burton", as he says, those tombstones reminded him of who he is and where he came from, and they revealed something about his father's family, until then almost ignored. In that cemetery - a bizarre gift of inspiration - the first verses of Tiny Love were born, the song that opens the new album, My Name Is Michael Holbrook, four years after No Place in Heaven: «I didn't know where to start, I was in full creative crisis, in the sense that I had nothing to say. So, as always in these situations, I told myself that I had to throw myself into the unknown, and for me the unknown is my father's family. Seeing my name on all those graves has exalted me, it was nice to know that piece of my identity still unexplored. I felt the need to defend my roots and started writing: My Name is Michael Holbrook, I was born in 1983. My name is Michael Holbrook, I was born in 1983 ». Sitting barefoot and cross-legged on a sofa, Mika speaks quickly, there are many things to say and he has already waited too long. He has just turned 36, the last 12 - from the lucky and colorful debut of Life in Cartoon Motion - he has gone on to do the things necessary to be an international pop star: records, concerts, collaborations. To that were added the talent shows - in Italy X Factor, in France The Voice - that gave him the mass popularity typical of TV. Now he has decided to focus only on music and the change of perspective has also coincided with the change in the look, which has gone from a camp style to the less decorated style of today.
Why did you put your legal name in the album title?
"I wanted to forget the person I had been in the last few years to go back to being that boy who was in front of his white s**tty piano, in the family home, writing songs for Life in Cartoon Motion."
Do you want to distance yourself from Mika?
What made you tired of Mika?
"It's a question that requires a complex answer, to answer I have to go back to my family history, the same one I started four years ago when I went into crisis. Using the name of the registry office allowed me to review reports with my family with a different look, more adult and courageous ».
Where do you start?
"Since I was seven years old. My father, a financial advisor, had been taken hostage in Kuwait at the US embassy. He returned seven months later, completely changed. First it was Dad, then it was Mike: we could no longer call him Dad, that thin man with a beard, who had lived very strong things, we children didn't recognize him anymore ».
What do you call him today?
"" Pa "is the way I found it, after calling him Mike for 15 years. "Daddy" I can't ".
After his father's return, what happened?
"An economic collapse, we lost the house, with creditors coming to foreclose on the furniture. So we moved to London where we lived in a bed and breakfast for two years. We had to rebuild our lives from scratch. It is at that moment that all my problems explode, above all dyslexia, and then the violent teacher and expulsion from school ».
And then he starts singing.
«My mother comes to me and tells me: ok, now you go to work; "You will either be a total failure or a great success; if you fail, someone like you can only end up in prison." In prison? Even? "I don't know why she said it, today it may seem like a funny phrase, but it was the obsession of my life. The bugbear of failure has begun to haunt me since I was a child. "
Have you always lived with the fear of failure?
Then what happens?
"My mother puts me down with singing: four hours of exercise a day. After five months of this exhausting training, I am already singing at the Royal Opera House in London. And so, everything changes: they treat me well, they pay me, I have responsibilities. Another world compared to the school nightmare ".
Was studying singing an obligation?
«Yes, I detested the discipline. Every day my mother trained me and twice a week this Russian teacher arrived from Moscow, who dressed like a Russian lady of the Twenties, hardly spoke English and screamed at me in Russian. In the morning, before classes, I cried. "
Did his mother want to find him a job as a singer or raise a pop star?
"She didn't want the pop star, even today she hates that part of my job: for me she wanted success, which for her means cultivating a creative talent, finding satisfaction in artistic expression, which is like a super power that nobody can take away from you and that gives you true freedom ".
Which was the hardest part?
"My new life of constant training has pushed me further away from my father. Because at that point I had become a project: my mother's project ».
What did the "Mika project" involve?
"My mother accepted jobs all over Europe, even when the trip and hotel were not paid for. And so I, she and my sisters Jasmine and Paloma found ourselves sleeping in our old Toyota Previa, outside the theater where I was supposed to perform. The Mika project was a collective effort of the whole family ».
Have you ever felt exploited?
"No, because I knew that was my future. My mom had recognized the talent in me. "
The whole family pointed to her. A heavy responsibility?
"Yes, a very strong pressure, which I still feel today, every day of my life".
Does it make you feel bad?
"Sometimes yes. But then I recognize that having such a complex family is an incredible wealth. This is life, this is love. It is not something that is experienced between two people in a hotel in the Maldives ».
How did your four siblings experience the "Mika project"?
"Partly well, partly bad. They have never been envious, because our house is a kind of municipality. But my sister Paloma, for example, always wanted to be an actress, but she never could do it because she was born with a semi paralysis on the left side of her body. For her I am a point of pride but also a cause for sadness. Her life has become my own, she's my stylist. My sister Jasmine, on the other hand, does all my graphics ".
Family and career are one.
«The problem is that when you become an adult, how do you get rid of all this family history to find the lightness necessary to create? You start singing and writing songs as a child, you did it for life, then at a certain point you ask yourself: why? ».
What answer did you give?
"I went to the Savannah cemetery and saw the part of my life that had nothing to do with my mother, with my career, with the Toyota Previa. A way out at last. In the hotel I started writing Tiny Love, then came the phone call that changed everything ».
"It is my father who says: you have to come here to Dubai, your mother is very sick, she has a heart problem, she has to make an operation and risk her life. As a punishment, when I tried to emancipate myself from my mother and my family, that phone call brought me home ».
How did the surgery go?
"So and so. She has had serious complications for two years, back and forth from the hospital in France. Paloma and I take care of her ».
Did you put all these experiences into the new album?
"If life throws you such a challenge, I said to myself, raise the temperature, offer your heart, write melodies. It does not mean making tearful songs, as if I were crying on the couch of a s**tty Sunday afternoon TV program. These new songs have strong colors and an intimate message ».
Her mother and her sister Paloma also sing in Tiny Love Reprise.
"It is a message to the future: we make peace with the past, even with fear. This is life and we have our tiny love, our little little love ».
In the midst of these shocks he stopped making TV.
"It was my choice."
Why did he want to distance himself?
«Because the TV does not belong to me. TV is not art in itself, you always have to think about what you will do next, and above all after a while you can't be yourself anymore, you play a character, you're just a mechanism of the show ».
Is he repented?
"No. I am also happy with so many things - for example, having made certain political speeches in prime time at Rai. But I wouldn't do X Factor or Casa Mika again tonight. It's enough. Enough of having people tell you what you can do and what you can't do. Enough of those who say yes, but then they hinder you by taking away your budget ».
Did TV hurt you?
"TV can interfere with music, but it depends on what you do next. The proof is the concert tickets: people can love you on TV, but if they don't like your music then they don't buy tickets ».
But have you never had the feeling of being identified more as a TV personality than as a musician?
«It went well for me, but the risk is there. This is why I decided to focus only on music ». In this album we talk about sex and sensuality, starting with the single Ice Cream, a song full of allusions. "Pop has been de-sexualized, but if you take away sex, what's left? I think of Prince, George Michael, Michael Hutchence, David Bowie. Why not talk about sex when it's always there and it's a lot of fun? "
You have been engaged to Andreas for 12 years. Do you believe in monogamy?
"I believe it because I'm a jealous bastard. But it is only a personal choice, it is not a moralistic stance ".
Six years ago you told Vanity Fair that you wanted so many children. You haven't had a single one.
"It would be a selfish gesture, today, to have a child, I could not devote myself to it".
How do you think you have them?
"All options are good: adoption or surrogate mother. And I say it immediately: I defend the subrogation and it is absurd the idea that it is a dirty practice abused by homosexuals. There are many hetero couples that resort to this method ".
It is a controversial issue, there are biological links to be considered, for example.
"I know a couple who had a child from a surrogate mother: she is a happy woman who helped them and is part of the child's life. It is necessary to see case by case, it cannot be generalized. Certainly, the market must be fought, it is created in certain countries, where children are trades. Today, I said, I don't feel like becoming a father, I see the commitment that Beau Regard requires, my five-year-old nephew, Paloma's son ».
You have dedicated a song from the album to her.
"She was shocked when she heard it, but for me it's not emotional porn. It is a way to deal with the trauma ".
You never talked about it.
"I'm talking about it now. Nine years ago, Paloma smoked at the window, but since she didn't have much balance due to her semi paralysis, she fell down from the fourth floor, and fell onto a railing when she fell. "
Were you there?
"They called me, I was the only family in London. I go into the ambulance, they tell me: go say hello to your sister, she will die, there is nothing to do. I walk over, it was a terrible scene. I tell her: hi Paloma. And her: can you tell these assholes to leave me alone, since I have to get up? So I look at the doctor: excuse me, but this one does not die. And I returned to the ambulance, while they were starting to saw the gate, since they could not simply remove it, they took it away again with the rods that pierced the body ».
What did you think while you were there with her?
«Practical things. I had to warn my family around the world. Our parents were in Bahrain, when my father replied - it was his birthday - he thought I went to see him by surprise. "
Did the accident bind her and Paloma more?
"No, on the contrary: she turned us away. But it's normal, it's a question of survival, you have to put some distance to go through the experience and you have to do it yourself. In time, then we get closer ».
You started this album with a research on your identity. Now that the record comes out, at what point is it on the course?
«I started with the idea that the character of Mika, my music had been taken from me against my will. Then I realized that it wasn't true, that it wasn't all my mother's construction, I wanted it. I have made peace with the last 12 years. Because the only way I know how to live and express myself is to create music, write, perform. Without this I do not exist "
I'm happy with the programs I did, but I realized that TV doesn't belong to me, I don't want to be a cog in the show anymore
Reading time: 12 minutes
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