dcdeb Posted April 28, 2007 Share Posted April 28, 2007 ... continuation... Ooops! Still too long... look for part 3... Once Mottola had signed Mika for his Casablanca label, he got in touch with his colleague, Lucian Grainge, Universal's head honcho in Europe. "Tommy said he had an unusual artist and he wanted me to meet him," Grainge tells me. "We had a conference at the Kempinski hotel in London. He wanted a grand piano, and we cleared the bar. He played five songs. I thought he was a genius." Why? "When I was starting out, I had a cassette in the car and would go from the Clash to Abba and the Sex Pistols to Stevie Wonder; it's that scope, that unusualness that really appealed to me in Mika." Grainge is right - Mika is a highly skilled musical jackdaw. Most lines in most songs resemble something you've heard before. The buzz began. "Tommy Mottola is the former head of Sony, former husband of Mariah Carey, nobody knows how to work the US market like him," says Music Week's editor, Martin Talbot. "And for the rest of the world you'd be hard-pressed to find somebody better than Lucian Grainge to work with. Mika's got the right people on his side." That only partly explains the Mika phenomenon. "He has something, whether you like it or not," Talbot says. "I saw him last September at the Universal conference, and it was gobsmackingly obvious to everybody he was going to be huge." Why? "The music is mainstream and populist - it's authentic pop. And rarely does somebody come along who at the same time is a bit cool and authentic. But there's another thing going on here - hype. Hype plays an increasingly influential role in the charts. Look at the Arctic Monkeys, who made the News At 10 when their first single was released, and Corinne Bailey Rae, whom everyone was touting as the next big thing for 2006. There is this appetite, this obsession that everyone in the media has to be the first to tip the next big thing. In the past two to three years, this game of predicting next year's big star has reached fever pitch." It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; a conspiracy of success. Once the hype merry-go-round starts turning, artists such as Mika and the Arctic Monkeys are almost guaranteed success unless they or the record companies screw up. Mika and I are walking to the venue in the centre of Dublin. I say, joking, that I assume he wants me up on stage with him tonight. Silence. "Actually, yes. We don't have a Chew-Chew tonight. Would you wear a gorilla outfit and dance on stage?" Next thing, his manager is ordering me a gorilla outfit. Meanwhile, Mika, who is 23, is explaining why America has shown such interest in him. I have heard pop stars talk of themselves in the third person, but Mika takes it one step farther. He refers to himself as the "project". "There's something about the project that seems to connect a lot of people in the American media," he says. "It's a pop record that they can relate to sonically. At the same time, it's seen as an Anglo record, but it's not alienating in that Anglophile kind of way that a lot of English projects can be when they come over to the States." His songs are personal, little stories about himself or others, but to exploit their potential, he says, he has to package them. He has created a whole Mika world (with the help of his sister, Yasmine, who works as an artist under the nom de plume Dawack) - not just the music, but surreal-lite imagery that encompasses lollipop girls and rampaging gorillas and gaudy rainbows. It all goes back to the time he was turned down by record company after record company. "I felt there was nowhere I could fit into the music scene. I felt I had to create my own space in order to have a career. And the visual part of the world is one of the best ways to do that, creating a whole Alice In Wonderland world you can step into." Like the music, the artwork echoes previous pop history, with a nod and a wink to the Beatles' Yellow Submarine. Mika used his artwork to promote his first single, Relax, Take It Easy, on the streets of London, where graffiti artist Banksy made his name. "We were like, what's the point in just having Relax, Take It Easy? Nobody knows who I am, let's create beautiful artwork. We put posters all round east London with just my name on them." He grins at the brainwave - genius. "People were taking them off the wall and keeping them." Island released only 650 copies of Relax, Take It Easy - a strategic move, virtually ensuring it would almost become an object of desire. He quotes the Beatles as a perfect example of pop packaging. "Pop lyrics have the same kind of fluidity as great cartoon work. If you are going to tell a story in three minutes, you're going to have to condense them, chop them up and cartoonify them. Then all the emotional response is in the listener's head in a similar way to cartoon books." He then quotes his own song, Billy Brown, as another example of the classic pop package - within a couple of lines, he has outlined the story of a man who leaves his wife for another man. "People say to me, 'Your music is escapism.' I say that's bollocks - it's hyper-reality. In order to get through Billy Brown's story in three minutes, you have to speed it up, exaggerate things, hype them up." Not that bloody word again. Does he consider Mika to be a character? He becomes defensive. "No, not in the slightest. I find it funny when writers say that I'm calculated. They go, 'Oh, it's such a calculated piece of pop-making, machine-making.' And that is so far from where the music came from it makes me smile." His manager, Iain Watt, had spent years promoting stroppy indie bands who didn't want to be promoted, and says working with Mika is a joy. There is so much one can do with pop stars these days, if only they are willing. Now they can be marketed on YouTube and MySpace, and you can use them to sell myriad products. In America, Mika's music was selling mobile phones before his first record was released. In Britain, his face was flogging Paul Smith before the public knew him as Mika. "If you can put the artist on all those platforms, young kids can discover him on YouTube or MySpace, older listeners can hear him on Radio 2, and then hipsters can feel safe buying Mika because they've seen him in a Paul Smith campaign," Watt says. "If you asked the Arctic Monkeys to be in a Paul Smith campaign, they'd tell you to **** off. If the campaign had been for, say, George at Asda, we wouldn't have done it." Why not? "We need to associate him with the right partners. This was his introduction to the media, and we based it on credibility in terms of song writing and the way he looked and projected. It was very style-led." Nowhere is the marketing more apparent than the first time I see Mika at the Big Top, a giant tent in Berkeley Square, London. It's freezing cold, and the hype army is out in force for the launch party of his album. Trees are illuminated Day-Glo pink, Big Girls (one song is called Big Girls You Are Beautiful) and Lollipop Girls (another song is Lollipop) parade their wares, alongside gorillas and pantomime horses. Journalists are left outside for an age. We are told that it is unlikely we'll be able to get in because there is such a crush. Eventually, we are allowed in, and find that there's loads of space. The event has been sponsored by T-Mobile and has a corporate feel - free drink, free food, free circus performance and, eventually, free Mika. The audience is composed largely of friends and journalists. The invitation reads, "There is no specific dress code, but dressing deliciously ridiculously would be very much appreciated." There is little deliciously ridiculous on display, apart from Mika, who is all yellow braces, Louis Vuitton shoes and post-teen goofiness. "Can we hear a round of applause for T-Mobile for bringing us the free beer and candyfloss?" he shouts. When he bangs out Stuck In The Middle, another song about confused identity, Mika reminds me of the famously uncool, staggeringly successful 70s pop star, Gilbert O'Sullivan. All he lacks is the shorts. Is Stuck In The Middle about his sexuality? "A bit of everything, yeah." So many of your songs are about looking for identity, I say. "Well, isn't that something every kid from 16 to 23 goes through? That's called being a twentysomething. When you leave university or school, you're like, what the hell am I doing now? Money? Life? Responsibility? Relationships? Everything. Where do my sisters fit into my life now? Where does my mum fit in?" The more he talks, the younger he sounds. "I used to know where I fit in because I was at home. But now? Am I the boss? I think I'm the boss, but then I can't get anything to go my way. It's a typical 20-year-old's dilemma." In the few weeks between the Big Top launch and the Dublin gig, there has been a Mika backlash. The NME, which reviewed him favourably a few months earlier, has announced that Mika is no longer cool. But in America his album has hit the top 30, and in Ireland he is number one and the crowd lining the street outside Spirit are crazy for him. They all say the same thing: that Mika has made pop fun again. Inside the venue, a likable man from an Irish newspaper is lobbing a few friendly questions at him before the gig. The journalist says it's great that he's produced an album with so many obvious hit singles. Somehow, Mika manages to take offence. "See, I find that description really strange, because as far as I'm concerned they're all little paintings." part 3 HERE Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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