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Making magic


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Making Magic

 

By N. RAMA LOHAN

 

N. RAMA LOHAN flew to Hong Kong on Monday to catch the colourful Mika in action.

 

Living in a world that’s rife with war, famine, oppression, devastating natural disasters and unspeakable inhumanity is more than a depressing proposition, but thankfully, we have Mika, whose music is like a rainbow that leads listeners, not to the proverbial pot of gold, but into a realm of hope and unrestrained euphoria.

 

No, the Beirut-born singing sensation does not make pragmatic suggestions on how to bring sanity back to this globe of craziness we call Earth. Instead, he takes our troubles away for about 40 minutes with songs from his stellar debut album, Life in Cartoon Motion.

 

The 23-year-old Briton’s vision and music come through in full Technicolor on this 10-song (well, 11, if you count the hidden track) offering which embraces all the basic tenets of Grade A pop songwriting, and vaunts the legacies of the late great Freddy Mercury, Elton John, the Bee Gees, Michael Jackson and everything else that’s great about vintage pop craftsmanship.

 

Slinking its way through the maze of stale R&B and often-deplorable rock that’s choking our airwaves, Life in Cartoon Motion is poised for great things, and if the signs are anything to go by, we are on the cusp of Mika-mania.

 

Within its short existence, the album has sold 10,000 units in Hong Kong (earning gold status in the process), where the charismatic talent flew into recently to meet a horde of screaming fans and excited press members for a round of interviews and a showcase performance, following a stint at the Japan MTV Awards.

 

Strange days

 

Mika’s journey in the music world is one that’s chequered with disappointment, anger and hopefully now, acceptance, but it all stems from a displaced childhood.

 

“I have a lot of comfort zone issues, that’s why I’m so paranoid and have to do everything on my own terms, hence I’ve created my own world to have a career in. I always felt there was no place for me on the radio, there was no place for me in the record stores and there was no place for me in people’s lives.

 

“I was bullied as a child, so I had no chance to get comfortable in any zone. I come from so many places around the world that I don’t really have that village that I can call my comfort zone ... that emotional patriotism that I can call my comfort zone. As a result, I’m free of the shackles of all that,†he revealed amiably.

 

The 1980s were a particularly difficult time for Mika (born Michael Holbrook Penniman) and his four siblings, with war raging in Lebanon. While France offered some solace, the family eventually settled in London after his American father was taken hostage and held at the United States embassy in Kuwait.

 

Order seemed to be restored in the Penniman household but school was a living nightmare because Mika’s dyslexia was interpreted as a lack of intelligence. That made him an outcast among his schoolmates. But it was just one of many obstacles he had to overcome. Eventually, a school which addressed his learning problem was found.

 

“Firstly, do not pretend that it’s not happening and don’t pretend it’s not serious. It is horrible and it’s one of the worst things that could happen to you in your life when you’re a child. And no one knows what it feels like apart from the child or the adult going through it at that time.

 

“But put it into perspective, realise that the old cliché is true; every single thing you get bullied for is precisely the same thing that will bring you success in life. So if you stamped yourself out and bleached yourself into nothingness, you are effectively bullying yourself. And in a way, it’s that journey of survival that gets you through it,†he said.

 

All these experiences filter in his head and are channelled into the pure power pop three-minute song structures that appear on Life in Cartoon Motion. Though the album pleasingly numbs the senses with its joyous vibe, Mika deceptively presents many of them with a wicked sense of irony.

 

The first single, Grace Kelly is a foot stomping, finger-snapping, head-bopping ditty that would put a smile on the mug of a bulldo. But, in fact, it captures the singer lashing out at the apathy towards individualism.

 

“It’s the angriest song I’ve ever written and it sounds the happiest and I suppose that sums up the entire album. I’ve been writing songs for a very long time but consistently, I had doors slammed in my face. When you get rejected over and over, you have to kind of figure out who you are and what you want to do. I was having a hard time working with a music company in Britain that said I was talented and if I changed just a little bit, then they would give me a deal and support me.

 

“Of course, that wouldn’t be real. They told me to write a hit song, write a great ballad. So I was furious, but instead of picking up the phone and screaming at them, I wrote Grace Kelly, which was a direct ‘screw you’ to the music industry.â€

 

While Mika appears to have a plan to do things his own way, it still amazes him how listeners have taken to his debut.

 

“Of course I’m surprised. The only thing I wanted out of my first album was a career. I wanted to be able to say I made an honest album that really is a snapshot of who I am and what I want to do musically. You can’t predict things like that.

 

“I think if I wasn’t surprised, I would be worried as that would mean I was jaded. I’m not doing this to have one song on the karaoke machine. I want to be here in 10 years doing exactly what I’m doing today, just with more material and a creative vision.â€

 

This may be his first stab at sweating it out under the bright lights, but Mika is no green- horn and he takes the comparisons between him and the likes of Freddy Mercury and Elton John with a pinch of salt.

 

“Getting compared like that is a compliment, to begin with it’s quite an honour. I sit down and think, what if they compared me to people I hated. Then I’d go, ‘Geez, I made the wrong album.’ But I think if I really start to feel the pressure of those comparisons, then it would mean I really believed everything people were saying about me. And I think as soon as you start believing everything people say about you, then that’s the first danger sign and you have to be very careful.â€

 

A world of colours

 

As much as the music speaks volumes for his child-like naiveté, the artwork on the album cover (his sister Yasmine’s handiwork) is just as revealing of his playfulness.

 

“I love cartoons ... I love The Simpsons. Homer Simpson is a person in popular American culture who actually is thought of more fondly in more people’s hearts than someone like George Bush. One, of flesh and blood, is one of the most powerful people in the world. The other is made of paint, but I know which one I’d rather choose.

 

“I think cartoons have similar functions as pop songs.

 

“In cartoons, someone like Homer Simpson can talk about anything, and he gets away with it, because it’s approachable and simplified, yet the depth is there as long as you want to read into it.â€

 

It’s hard not to love Mika. He speaks in an inviting tone and can disarm the most seasoned writer. It’s this affable personality, which permeates his music, on CD and in his live performance, as seen during the showcase performance.

 

One of the most stunning aspects of Mika is his four-octave vocal range, and his training stint under a strict Russian tutor, which paid dividends during the mini concert.

 

He and the band effortlessly ran through 80% of the album, with covers of Jackson 5’s I Want You Back and Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams. On stage, Mika’s (pardon the pun) Mercury-al persona comes to life ... he sashays across the stage like a proud peacock and in a flash is back at his piano.

 

Little looks to be standing in his way – he’s already clambered onto the rocketship of superstardom and made the necessary test runs.

 

That large piece of rock which separates the Atlantic and Pacific oceans will surely be the hardest nut to crack, but Mika has one sincere plea to his detractors: “Hate me or love me, but don’t ignore me.â€

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Slinking its way through the maze of stale R&B and often-deplorable rock that’s choking our airwaves, Life in Cartoon Motion is poised for great things, and if the signs are anything to go by, we are on the cusp of Mika-mania.

 

That's exactly how I was feeling before LICM appeared!!! I stopped listening to the radio all together for awhile....

 

Great article!!! Thanks for posting!!

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