Received wisdom dictates that American fans flinch from flamboyant pop while British fans can’t get enough of it.
Witness the U.K.‘s passionate embrace of flashy acts like Robbie Williams and Scissor Sisters, and America’s instant recoil from them.
Life in Cartoon Motion
(Universal Republic; US: 27 Mar 2007; UK: 5 Feb 2007)
The new, one-named British pop sensation Mika begs to differ with that. “People say flamboyant pop is so British,” he says. “But look at the emo bands that Americans love now, like Panic! at the Disco or Fall Out Boy. They say I’m theatrical (but) they’re like Wagner.”
In a sense that’s true. But both of those bands still find grounding in the four-man rock band tradition. By his own admission, Mika’s music revels entirely in the campy world of technicolor pop. In case you miss the point, he titled his enjoyably unhinged debut “Life in Cartoon Motion.”
“It’s meant to take you out of reality,” Mika says of his sound.
More specifically, it’s meant to take Robbie Williams’ style to the 10th power, or to top Queen at their flounciest. The last comparison comes up relentlessly in England, where Mika’s debut has already gone No. 1 and spawned an engagingly ornate top hit with “Grace Kelly.”
Many songs on Mika’s CD have the multi-tracked vocal chorales, classical chords and pop cheek of Queen, but without the counter balance of heavy metal. “I get tired of talking about it,” Mika says of the Queen comparisons. “I would be willing to more if that’s where I was coming from. Just so long as they don’t compare our dress sense.”
Like Queen’s Freddie Mercury, Mika was born outside the U.K.: Mercury in Tanzania, Mika in Lebanon. His family lived there for generations, but the 23-year-old singer left with his parents when he was just 1, due to the civil war. While he lived in Paris and came with his family to London at age 8, Mika still felt like an outsider. That encouraged his immersion in music.
As a child he studied classical styles, but pop stardom remained his goal. As a teen he got a development deal but found it didn’t allow for his individual style. “They couldn’t figure out how to market me. I sympathize with them.”
Those experiences inspired Mika’s song “Grace Kelly,” in which he bites back at those who tried to mold him. “Shall I bend over/shall I look older,” he sings.
The songwriter says he chose the image of Grace Kelly because “it sends off a whole movie in your head. If I said `Lindsay Lohan,’ it would be a bit dull, don’t you think?”
Few would accuse Mika’s lyrics of dullness. In “Big Girls” he encourages large women to gorge away. In “Billy Brown” he tells the story of a gay man who gets married, then falls in love with another man. It’s done nothing to quiet speculation about Mika’s own sexual orientation. He won’t disclose it, a move that seems so 10 years ago.
“It’s not a matter of sexuality,” he says, “it’s a matter of privacy.”
Besides, he reasons, “20 years from now, who will give a damn about a tabloid story on me? The only thing that speaks for itself is music. The only thing that stands on its own is a good pop song.”
Luckily, his qualify.