Mika: The Boy Who Knew Too Much

With 21st century pop defined by the committee-made melodies of American Idol-winner debut albums, The Boy Who Knew Too Much arrives as a thrilling antidote.


The Boy Who Knew Too Much

Label: Universal Republic/Casablanca Music
US Release Date: 2009-09-22
UK Release Date: 2009-09-21

Sunday morning, 20 September. Inside the Arts Section of The New York Times is a half-page ad for Mika and the release of The Boy Who Knew Too Much. The awards he rounded up for his debut album, Life in Cartoon Motion (2007), are listed with the same graphic used for a movie's film festival accolades. Mika's honors from the UK, France, and Germany reside under the headline: "Over 5 Million Albums Sold Worldwide".

Beside the ink is a modest, Times-appropriate portrait of the artist. Looking very much like the title character of his new album, Mika's stance connotes a certain savvy. Eurythmics comes to mind: "Some of them want to use you/Some of them want to be used by you", and I can't help but think about how that applies to Mika: a young, handsome star suddenly catapulted to worldwide fame and susceptible to all kinds of sycophants, hangers-on, and gossipmongers. A clue to the verity of my presumption is found on the cover of the new album. Monsters replace the doves that flew benevolently across the illustration on his debut.

Amidst the claws and fangs that appear on Mika's bedroom wall is a poster of a clown. Since hearing "We Are Golden", the first single from the album, I'd been trying to determine what Mika's music evokes and what the artist reminds me of -- a clown, specifically of the Emmett Kelly variety. The lyrics to the song -- "Running around like a clown on purpose" -- led me to that conclusion but the sentiment goes far deeper than hijinks. Inherent in Mika's music is a certain sadness that clowns like Kelly poignantly embodied.

"Dr. John", for example, finds the artist undone and seeking refuge in his mother's arms while merrily marching along to the song's "Yellow Submarine"-like beat. He obscures the misery through an arrangement that can't help but make the listener smile. Similarly, he inverts a frown on "Blue Eyes". "Sorrow is so peculiar", he sings. Though he's addressing another person, I know he's on intimate terms with those words. This time, he's dressed them up with Latin rhythms that conjure a seaside circus on parade.

It's here, at the album's midpoint, that the critic in me wants to hi-five (or five-star) Mika. Halfway into The Boy Who Knew Too Much, Mika is batting six for six into his technicolor outfield. By track 13, the last track, I want to congratulate Mika on exceeding the pop-tastic qualities of his debut. He's created the consummate pop album for 2009, seemingly on his own terms and devoid of tired formulas. With 21st century pop defined by the committee-made melodies of American Idol-winner debut albums, The Boy Who Knew Too Much arrives as a thrilling antidote.

Each song is a different door to Mika's imagination. The sunny teenage rebellion of "We Are Golden", the saloon-like sway of "Lover Boy", and the somnambulant tones of "By the Time" are all extensions of Mika's re-imagined reality. "Rain" sprouts from the same Eurodisco garden as "Relax (Take It Easy)" on Life in Cartoon Motion and will keep the glo-stick wavers content through the imminent chilly autumn nights.

"Blame It on the Girls", the catchiest among a catchy bunch, is a sly character study about a man who has everything -- a gold credit card, good looks, the attention of both men and women -- but is unhappy. Again, Mika can craft a tuneful melody of misery better than anyone and here, he furnishes one of the most infectious refrains on the album.

"Blame it on the boys who keep hitting on you" is part of that memorable refrain and brings sexuality into the equation as part of what yields some of Mika's clown tears. In "Toy Boy", Mika plays the part of a wind-up toy with a heart of a gold who is abandoned by a boy whose mother disapproves of her son's attachment towards the toy. "Had a boy once who loved me/Now he's so afraid of me", Mika sings as the title character. The jolly flute and oboes bely the sadness. I think back to the title of the album. What Mika knows and what he expresses in his lyrics, albeit sometimes between the lines, is that too often love is unrequited or misunderstood, especially the love shared between two boys. This fact is what gives Mika's songs a subtext of sorrow even when they contain the most sanguine melodies.

Hopefully, his third outing will be about a boy whose heart mends. It would be nice to see the doves fly once again.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.