Pop Star MIKA on falling in love, joy-chasing and coming out … with confidence
Mika is the first to admit he’s a kid at heart. An affinity for cartoon art, bright colors and playful melody quickly became a calling card of sorts when the curly-haired entertainer exploded on the pop scene in 2007. MIKA the performer and his music were seen by many -industry and otherwise- as a refreshing change from the manufactured (mostly female) pop stars of the moment. After all, this was a clasically trained musician who was writing his own songs, all with a clear sense of who he was and how he wanted to be portrayed to the public.
That is, who he thought he was at 21. But like (hopefully) most of us, MIKA has come to realize that the “kid” the world met years ago isn’t the same person who today is sitting nervously in a London hotel room, where a group of 60 fans have flown in from all over europe to hear the first preview of his new album “The Origin Of Love” out this Oct. 16. One would think that after more than 7 million albums sold, years touring the world and a Grammy nomination, a pop star of MIKA’s stature wouldn’t be too fazed by a listening party. Except that this album, his third, is poised to reveal a completely different MIKA - more confident, more confortable and more honest than ever before.
“The album kind of tracks of the cutting up of my personal life, really … for the first time" MIKA says "I said I was going to write about myself and not just put characters in my songs. The first, and to an extent second, had this kind of precociousness, child-like and brazen in a good way. But now the caricatures have disappeared. Now it’s a lot more to heart"
Heart and , if we’re to judge and album by its title, Love. The origin of love not only encompasses the theme of the album, but also it’s the name of a song. MIKA’s self-professed favorite. It was the first track he wrote for the album - in fact the first he wrote after a dry spell ofmore than a year and a half- and he did so in a moment of what he calls “lyrical vomit” completing the verses in just 15 minutes.
Where did the inspiration for such a rush of joyous affirmation of love for someone came from? Matter-of-factly and proudly, MIKA responds that it was his boyfriend. “This is a song about someone I love and it’s okay to love anyone- even if I am in love with a man" MIKA says, for the first time discussing his relationship publicly.
“The origin of love is my version of the ultimate love song. It basically says I will find confidence in your love, and through this relationship I can conquer any mountain, any hate, and I can throw away all the prejudices and all the things I’ve had resting on my back. It dealt with sexuality in its most postive way"
Because as instantly as his first single Grace kelly, became a hit around the world in 2007, so, too, began public questions about MIKA’s sexuality. He never lied or denied when the media asked pointed questions. And he certainly, as he emphatically points he wore a beard. He simply would redirect interviews back to the subject at hand, the reason he thought there was public interest in him in the first place: his music. That was until the publication of one particular article in 2009.
In an interview with dutch magazine Gay & Night, MIKA was once again asked how he defines his sexuality. And he responded, as he had many times before, that he doesn’t like the idea of labeling and defining people by the strict social terms we use to classify whom sleep with. Except this thime he took it a bit further in dealing with the near-obsessive need to label him as something and just added: “Call me whatever you want. Call me bisexual if you need a term for me”
In our age of media immediacy, the quote and subsequent magazine cover, with the headline “MIKA clears things up: Call me bi-sexual” spread like wildfire. The only problem was that information didn’t clear things up at all- because it wasn’t exactly what MIKA intented to say.
“If you read the articule, it was very disjointed and a very odd thing. I was actually really unhappy with it" he says "but I didn’t care that they quoted me saying: call me bi. The way that it came across was so nonchalant, in a kind of flippant way, because of the way the interview was structured. It annoyed me because I’ve been so considerate about sexuality and so respectful. It was just too flippant. I didn’t like it at all, it really irritated me"
MIKA says he made the bisexual statement within a discussion about having had past relationships with both men and women but the gay blogosphere immediately pounced, calling the move a mere tiptoe out of the closet, a sign of fear of a career backlash.
For his part MIKA says he stayed away from (sometimes harsh) commentary that followed the article, instead focusing on work. As for the questions that some lob about why he hasn’t addressed his sexuality again since that 2009 article, MIKA responds with poise and consideration on the subject, something that he says may have needed a little time to understand.
“It’s cool to share your stories as a public person, to share your perspective on life, on sexuality. But it’s only cool to do it if you are ready and if you have a truly positive thing to say" he says "I don’t think people have a responsibility to share their private life, but I think public people have a responsibility to be sincere" He’s hesitant to even call that article his public coming-out, instead saying that this moment, today, confidently speaking with Instinct , is when he can say for the first time, publicly and without reservation, that yes, he is gay.
“If you ask me, am I gay?, I say yeah. Are these songs about my relationship with a man? I say yeah. And it’s only through my music that I’ve found the strength to come to terms with sexuality beyond the context of just my lyrics" MIKA says "This is my real life"
A life that is beautifully portrayed within the 12 songs on The Origin Of Love. Fans first got a taste of the new music back in June with the release of gorgeous short film of sorts for “Make You Happy” an electronic-tinged track reminiscent of Erasure by way of Royksopp that marked a departure from MIKA’s previous sound. Though he doesn’t appear in the video at all, a gay couple is among the handful of duous in various states of love; lust and general relationship bliss. Interestingly, MIKA says it was the american fanbase who responded most favorable to the clip.
Those with initial worries that the sounds of “Make you happy” meant a completely different MIKA was coming out need not worry. The Origin Of Love is still a stacked with pop bliss, witty writing and ridiculously catchy melodies. A brilliant songwriter whose lyrical depht sometimes gets lost in translation within the friendly, easy-to-digest music, the noticeable difference with this record is an honest maturity.
“Recently before I started writing this album, I had a terrible breakup. And then I fell in love all over again, and it gave me this kind of rush of confidence. This illuminatin. And I said I was going to ride it and use it in its most positive effect" MIKA says "and that, combined with writing music, gave me this kind of strength and comfort around my life. And for the first time, I said: SCREW IT! for the first time I’m in a place where I can be truly happy”
The boy who know too much was made under rather isolating circumstances, MIKA decided one night, after not having written a song in a year and a half, to book a plane ticket for the next morning and head to Montreal. He went right from the airport to the studio to meet with Nick Littlemore, producer and one-half of Empire Of The Sun. From that night, MIKA would travel and seek out musicians for the next six months, eventually returning to London with his brand new album.
"I swallowed my pride and would wait in lobbies of studios to meet somebody I really wanted to work with. Like Priscilla Renea, this young urban artist, who was kinda giving me attitude at first. So I literally went to the studio she was working at and said (to her) : Listen to me. Here’s why it’s going to work, but you gonna work with me. My manager thought I was out of my mind" he adds with a laugh.
Renea eventually gave MIKA a chance and the two agreed to a very brief 20-minute session (a getting-to-know-you exercise, if you will) to write a test song over a William Orbit track. The song, a rather aggresive and uncharacteristically MIKA track, didn’t end up on TOOL but instead in the last place he expected one of his pieces of work would ever be - on a Madonna album.
“When I got the call that Madonna wanted to record Gang Bang I just said in shock: uhmm… what?!? are you for real?!
But there was this line in the song that she cut out, which is one of my favorite things I’ve written in years, it went:
I’m not your brother/not your lover/and I’m not your friend/because under the covers, you’re another kind of different/ a new person for every cut/ and look, that’s my blood in your Dixie cup
And she cut it out, and I was so disappointed! Like: that’s the heart baby!”
Although he draws some consolation from the fact that Madge has publicly said that Gang Bang is one of her favorite tracks off the MDNA album, the session also helped cement the growth of MIKA as an artist.
He talks of the creation of TOOL with such infectious enthusiasm- and genuine appreciation for the community of artists who helped see vision through - that it would be easy to assume this is his proudest moment. But it’s the growth he sees in himself first as a man, brother and partner that brings him true pride.
“I guess I’m just happy. And I’ve bloomed" MIKA says reflecting on his fast-paced career. "When I first started, I was pretty young and there was a lot of pressure on me. It was always: is he gay? is he straight? and there wasn’t an actual refusal to answer that, but I put it all in muy music.
This Album is kind of like a personal diary. I fall in love, and then 4 songs later I’m saying I f@cking hate love" he says with a laugh "When I made this record, I was joy-chasing. I said I would found my power through the record. I will find joy! and through joy I will find confidence. And now I can confidently say: I’ve bloomed"