MIKA, born Michael Holbrook Penniman, Jr. in 1983, released three full-length pop albums since 2007 and he’s one of the only male pop stars we’ve got right now. The Grammy-nominated singer had the fifth worldwide best-selling album of 2007 with his debut album. This year, MIKA released his most mature body of work to date – and not enough people noticed. To promote the album, he did a promotional tour of the United States and Europe. To up the ante, there was a contest to sing with MIKA on stage as part of a “fan choir.” I won that contest and it changed my life – it inspired me as a singer and as a person.
But let me start from the very beginning.
My love for MIKA began in early 2007 when I was a freshman at Boston University. Over spring break, I discovered his debut single, “Grace Kelly,” and played it on repeat for weeks. His infectious, smiley pop music was impossible to not bop around to. His debut album, Life in Cartoon Motion, was filled with delicious pop confections like “Big Girl (You Are Beautiful)” and “Lollipop.” In addition, “Happy Ending” became a college a cappella staple.
In the summer of 2007, I got to see MIKA for the first time in concert (with Sara Bareilles as the opening act). He was electric and passionate. He left all of himself on that stage.
Two months later, the day before my birthday, he performed on Good Morning America. Unfortunately, it rained so his outdoor show was moved indoors and everyone who waited on line didn’t get to see him perform. MIKA came to the window and held up signs that he would be holding a secret show later in the day. He performed an acoustic set at the Highline Ballroom for less than 100 people. He played new songs for the first time using handwritten sheet music from his notebook that his two guitarists had never even seen – truly a once-in-a-lifetime show.
MIKA’s second album, The Boy Who Knew Too Much, was full of a handful of brilliant singles like “We Are Golden,” “Rain” and “Blame It On The Girls.” Except for those new songs, some of the magic was definitely missing. Nonetheless, I saw MIKA in concert every single time he came through town – and he was always touring – and his shows continued to be my favorite.
In 2010, in between his second and latest albums, he released his most sure-fire, radio-friendly single – and you probably didn’t hear it. I was sure that his title track for the 2010 film Kick-Ass would be huge. “Kick Ass (We Are Young)” was a RedOne production that was empowering and big. Following this single’s unsuccessful release, MIKA took two years to find his “sound” again with the release, earlier this year, of “Elle Me Dit,” his first French single and the first single from The Origin of Love. The song is a jubilant underwear-dancing pop ditty that you could enjoy without even knowing the language. After his mildly disappointing sophomore record, I was rejuvenated and ready for his return.
With the release of “Make You Happy,” an album cut with accompanying short film/music video, it became apparent that this third album was going to be a defining moment for MIKA. This was his passion project. This was not a happy-go-lucky jam. This was heartbreakingly raw and stirring. It nicely countered the third single, “Celebrate,” that was released soon after “Make You Happy.” Perhaps hinting at his coming out of the closet, “Celebrate” was everything it’s title suggested: a celebration.
In August 2012, MIKA finally publically acknowledged his homosexuality. Some criticized the timing as being suspect and said that he was using his coming-out story to promote his album. But who really cares? Anyone with the courage to come out and who is comfortable in his own skin is positive. It’s a wonderful thing.
When the promotional mini-tour for MIKA’s third album, The Origin of Love, was announced, I bought tickets immediately. It was a no-brainer. A few days before the show, the contest was announced – contestants had to cover one of MIKA’s songs, upload it to YouTube and submit it. Winners would form a “fan choir” to back up MIKA in concert. When I got home from work, I quickly recorded a 90-second version of “We Are Golden” and submitted it before going to a party. I thought nothing of it. Imagine my surprise, and happiness, the next day when I received an email that I was a winner and asking if I’d perform both nights at Webster Hall. The plan was to have a small ”fan choir” join MIKA for seven songs. We’d have one rehearsal and sound check prior to the first show.
I showed up on Monday and met the seven other contest winners. We all had varying degrees of experience singing. The musical director, Tim, greeted us and took us to rehearse with the band members: Joy, Max and Curtis. I had worries that this contest was simply a case of MIKA’s management trying to create buzz and that the band would see us as an annoyance. But I was so wrong. After an hour rehearsing, MIKA came to join us and made it a point to memorize all of our names. He remembered our video submissions – he had seen them all! He developed a friendly rapport with each of us. In my case, he pretended to forget my name repeatedly and then would smirk and call me by my full name: “Alexander.”
During sound check, MIKA changed his mind several times about where to position us and then added us on for “Popular Song,” probably my favorite song from the new album. He taught us harmonies and acted as choir director. It was exciting. When everyone headed out for dinner, I went to buy one of his new sweatshirts and MIKA helped me decide which size to get. We chatted about the new album, the show at Highline Ballroom five years ago and his aspirations. He was so nice and genuine.
For the shows, we learned to just go with the flow. During the first show, MIKA added us on to to two more songs … while we were on stage. It was very monkey see, monkey do. He’d make us lie on the stage and jump around. One night he even pretended to kill us all and then bring us all back to life. During one concert, we totally danced together for half a second. It was thrilling and what really made the experience was getting to really feed off his energy.
Since the show, I have maintained contact with his drummer, Joy Joseph, via Twitter and I hope to be able to perform with them again someday. Or just grab a drink. I went into this experience wanting to try and just pretend like this was a gig I was doing and these were my fellow performers. We hung out together and talked and I got to know the back-stories of his band members. It was refreshing and real. Every one of them believes in MIKA and he has earned their belief. His energy and his passion are infectious and uplifting and you could feel it in how his band spoke of him.
The Origin of Love is a passionate exploration. It’s a mature collection of pop songs where MIKA really collaborated and experimented. But if you’ve never seen MIKA on stage, it may be hard for you to get it. Sometimes MIKA falls. We all do. But when he gets on stage (and he’s always on stage), he leaves every single ounce of energy and passion out there. He sweats and he leaps and he dances and he entertains. This album seems to have flown under the radar and the reception has been underwhelming. And that’s upsetting. We have very few male pop stars right now and MIKA is the most mature and the brightest. “Stardust” is one of the most gorgeous electro-pop songs released in the last decade. “Popular Song,” the latest US single (listen below, now remixed with Ariana Grande), has a positive message and wonderful sample from the Broadway hit Wicked. He deserves your attention. 2012 was a brilliant year for MIKA and he has many years left in him. He’s got the talent – now give him your time.