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Mika's Rise and Shine
British critics agree that 2007 will be the Beirut-born singer's year
Elisa Etzberger Viali (elisaviali)     Print Article 
Published 2007-02-14 15:45 (KST)   
They've said he sings just like Freddie Mercury, plays the piano as smoothly as Elton John, is as flamboyant as the Scissor Sisters and has that characteristic British sense of humor. But let no mistake be made: Mika is doing his own thing.

The 23-year-old pop singer/songwriter/virtuoso pianist can compose a catchy song unlike no other. After listening to his music once, you feel the urge to sing along. After hearing his music twice, it's impossible to stop humming it all week long.

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Mika's second released single, Grace Kelly (video), proves the point. The moment it hit U.K. radio charts last January it made number one, staying there for a whole two weeks. And here's the catch: the song was only available for download. The only other singer to have a number one single without first releasing it on CD was Gnarls Barkley, with Crazy, in 2006.

Better yet: in January Mika was considered the best new talent in the BBC's Sound of 2007 music poll. About 130 music critics and broadcasters from the U.K. agreed that this year would have his name written all over it.

But who is this man they're making all the fuss about?

Michael Holbrook Penniman was born in 1983 in Beirut, Lebanon. To escape the horrors of the war, his mom moved to Paris when Mika was only a baby. He lived there for eight years, until his family went to England, which has been his home up to this day.

In the U.K., Mika found out for certain that his life belonged to music. During the first years living in London, he struggled with bullying throughout his period at Westminster School. "I was called the typical fag and all those other homophobic, horrible little comments the kids throw at each other," he recalls.

Wise men say you can always take something good out of everything, and Mika's bad experience ended up being a decisive moment in his soon to be entertainment career.

"That was when music really became important," he says. "It got me back to my feet."

Mika started being educated at home by his mom, who also hired a Russian singing teacher to complement his studies. It didn't take long for the little boy to perform in the chorus line of a Strauss opera at the Royal Opera House. A few years later, he made it in the Royal College of Music and began working as a songwriter for jingles.

Of course there were doubts along the way. At 19, Mika made an attempt to study geography in the London School of Economics, only to find out that it didn't suit him at all.

Back on track, he landed a deal with an unreported record company. It would take a little longer for his big break, though. The executives weren't very happy with his rather unique style and demanded a change. "They would try and twist me into a direction that went totally against my nature; basically, they wanted me to follow whatever was popular," Mika remembers.

As payback, the singer wrote Grace Kelly, an operatic, upbeat, funny tune that satirizes what the business men wanted him to transform into. "Shall I bend over/ shall I look older/ just to be put on your shelf?" He asks.

Ironically, it was this vengeful song that got him the right deal, this time with Universal Island Records.

His debut album, "Life in Cartoon Motion," released Feb. 4, is a mixture of dancefloor beats and ballads, with influences from Prince, Michael Jackson, Queen and Elton John. Mika isn't embarrassed to show his frivolous, disco, extravagant side. Instant hits like Grace Kelly, Lollipop and Big Girl (You are beautiful) have all of that in them, besides being hilarious and soulful, making it impossible to stand still.

Pop is definitely Mika's thing, but his ultimate goal is to make records that can't be done by anyone else, "non-karaoke records," as he himself defines it. Judging by the unanimity he's harvested among the critics, Mika's done it. (Besides, try imitating his five-octave range voice. All you'll get is a squeak, that is if you aren't an operetta singer yourself, dear reader.)

The question is: will he survive this year?
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Elisa Etzberger Viali

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