Page last updated at 07:40 GMT, Monday, 21 September 2009 08:40 UK

Mika conquers his growing pains


Mika says the fairytales in his songs have become "a bit more gothic''

By Ian Youngs
Music reporter, BBC News

After leaping onto the world stage with a single bound almost three years ago, Mika became one of the biggest pop stars on the planet.

With luminous, infectious and extravagant tunes, his debut album Life In Cartoon Motion was one of the best-sellers of 2007.

The follow-up, The Boy Who Knew Too Much, is his adolescent album, Mika says.

Adolescent because a second album is an artist's coming of age, he believes.

What's more, while his flair for playful melodies remains, the sugar-coated sound hides a darker side that draws on his troubled teenage years.

Mika at Bestival
Mika's debut album sold 5.5 million copies around the world

"The context of a lot of the storyline is my adolescence," the 26-year-old says.

"I made movies in my head and I was a loner. I was always a watcher, and there are a lot of references in the album's lyrics about looking from the outside in.

"The boy who knew too much because he always sat around looking at everybody," Mika says. "The stalker."

If his first album contained innocent fairytales, Mika pitches the new songs as gothic Tim Burton-esque fantasies.

The video for his new single, We Are Golden, is an apparently gaudy celebration of youth as Mika dances around his teenage bedroom in his underpants.

"The video is joyful but there's this desperation in there," Mika says. "It's like a ceremony where this boy in his bedroom is begging the world to love him."

A truly international star, Mika was born in Beirut to Lebanese and American parents, but moved to Paris before landing in London at the age of nine.

He was bullied in Britain - leading him to be removed from school for several months - but was set on a musical path after being tutored by a tough Russian music teacher.

Mika on stage
I saw it happen to Robbie - I saw this whole insane amount of pressure be put on to break America and I think it's unhealthy
Mika on breaking America

The stories on the new album include I See You, about "sitting across the room from somebody and making movies in your head about the romance you could be having because you're totally in love but you don't have the guts to go and say".

He adds: "You're afraid that you're going to be punched in the face and laughed at, and so you resign yourself to just stalking that person.

"And I think that was a lot of me during my adolescence."

The apparently simple Toy Boy is the penultimate song on the album. "It's my version of punk," Mika says.

"It sounds so sweet and you think it's just a daft nursery rhyme, it sounds like Disney. But have you listened to the lyrics?"

Despite being pretty much the campest thing to happen in pop since Elton John complimented Freddie Mercury on his fetching catsuit, Mika has remained coy about his sexuality.

When asked, he has always said he would let his lyrics do the talking. So Toy Boy might raise eyebrows.

It includes the lines: "Your mama thought there was something wrong, didn't want you sleeping with a boy too long. It's a serious thing in a grown-up world, maybe you'd be better with a Barbie girl."

Is Toy Boy about him?

"Everything I write is about me," he replies.

"I have no problem putting things like that into songs. But when it comes to interviews, it's now a little bit more difficult because the more you put your heart on your sleeve in a song, the more the aftermath is trickier to deal with."

And he stops at that.

Mika on stage
Mika is known for his extravagant stage shows

When his debut came out, it was a major hit from Germany to Greece, from Norway to Australia. In the US, he became a cult star but no more.

Making it big in the world's biggest music market is top priority for his record label this time around - but Mika himself is wary of putting too much pressure on succeeding in the US.

"There is this stigma that gets put onto an artist when they do well all over the world except the States," he says.

"I saw it happen to Robbie [Williams]. I saw this whole insane amount of pressure be put on to break America and I think it's unhealthy."

One person watching closely when the first album came out was Lady GaGa who, inspired by his asexual hyperpop, went on to conquer the charts herself.

"She said that when I broke the first time around, she thought, 'okay, the floodgates have opened and mainstream pop music is changing'. She thought she had hope," Mika says.

After turning his teenage troubles into grist for his new album, would the young Mika approve of his older, famous self?

"Um… the verdict's still out," he replies. "I'm still alive."

What would the people who bullied him at school think of him now?

"I've never really thought about that.

"Maybe they'd say at least now I've become a beautiful freak. Because then they can't touch me."

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