”I don’t necessarily fit into a particular box,” London-based singer/songwriter Mika says. “I stand in this weird border between commercial music and quite noncommercial, artsy music, and I’m constantly balancing that line.”
Walking that creative tightrope has, nevertheless, brought great international success to the Universal/Island artist, whose real name is Michael Penniman. Mika’s 2007 debut album, “Life In Cartoon Motion”, has sold 5.5 million copies worldwide, according to New York-based Rich Isaacson, who co-manages Mika with Iain Watt of London-based Machine Management. Mika’s 2009 follow-up, “The Boy Who Knew Too Much”, was less successful, but still sold 1.5 million units, Isaacson says. “I was quite prepared for it,” Mika says about his sophomore set’s lower sales. “It was a consciously darker record.”
Preparing for his next studio album, the artist — who was born in Lebanon but holds a dual U.S. and British citizenship — knew that he wanted to create something “fresh” and “different.” In Montreal, Mika hooked up with Empire of the Sun’s Nick Littlemore, and together they began work on what would become Mika’s third album, “The Origin of Love”.
“It’s the perfect evolution,” Mika says of the kaleidoscopic, 14-track electro-pop set, which arrived Oct. 8 in the United Kingdom on Casablanca/Island Records and Oct. 16 in the United States on Universal Republic. “It’s definitely a much more joyful and intrinsically pop record than [the previous album], and it takes a lot of risks sonically,” he says, singling out the EDM rush of “Stardust,” featuring Benny Benassi. Also guesting on the album: Pharrell Williams, William Orbit, Fryars and producer Greg Wells, who also guided Mika’s first two albums.
The U.S. campaign is spearheaded by the Williams-starring single “Celebrate,” which is No. 22 on Billboard’s Dance Club Songs chart. Its video gained prominent placing on Yahoo Music, Papermag.com and PerezHilton.com. Lifestyle media platforms are also a key focus of the domestic push, says Jim Roppo, executive VP of marketing at Republic, citing a recent cover story for the national gay men’s magazine Instinct. That interview marked the first time that Mika openly discussed his sexuality, and the piece generated sizable Web traffic.
Mika notes that his newfound “personal sense of ease” directly informed “The Origin of Love”. “On the one hand, I wrote a record that celebrates my comfort with myself,” he says. “On the other, I found confidence from the music, so the two are intrinsically connected.”
“Mika is a champion of artist-driven pop music, and this record showcases that more than ever before,” Roppo says. “He’s grown and matured since the first album,” adds Isaacson, who points to strong ticket sales for a forthcoming run of U.S. shows, booked by Creative Artists Agency, as evidence that America is gradually falling for Mika’s charms. The singer’s shows at New York’s Webster Hall (Oct. 15-16) sold out within minutes, Isaacson says. Gigs at Chicago’s Vic Theatre (Oct. 18) and Los Angeles’ Henry Fonda Theatre (Oct. 21) also quickly sold out, with a second Los Angeles show subsequently added.
However, gaining significant U.S. radio support continues to be a hard-fought battle. “Mika has got a very vibrant core fan base in America, but if you’re not on the radio, it’s difficult to have massive sales,” Isaacson says. Mika is cautiously optimistic that “The Origin of Love” will be the album to break that cycle, though.
“Writing this was a very liberating process,” he says. “It’s clear that it is not a record that was over-A&R’d. It was very much made in the moment.”