LIANE HANSEN, host:
If you're a fan of 1940s stage and screen, 1960s art or Elton John-esque songs of the '70, then you may already be a fan of Lebanese-American singer-songwriter Mika. If not, let me introduce him. Mika gained worldwide attention from music critics in 2007 when he released his debut single, "Grace Kelly."
(Soundbite of song, "Grace Kelly")
Mr. MIKA (Singer): (Singing) Gotta be green, gotta be mean, gotta be everything more. Why don't you like me? Why don't you like me? Why don't you walk out the door!
HANSEN: His debut album Life in Cartoon Motion sold over five million copies. He's hoping to emulate that success with his sophomore album, "The Boy Who Knew Too Much."
(Soundbite of song, "Blue Eyes")
Mr. MIKA: (Singing) I'm talking about blue eyes, blue eyes. What's the matter, matter? Blue eyes, blue eyes. What's the matter, matter? So blind…
HANSEN: Mika's early life was far from a happy-go-lucky pop song. In 1984, when he was one year of age, his family was evacuated from Lebanon to escape the civil war. During his school years, he coped with severe dyslexia and bullying by a teacher and his classmates.
Mika is now considered a rising star and he joins us from our New York bureau. What a pleasure to have you on the program.
Mr. MIKA: That's very kind.
HANSEN: What does the name Mika mean?
Mr. MIKA: Well, it means - I think in Catalan - in Barcelona it means a little bit - una mica. And Mika's also from mica, which is a type of mineral. And - but more entertainingly, Mika in Morocco means plastic bag.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MIKA: Which is kind of ridiculous, because I come from a family of five children. I'm the middle child. And all my siblings have all these beautiful names. Paloma, which means dove. And then you've got Yasmine, which is jasmine the flower. Then you've got Fortuna, which means, you know, good luck or fortune, you know. And then my little sister Allegra, which means joy or happiness. And then you've got Mika, the plastic bag.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MIKA: So maybe I've developed some sort of complex that I tried to undo as the middle child, also known as the plastic bag.
(Soundbite of laughter)
HANSEN: Let's talk a little bit about this new album that you have, and particularly the first track on it, "We Are Golden." Wonderful choruses going on. Is it all a reference to the Joni Mitchell lyric that appears in the song, "Woodstock," we are stardust, we are golden?
Mr. MIKA: Not consciously. Maybe subconsciously, because I did grow up listening to a lot of Joni Mitchell when I was younger. I mean, we were brought up on Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan. I mean, many songwriters. But I think that although it's not consciously a reference I think that it definitely says the sentiment. You know, this kind of like we don't value ourselves through fixed, relative, monetary things, you know. We have a value that goes beyond that.
And that's very much what you're chasing when you are firstly attracted to music and make music. You're chasing that feeling where there's something beyond how we kind of judge ourselves in the mirror.
(Soundbite of "We Are Golden")
Mr. MIKA: (Singing) Teenage dreams in a teenage circus, running around like a clown on purpose. Who gives a damn about the family you come from? No giving up when you're young and you want some. Running around again. Running from running. Running around again. Running from running. I was a boy…
HANSEN: You collaborate on a song with Imogen Heap, very delicate, very dreamy. What was it like working with her? And for those who might not know who she is, tell us who she is.
Mr. MIKA: Imogen Heap is an English artist who was in a band called Frou Frou and then went out on her and had a breakout kind of success through a sync on Orange County, the TV show in the United States. And that song was "Hide and Seek." And it got so famous - even though she's not a mainstream artist, it got so famous it was parodied on "Saturday Night Live" and a bunch of other things.
And she's very talented. And she's very connected to the tools that she uses. She's a very tech-savvy artist who kind of weaves together her songs. And, yeah, she's very talented. And I just - I met her and I thought her hair was amusing. I told her that. And we ended up working together two days later.
HANSEN: "By the Time" is the song you collaborated on.
Mr. MIKA: Yes.
(Soundbite of song, "By the Time")
Mr. MIKA and Ms. IMOGEN HEAP (Singers): (Singing) By the time I'm dreaming and you've crept out on me sleeping, I'm busy in the blissful unaware. By the time I'm dreaming and you've crept out on me sleeping, tell me how am I supposed to care. Why don't you come…
HANSEN: Do you think that pop music is a hard sell in America? Because there are some people who put down pop music and there are others who are absolutely unapologetic about writing a pop song.
Mr. MIKA: I am totally unapologetic about pop music. I think, How could anybody mock a good pop song? It is timeless; it transcends barriers; it breaks down every single type of social barrier that you can possibly have. It can deal with the most difficult subjects, even if it abstractifies the subject matter. It doesn't matter.
It goes back to that empowerment theory that Paul McCartney had when he was writing "Blackbird." I mean, he could - the original lyric was black woman screams at Little Rock, but he changed it. And it made it more powerful without kind of losing any of its feeling of hope or freedom. Pop music is, when it's done right, is one of the most amazing things that you can possibly have in not only kind of pop culture, but just in music in general.
HANSEN: Is it true you surrounded yourselves, I mean, in your writing environment? That you had, you know, a lot of visual inspiration, toys and so forth?
Mr. MIKA: Well, no, not just toys.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MIKA: No, no, no, no. We can't like - I've gotten billed as Peter Pan living in the attic surrounded by my, like, by my toys and by, you know, no.
HANSEN: No, no, oh no. All right. I didn't mean to give that impression.
Mr. MIKA: It's more like I would print out stills from Hitchcock movies and figure out why it's such good storytelling. Or I would print out bits of pages from - you know, I'd buy multiple copies of an Angela Carter book just to chop it all up and stick it on the walls and highlight different bits. And Angela Carter's a British author who's dead now. Wrote "Nights at the Circus" and the "Magic Toyshop" and all of that. And she was a genius.
So I surround - it's a like a collage. It climbs the walls. Sometimes -it's often on the floors. But sometimes it climbs onto the ceilings. And then I fill my studio with flowers and I fill it with - that's it - with ideas. And a computer where I stalk people on the Internet and write about people who I've never met, but I've been following them for four months on MySpace and they have no idea.
HANSEN: So you maybe - I don't know if that may be a hint to your next piece of work.
Mr. MIKA: I don't know. I think that, you know, there's very much the watcher in me. I've never - you know, there are watchers and there are doers. And I will firmly put myself in the watching club.
HANSEN: Mika. His sophomore album is called "The Boy Who Knew Too Much." And he joined us from our New York bureau.