Music: Mika Makes a Splash

It’s shaping up to be that the casualties of might well be music publicists. How else to explain that Mika, a Lebanon-born, London- and Paris-bred singer-songwriter debuted at No. 1 on the U.K. charts before his CD was even released? MySpace is as old news as freeze-dried astronaut food now, but Mika, who is being touted as music’s next big thing, is in its debt—and not the hard-working publicist’s—for getting him on top of the charts in the U.K. and Canada already, and likely the U.S., when his buzzed-about “Life in Cartoon Motion” comes out here March 27. Only Gnarls Barkley before him, with last year’s “Crazy,” reached a No. 1 position on downloads alone—again, before the album was ever released.

He’s all of 23 and doesn’t check his influences at the door. Comparisons to Rufus Wainwright and glam-pop band the Scissor Sisters already abound. But what is most striking about the curly mop-topped Mika is that not only does he completely resemble Queen’s legendary lead singer, Freddie Mercury, vocally, but that he does not hide that fact at all. Instead, he points it out directly in the lyrics of his bob-and-bounce infectious romp, “Grace Kelly,” the single that has shimmied and shook its way onto the top of the charts, rounds of blogs and critic’s “best new hope” lists. Suffice it to say, I’m not really the target demographic, but I could not help to dance wildly around when I put it on. Which is the point, of course. Also, Freddie Mercury died in 1991, so chances are that a great deal of Mika’s audience has no idea that he’s being cheeky—beating detractors to the punch, no doubt—when he sings:

Or again, when he directly tips his hat with an “mmmmmmmm” straight from the Mercury stylebook. But it stills sounds fresh and flamboyant and really, better he take a cue from one of the greatest groups of all time than try to be like the myriad other mini-Mayers and -Matthewses (John and Dave respectively), whose influences might only go as far back as U2.

Mika’s classical training keeps good company with the rococo styling of his songs—and gives weight to what might otherwise have become empty pop puff pastry. And he adds substance to style with an anthem to big girls and their “curves in the right places.” “Big Girl” is seductive in its simplicity: he repeats the chorus, “big girl you are beautiful,” like the most enthusiastic cheerleader ever, over and over again, so that you hope she believes it, too. “Love Today,” another snap-and-sparkle track has already been plucked for an ad for Bono’s Red Campaign. From zero to Bono in record time is rather impressive.

The heartfelt ballads, such as the aptly named “Stuck in the Middle,” fall a little flat after all that disco ball-inspired piano pounding. But maybe the rest of the album doesn’t even matter. He topped the charts on the strength of one song, so the other 12 tracks? Maybe they’re just a formality now in the world of digital downloads. The great big hope of 2007 should stick to being the ringleader of the party anyway—a role he plays with relish and one that should keep him from asking, “Why don’t you like me/why don’t you like me,” as he does in the chorus of “Grace Kelly.” He’ll have time for that when the next big phenom of MySpace comes along.

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