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Album: Life in Cartoon Motion
[ Issue 106 Page 13 ] Thursday, April 21, 2011, 02:21:56 Sang Eun Jee eunicejee@hotmail.com

Perhaps the one word that best describes Life in Cartoon Motion, the debut album of the British singer, Mika, would be “unique.” Covered in an imaginative musical world of his own creation, he is one of the few British male pop stars who doesn’t run with the crowd. Mika’s song is undeniably catchy, jubilant and strangely addictive. With his incredible range, Mika shows a nicely balanced mix of pop and glam rock.

   
▲ Album cover of Life in Cartoon Motion

The album’s uniqueness comes from the artist’s quirky style and unusual background. Born in Beirut, Lebanon, Mika was forced to flee his hometown during the civil war and headed to Paris before winding up in London. Classically trained, culturally mixed and prone to exaggerated theatrical gestures, he has become a descendent of ambitiously delivered self-expression. He says his music can be summarized easily; “the basic principles are that it is joyful and empowering and doesn’t kowtow to fashion or convention.” This recalls an old and almost forgotten pop notion: individuality.

The first impression that you get when you see the cover of the album is that it is vibrant. In fact, the cover of the album is more suited for the cover of a comic book than that of an album, with hand-drawn images randomly displayed all over the cover. Even the cover is the work of Mika himself and his sister. You see the characters from his songs with various objects floating around. Only after listening to his songs will you understand the concept of the cover more fully; it reflects the artist’s flamboyant style and vibrant music, while going against conventional labeling of music.

Mika opened his pop career with the defining single "Grace Kelly." This opening track sets the mood for the album. Selling almost three million copies worldwide, the song became a huge hit right after its debut. The song is catchy and unique at the same time. The song starts with Mika boldly declaring “I want to talk to you!” and the piano following right after. The lyrics “I could be brown, I could be blue, I could be violet sky!” will be stuck in your head forever until you come back for more. You can’t help singing along with the song imitating Mika’s famous falsetto. You might hate yourself for enjoying it, as the song borders between weird and fun. The melody and rhythm are so cheerful even though Mika wrote the song as a big “screw you” message to the music industry which wanted him to imitate other artists’ style rather than coming up with his own. The combination of bright pop melodies and darker, unexpected elements produces an innovative style that sounds both fun and fresh.

“Love today” is another winner. The song is funky disco pop which makes your shoulders wobble up and down while you listen to it. Mika’s repeated beats that form the base of the song match the humorous atmosphere of the song. “Lollipop” sounds more like a children’s song but you will be shocked when you actually listen to the lyrics of the song. There is a contrast between what it sounds like and what the song actually talks about. This is one of the traits of Mika’s music. “Relax. Take it Easy” is the type of music you might hear in a club, though it is more intricate and sophisticated and has a very European feel to it. “Stuck in the Middle” is also one of the best songs in the album. With a frolicking piano line, Mika produces one of the best tunes in the album and creates a punchy, jubilant song. “Happy Ending” is a lovely piano-led song which shows a softer, more emotional part of Mika’s music.

Though Mika’s songs sound happy and cheerful, he talks about negative, unexpected elements in his songs and makes them sound deceptively happy. Take for example “Billy Brown.” The song is about a married man with kids who fall in love with another man. As Mika puts it, he makes “euphoric sounding music” which deals with “negative, sad things.” His music starts with a juvenile romp and finishes with thought provoking emotions. Mika sings about identity, sexuality and topics that most people find hard to tackle, in a way that people find enjoyable.

Though there are endless comparisons of his music to that of Freddie Mercury, George Michael and Elton John, it is no doubt that Mika’s music is truly one of a kind. He is certainly not just another product of the music industry but someone who is distinctive, true to himself and not afraid to show it. It seems his want of creating “amazing pop records that couldn’t be performed by anybody else” has already been accomplished. The singer-songwriter creates his own music and will definitely have more to offer in the coming years.

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ⓒ KAIST Herald 2011 (http://herald.kaist.ac.kr)
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