When I first met Mika a decade ago, in 2009, we sat together at a piano in Old Montreal before he turned to me, legs crossed and, pretending to hold a cigarette, did his finest imitation of Freddie Mercury.
“Yes, dahling,” Mika said à la Mercury. “Hello, dear!” Mika looked fabulously fey. “And he holds his beer like this,” Mika continued, imitating Mercury from the famous backstage British TV interview on the Queen – We Will Rock You: Live in Montreal 1981 DVD. “And he hardly drinks it!” “That interview is something straight out of Absolutely Fabulous!” Mika laughed. We caught up again this past August for a short but candid Q&A to preview his new album and upcoming concerts at the Corona Theatre in Montreal.
Your Ice Cream hit single is a terrific summertime anthem. The video is also really fun. Do you still enjoy filming music videos?
Mika: That is a very pertinent question especially considering what I am going through right now. Some videos I enjoy making and others I enjoy less. The video I am finishing now for a song called Tiny Love is one of the most amazing video experiences I’ve ever had. It’s completely repositioned me about what a music video is, because music videos – if you follow every music-video cliché – are miserable, useless pieces of shit. If it’s just a promo vehicle, they suck ass. I felt (my) videos were too associated with promotion and I got sick of it. I made a conscious decision to make fun music videos, and I am assuming this new direction with my new video Tiny Love. From now on I am making music videos that are not promo videos, but small experimental films. As an adult artist I want to build a world and body of work and totally assume it, otherwise what’s the fucking point?
Your birth name is Michael Holbrook Penniman Jr. Why did you choose to name your upcoming album My Name Is Michael Holbrook? Are you rebooting yourself?
I think it’s more a liberation and a resetting of parameters. I started working when I was eight-years-old and it definitely reconditions you in a specific way, in that you objectify yourself. I thought that needed addressing if I wanted to continue being an artist who has something to say. So not using a pseudonym on my new album – using my legal name – gave me this mirror through which I could examine myself.
The world is a much different place today than it was when you first appeared on the music scene. There is a new wave of out and proud pop stars, such as Troye Sivan, Olly Alexander, Hayley Kiyoko, Janelle Monae and Brendon Urie. Do you think it is easier to be an out pop star today than when you first came on the scene?
It depends. I think in some ways it is. In the most cynical part of our business, which is the very commercial side, it is easier now. But let us not forget it is easier in a very specific type of music. Other genres of music are definitely not as tolerant. And let us not forget that North America is not the world and taking North America as the world is a huge mistake. That said, it’s dangerous making generalizations about individuals and everyone has to go through their own journey, their own path, their own challenges.
I know you are very private, but I’m going to ask anyway: Is it difficult for you to meet new people, or go out on a date?
The truth is I am never asked out on a date! But I’m not really on the market. The only person who asked me out for a date once in my life is the person I’ve been with for over 10 years. But it’s still nice to be asked out because no one knows I’m not available, and I’m not wearing a ring on my finger. That doesn’t mean I want to go out on a date because I am very happy with the relationship that I am in, but flirting helps!
You have a great love affair with Montreal, notably three sold-out nights at the Maison Symphonique in 2015, performing newly-orchestrated interpretations of your songs with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal. What is it about this city and Montrealers that you enjoy?
I love spending time in your very European city because of the Francophone upbringing of my life. It’s a mix of modern American culture and profound Frenchism, Frenchiness. In fact, I felt relieved when I discovered Montreal because here was a city filled with people who are weird like me. In America I may feel alienated, but in Montreal I never feel alienated. Montreal also has the most amount of good-looking people in the world, especially the men!
You are headlining the gorgeous Corona Theatre in Montreal for two nights on your upcoming Tiny Love Tiny Tour of North America.
It’s an extremely intense musical show, and I also know the theatre well. It was there that the OSM offered to play with me. For me it’s a very special place because it has brought me good luck.
Mika headlines the Corona Theatre on September 15 and 16.Mika’s new album «My Name Is Michael Holbrook» drops on October 4.