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International music star Mika sets sights on U.S.
Fri Sep 18, 2009 11:18pm EDT
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By Richard Smirke
LONDON (Billboard) - At first impression, the man no one knows as Michael Penniman seems uncharacteristically quiet. As he takes a well-earned break from rehearsing for a tour to promote one of the year's most eagerly anticipated music releases, he seems tired and anxious, a far cry from his usual ebullience.
He knows it, and he apologizes politely for his demeanor before taking a drawn-out pause to refocus and return as the witty, charming, unashamedly upbeat force of nature the world knows and (mostly) loves as Mika.
"It's always a big stress figuring out how to do things live," he says, becoming more animated with every word. "It's really kind of terrifying. I wish I could just mime. I'd be so much happier."
"I'm joking, of course."
"Witty," "charming" and "unashamedly upbeat" are also words that could be used to describe Mika's music -- a winning mix of radio-friendly piano ballads, sexual ambiguity and melodic pop. His debut album, "Life in Cartoon Motion" (Island/Universal), sold 5.5 million copies worldwide, according to his handlers at London-based Machine Management.
His U.K. base -- Mika was born in Lebanon but has a dual U.S. and British citizenship -- contributed 1.6 million of those copies, and Mika regularly leaves his London apartment to find gifts from fans or even fans themselves, camping overnight outside his door.
"It's fine," he deadpans. "I soon get rid of them."
His first major-label single, "Grace Kelly," claimed the top spot in the United Kingdom, Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Norway and Wallonia (French-speaking Belgium), and went top 10 in 10 other markets. Meanwhile, the album hit No. 1 in France, Flanders, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Wallonia and the United Kingdom, and it went top 10 in eight other markets including Germany and Australia.
In France, he's bigger than Johnny Hallyday and fancy cheese put together -- so big that his show there in July 2008 was staged in front of 55,000 fans at the Parc des Princes Stadium in Paris and featured $1.3 million worth of acrobats, clowns and associated stage production.
"I wanted to do a show that was visually effective no matter how far away you were sitting and, unfortunately, that comes with a price tag," he says. "It's so rare to get to a stadium level on a first record, we were just like, 'Let's celebrate it. Let's have fun and do something incredible.'"
NEXT STOP, AMERICA
For Mika's next trick -- his second album, "The Boy Who Knew Too Much," which arrives internationally Monday (September 21) on Casablanca/Island Records and a day later in the United States on Universal Republic -- he wants to become a star in America.
"Life" debuted and peaked at No. 29 stateside and has sold 350,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan -- a respectable but unspectacular figure, as Universal Republic president/CEO Monte Lipman concedes. Continued...
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