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."

Pause.

"I'm joking, of course."

'MOTION' DETECTOR

"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.   Continued...

 
<p>Singer Mika poses as he arrives at the 2009 Vanity Fair Oscar Party in West Hollywood, California February 22, 2009. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok</p>