There are what appear to be fresh bloodstains on Mika’s otherwise pristine white jeans. Beads of sweat line the 26-year-old British pop star’s considerable brow as he stands in the middle of BlackBook’s conference room clutching a pair of scissors in his right hand. He scrawls the words “Sex,” “Joy,” “Hate” and “Pain” in black, broad strokes on the wall, surrounded by molecules painted in bright primary colors.
It’s an odd sight to behold, but not entirely unexpected behavior for Mika, whose music and accompanying videos are equal parts Technicolor glee and pits of twisted despair. Take Life in Cartoon Motion, a sonic Neverland of Roald Dahl whimsy, lush orchestral arrangements and the story of “Billy Brown,” a man whose same-sex affair leads to the dissolution of his family life. Whereas that multi-platinum, Grammy-nominated album focused on childhood, Mika mined inspiration from adolescent angst for his sophomore full-length, We Are Golden. “This one tackles emotions that everyone has to deal with—sex, pain, love and joy—and their relationship to each other,” he says, pointing to the words etched across the wall. “When you’re a teenager, you fall victim to all of those things and, truthfully, you stay that way throughout your entire life.”
In his unmistakable accent, Willy Wonka by way of Lebanon, the corkscrew-haired performer discusses the effect that chaos theory has had on his music and today’s art project. “I love this idea,” he says of the belief that change can be effected by a series of random events. “It’s an easy thing to gravitate toward when you’re a teenager, like I did, because it justifies everything in a very simple way. You can apply it to every aspect of your life and it gives you a certain sense of optimism, because it takes things out of your own control.”
Nearby, his mother collects and distributes the necessary art supplies—a helium tank, 200 feet of bunting and double-sided tape—while his aunt and cousins cover the floor in a thick layer of silver confetti, tying string to the ends of oversize blue and red balloons. Still, Mika’s affinity for bedlam is most overt during his exaggerated live shows, which have in the past included drunken, stuffed-animal orgies alongside full gospel choirs. His mother even created glittered, pointy hats (worn at this shoot) for the 11 string players with whom Mika recently toured. He describes the overall vibe as “a rollercoaster of emotion, Little Nemo in Slumberland meets five o’clock in the morning after the party. It’s a sophisticated form of escapism. It’s all about getting people to drop their defenses.”
It’s a sentiment that Mika himself hasn’t fully embraced. His showy demeanor, which recalls early Elton John and Freddie Mercury, and suggestive lyrics have attracted speculation about his sexuality. But Mika refuses to align himself with a specific community, to the dismay of gay activists and journalists, both desperate to unlock his closet door. Instead, personality and persona coalesce, turning his entire existence into a 24-hour performance art piece. “But does performance inherently mean I’m putting up a façade?” he asks. “Not necessarily. It’s not abouttrying to protect myself; it’s about creating another world for the sake of staying sane.” The ease with which Mika’s fantasy world blends into reality is something he shares with his good friend Lady Gaga. “You cannot separate her life from her art,” he says. “When I speak to her, though, she’s completely normal—she’s just wearing a fantastic hat.”
Showmanship and versatility are integral to the success of this generation’s pop stars, a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed by Mika as he readies to reinvade America with his latest, darker collection of songs. “I’m often too poppy for the indie crowd,” he says, “and I’m often too weird for the pop crowd.” But it’s in this liminal space that Mika thrives, proved today by the microcosm he created in this office, where monstrous balloons rupture over the din of conference calls and sales pitches. While his mother packs up the props from today’s shoot, stuffing handmade embroidered shirts, white Louboutin loafers and otherworldly dunce caps into a suitcase, Mika skates across a floor slippery from the recent confetti snowfall. Individual silver flakes are blown from an open window onto the street below, and Mika pauses to reflect on an earlier thought. “Does chaos follow me wherever I go? No,” he says, “I chase after it.”
Photography by Victoria Will.