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Mika - The Sound of Sad Gay Adolescence

2007 was the summer of Mika. Life in Cartoon Motion played everywhere for months on end; you couldn’t turn a radio on without falling into the chorus of Grace Kelly. Cynics said that his music was childish, and his high-pitched singing was weird for a guy. This wasn’t real music. It was too electronic, too feminine, not about real topics that a real musician would sing about.

2007 was also the year that I started secondary school. For me, but probably for many others as well, secondary school was undoubtedly the most gender-rigid and miserable place I’ve ever had to spend time in. As everybody is going through puberty, the world (and particularly your peers) seems to take every change in your body as an opportunity to definitively decide what your body is meant to do, who is allowed to look at it, for what reasons, and with whom. Mika’s upbeat, happy melodies, and the gender-defying vocals were just what I needed to get through the first few years. Unfortunately, an ill-timed goth-ish sad-teen phase put an end to listening to happy music, and I continued the latter half of my secondary school career listening to mopey tunes.

In a very cyclical move, I made a return to Mika when I started my undergraduate degree in 2013. Being an introvert in a country where I didn’t know anyone, and finding it difficult to make new friends, there was a lot of time for me to spend alone in my room, listening to actual CDs in an actual CD player, being neither practical enough for Spotify nor cool or rich enough for vinyl.

However, as pathetic as that sounds (and it does sound very pathetic), I don’t think of that first year as a sad year. I was struggling heavily with defining my sexuality, and taking a lot of time to mull things over to the soundtrack of my favourite CDs was probably what I needed. Among the various LGBT+ artists who helped me untangle myself (Rufus Wainwright, Queen, Janelle Monáe), Mika stands out because of the light and optimistic tone with which he sings about relationships, homophobia, and sex. When you first come to realise that you are ‘different’, it can often seem a bit gloomy. Not only do you have your direct environment to worry about, but suddenly you are also catapulted into the awareness that there are people on the other side of the world, throughout history, in your government, who are debating your very right to exist. Having an openly gay artist sing about the ups and downs of life, firmly confident in his sexuality, but without the full doom of institutionalised oppression, is a revelation.

One of the reasons why I seem to return to Mika’s music in waves is because of how well it fits with transitional or intensely emotional phases of life. This is partially because of the meanings of the songs. Despite the joyful melodies, a lot of Mika’s lyrics actually cover very sad topics. Grace Kelly is about feeling forced to conform to other people’s standards, We Are Golden chronicles a volatile mood swing, and Good Wife seems to be about someone helping the man he secretly loves get over a breakup. The dichotomy of putting on a brave and happy face while wanting to scream your guts out is a mood that many of us can relate to.

However, some of the comfort lies also in the production of his music. Almost all of Mika’s songs are heavily layered, and it often takes a fair amount of listening and re-listening to hear all of the vocals and musical motifs. Noticing a new layer after five years of listening to the same song can put that song into a whole different perspective. It feels as if you’re maturing and developing along with the songs – the same notes, the same tune, the same body, the same person, just a different focus.

I think it’s unfortunate that Mika has fallen off the mainstream radar in the past couple of years. I am not the only gay I know who has taken a lot of solace from his music, but none of that would have happened if I hadn’t been bombarded with Life in Cartoon Motion on the radio in 2007. Hopefully, the music streaming algorithms will be kind to a new generation of closet cases, moody teens and anxiety-ridden introverts, and recommend to them, too, a voice that can guide them through tough times.

Edited by Emma Short, Music Editor


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