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The Mika Myth

The egomaniac projected by pop sensation Mika’s performances is very different from the reality, discovers Michael Delaney

I get the feeling you don't like my music," says Mika, with a little laugh. The truth is, I used to. When his single Grace Kelly hit the charts in 2007, I was charmed by its bombastic promise of theatrical glamour amid bland, reality-show-driven pop charts. I liked Mika's balls-out grab for fame -- "should I bend over just to be put on your shelf?" -- his shameless self-comparison to Freddie Mercury, his infectious energy. But, just as soon as it began getting wall-to-wall airplay, that helium voice and desperate hyperactivity began to get on my nerves. I wasn't the only one. Despite selling 5.6 million copies of his debut album across the world, the British press was chilly in its reception of the UK's new king of pop. "Listening to Life in Cartoon Motion is like being held at gunpoint by Bonnie Langford," said one critic. "Mika makes music that sounds like vegetables with all the flavour boiled out of them," said another.

It's something the 27-year-old singer, who's just about to embark on a European tour with his second album, The Boy Who Knew Too Much, is still cross about. "The distrust in England, in particular, infuriated me," he says. "They immediately assumed I was manufactured. There was this kind of reaction like, where did this come from? You have to remember that the music scene five years ago was completely different to what it is today."

Mika is, of course, talking about the rise of iTunes and move towards downloading single tracks instead of albums. "You used to be able to hold a CD in your hand; you could own a sense of the whole package," he says. "But that's changed entirely. Nowadays, it's only when you go to the live shows that you are immersed in the world of that artist for two hours."

With the likes of La Roux, Florence and the Machine and Lady Gaga topping the current charts, artist-driven pop may be back on game, but last autumn The X Factor garnered record viewing figures and is now set to take over American television screens, creating even more cookie-cutter global pop stars. "Things have gone to extremes, haven't they?" says Mika, who famously was once turned down by Simon Cowell. "But in a way it's all the same. There have been singing competitions for hundreds of years. The X Factor is almost vaudevillian; it's got its own theatricality."

Born in Beirut to a Lebanese mother and an American father, Mika's family were forced to leave war-torn Lebanon when he was a child. They moved around Europe, eventually settling in London when he was nine years old. It's this diverse background that he cites as both his Achilles heel and his saving grace.

"My music has a sound that's not born out of a certain place or scene," he says. "It doesn't come from a fashion trend. I don't think the English critics were able to get a handle on it. But, subsequently, that has helped me have different types of careers in lots of different countries. I'm working on performing in 2,000-seat theatres and in 18,000-seat arenas across Europe and Asia. The challenge in Dublin is to mount the same show on a smaller scale, but at least I have two nights to get to know the venue." ('Fraid not, Mika...ssince speaking to HQ, one of those shows has been cancelled).

His Dublin show will almost coincide with the release of the first Boyzone single post-Stephen Gately's death. Gave It All Away was written by Mika for one of his albums, but left on the cutting room floor. "The first I heard about Boyzone singing it was after they'd recorded their version, and I was a bit taken aback," he says and then relents a little. "I think it's really good, actually. It has an early-90s pop feeling to it, which I'm really into at the moment. They sound better singing it than I did."

No interview with Mika is complete without a mention of his sexual orientation, something he tells me he finds "a bit irritating". But it's a card he's playing to his own advantage, nonetheless. "From the beginning I've always said that I could fall in love with anyone. In the future my opinion on labels may change, but it was very important from the beginning not to be pigeonholed in any way, culturally or ethnically labelled, sexually or politically labelled. I didn't want that to be part of my pitch.

"When you think about it, I was doing myself an immediate disservice in today's celebrity-driven media. I was killing one very effective publicity angle in a way. But if you sell every part of your life, what are you left with to keep going for another ten years?"

So, will Mika be around in ten years? My guess is he will. Half an hour in his company had me completely reassessing his output. In the flesh, Mika isn't half the egomaniac he is in the package he's created for world domination. He's a man with a long-term plan and his head is firmly screwed on his shoulders. As he puts it himself: "I'm completely free to do what I want and, at the end of the day, all I want to do is write songs and move ahead." HQ

Mika plays the Olympia on Monday