Tickets on sale Friday, January 24 at 10:00 a.m.
“Leave your troubles outside. Here, life is beautiful, everyone is beautiful, the girls are beautiful, the boys are beautiful,” a line from ‘Cabaret,’ international pop sensation MIKA begins every show with this invitation.
It is on such philosophy that MIKA has built an unshakable career and catalogue. With his fifth studio album My Name Is Michael Holbrook out this October, MIKA has crafted a world of gritty romance amidst the joy and playfulness of technicolored alternative pop. He’s a renaissance artist of impeccable intention who’s name has rightfully found its way alongside legendary acts such as Elton John, Freddie Mercury and Prince.
Born Michael Holbrook Penniman Jr. in 1983 as the third of five children, MIKA and his family were forced to leave war-torn Lebanon and relocate to Paris before settling in London after his father was held hostage at the American embassy in Kuwait.
The tumultuous experience left a then seven-year-old MIKA disoriented and struggling with dyslexia in school where he was bullied relentlessly. In response, his mother put him in vocal lessons with a Russian opera teacher and a Scottish piano teacher practicing four hours daily. Learning to play piano and write songs while showing otherworldly vocal range, MIKA was quickly becoming a young virtuoso.
He began recording with the Royal Opera House and was on the stage of a Richard Strauss opera by age 11. During rehearsals, MIKA caught glimpse of David Hockney designing the set, orchestrating a scene that captured young MIKA’s imagination, “It was a magical world that you could live in. A parallel universe for people that is illusory and enchanting.”
The infatuation ultimately inspired MIKA’s calling card ability to create such effect through his music. Starting with his 2007 debut album Life In Cartoon Motion featuring mega-hit single “Grace Kelly,” MIKA presents a timeless atmosphere of vibrant sonic and visual allure. He is Grammy nominated, won a Brit Award and went on to release three additional platinum selling albums The Boy Who Knew Too Much, The Origin of Love, and No Place In Heaven.
Throughout his career he’s toured the world, curated and hosted primetime variety and radio shows across Europe, won prestigious awards, served as the judge on France’s The Voice for the past six years, and has spearheaded a myriad of creative projects spanning from work as an illustrator, to a columnist and fashion designer. He speaks five languages, has sold over 10 million records, and is a certified Gold and Platinum artist in 32 countries worldwide.
He now presents his fifth studio album My Name Is Michael Holbrook.
“I hadn’t put out a record in four years. I didn’t know what to do when it came time to start the process and was honestly kind of at a loss,” MIKA admits. “I felt a little disappointed by the commercial side of the industry. I didn’t want to make a record by numbers or by committee. I wanted to make an uncontaminated, homemade pop record.”
With a clear intention in need of inspiration, MIKA got in his car and started driving.
“I needed a point of departure,” says MIKA. “So I physically looked for it.”
What he found was the Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia where lie the Penniman plot, the gravestones where his father’s ancestors rest.
“I wanted to find out where I came from and why my legal name is Michael Penniman Holbrook Junior,” says MIKA. Seeking to uncover the identity of MIKA before “Grace Kelly,” he found a profound sense of joy at his discovery.
“I had the title of the album before I had the album. It was a manifesto. It was a challenge for me,” says MIKA. “And it was quite liberating.” When he returned to his home in Miami, he immediately wrote what would become the first song on the album, “Tiny Love.”
“I went home, sat down at the piano and wrote the lyrics, ‘My name is Michael Holbrook, I was born in 1983. No I’m not losing my mind, it’s just this thing that you do to me. I feel high, I’m high with just a tiny love.’”
The line unlocked the album’s directive.
“Without realizing it, I was doing a kind of audit of my life and of my family and of the man I’ve become. I freed myself of the idea of MIKA.”
Energized by his vision, MIKA was riding the high only to be jerked back down to earth at the abrupt and sobering news that his mother was going into emergency surgery.
Putting the project on pause, MIKA went to Dubai to be with his mother and family. Destabilized, he nearly scrapped the album but instead came to a redemptive conclusion.
“I decided to use it as a way to confront issues that I’ve never been brave enough to confront. I wanted to talk to my family with as much transparency and openness as possible.”
Rooted in his father’s heritage, the album made a calculated turn back towards his mother – the woman who trained him, made his wardrobe for years on the road, and most importantly taught him never to follow and always to express himself fearlessly.
One track on the album “Paloma” is named for his sister and recounts the traumatic memory of her near death experience after she fell from a window.
And so it became much more than an album, but a healing process.
“I had a sense of urgency to transform pain into something beautiful and more hopeful,” says MIKA. “A brazen sense of poetry where color’s ok, emotion is ok, melody is ok.”
The sound took shape in the space of tension between the color and the pain creating friction and heat. MIKA embraced it.
“The temperature is ok. You don’t have to just be cool. You can speak from the heart.”
As the writing went on, MIKA began feeling lighter and freer. During this period he wrote “Ice Cream,” a 90s inspired pop anthem shimmering with the heat of summer and a poised sense of playfulness.
After writing the album in home studios in Miami and Tuscany over the course of two years, MIKA went to Brussels to record with producers Marc Crew and Dan Priddy. Together they crafted soundscapes spanning different decades of pop tracking the entire album live using vintage synths and enlisting all star players from around the world.
With the album completed MIKA prepares for a world tour where he’ll once again invite his audience to leave their troubles at the door.
Like that of ‘Cabaret’s’ Kit Kat Klub, MIKA creates a “weird bubble of joy and dirtiness and possibility and music” tucked away from trouble, judgement or fear.
Through the attitude, energy and movement of MIKA’s studied pop performance he provokes this sense of magic. “It’s the sort of dangerous energy where anything is possible,” he says.
“If the temperature is high enough, if the energy is wicked enough, you can tell any story and defend it in the right way. Universality is in the pop music we love the most,” he says. “Pop is not just bubblegum. It can be dirty. It can be playful. It’s not just disposable. It does have a reason.”
With My Name Is Michael Holbrook MIKA intimately shares his whole self with his audience. All he asks now is for us to do the same.
“We don’t need perfection. We need character, we need emotion. To feel free to express yourself,” says MIKA. “Express yourself, you won’t be judged here.”