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[Herald Interview] Mika returns as Michael Holbrook, name he once hated

British pop star says latest album is provocation of his honest, conflicting emotions

Mika performs in Seoul in 2016. (Private Curve)
Mika performs in Seoul in 2016. (Private Curve)

After a decade of life as a glam-pop star, Lebanese-born British singer Mika faced a point in his life where he had to hit the ground again to push himself in the right direction.

For 2 1/2 years, he stepped away from the spotlight and consciously focused on his music and creativity.

Mika’s fifth album, “My Name Is Michael Holbrook,” is the result of the singer’s contemplation.

“I used to hate my legal name! I was convinced that only through assuming and defending my artist name would I ever be happy,” the 36-year-old told The Korea Herald via email.

“I have realized with time that this is not true. All artists have two sides to them. If I am to continue to grow and evolve then I had to be really aware of my own identity.”

His debut album, “Life in Cartoon Motion,” had been about moving on from his childhood, but his latest album is about growing up, which the artist says is the biggest challenge we have to face.

“The title of the album is a provocation. I am provoking myself to be honest, intimate, un-ashamed, but also to be full of bright color and a full range of emotion,” the singer-songwriter said. “This is not naive, it’s essential. This is why the album talks about so many different emotions.”

The album starts off with Mika talking about the small things that he loves in life in the set’s first track, “Tiny Love.”

“My name is Michael Holbrook, I was born in 1983,” he says in the song, perhaps embracing a part of himself that he couldn’t love in the past.

In “Ice Cream,” the pop star brings back his buoyant and bouncy vibe. He faces envy in “Dear Jealousy.” In “Paloma,” he pays tribute to his sibling who miraculously recovered from an accident that almost killed her.

Mika’s music always has a mix of conflicting emotions -- the crossing of personal and yet social messages. The contrast, he says, not only creates tension in the music, but also reflects how he deals with his own life.

In the last album, “I tried to use some of those more dark or painful experiences for something good. We think we can throw away those emotions, just store them somewhere deep ... but that is not true,” he said.

According to Mika, he wrote the songs for “My Name Is Michael Holbrook” when he was going through major personal challenges, including deaths and illnesses.

His mother, a source of inspiration and support for his work, fell gravely ill during that time and was diagnosed with cancer. Although shocked and dismayed, he didn’t stop at that. Mika dedicated his last song of the album, “Tiny Love Reprise,” to his mother, giving her a chance to sing part of the song.

“It is my love letter to her and also a form of resistance on her part. Resistance to sadness, to cold emotion, to the illness itself.”

While he gets ideas surrounded by people and chaos, Mika says solitude helps him focus on writing. He enjoys wandering around by himself and even walked around alone for two days in Seoul when he last visited the city.

“Mika Revelation Tour” poster (Private Curve)
“Mika Revelation Tour” poster (Private Curve)

The Brit singer, who is returning to Korea after almost four years, says he is very excited to be coming back. He will visit Seoul as part of his worldwide “Revelation Tour” that started in November, following the release of his fifth studio album in October.

“Every single one of the six shows we have done in Korea have been exceptional experiences for me and my band. It’s a very special place to play,” the artist said, noting the “generosity in the spirit of the people” makes Korea special to him.

Mika also hinted he would do more than just perform in Seoul during his March trip. The artist is planning a mini documentary series on travel and music this year. He will be filming a few adventures here in Seoul as part of the project.

Despite concerns about the coronavirus outbreak, Mika is pushing ahead with his concerts scheduled for March 4 and 5 at the Jamsil Arena in eastern Seoul.

By Choi Ji-won (