When his records first starting playing on the radio, people were mixed about Mika’s music – they either loved it or hated it. But Mika, real name Michael Holbrook Penniman Jr., doesn’t really care what the haters think. He’s happy to be making his own music and doing his own thing.
You studied about Singapore before in university, what’s it like now finally seeing what you studied about?
It was my ‘A’ levels actually, it was two years that I studied about Singapore. So finally I managed to see what the HDBs look like! There’s a lot of trees here, which is quite surprising! I’ve lived in so many different places and you think as an English, I’d be used to seeing trees. But there are more trees here. I didn’t expect there to be so many trees.
We’ve also heard that you’re a fluent Mandarin speaker, is that true?
No way. Are you crazy? I studied for nine and a half years and I used to bribe my teacher with chocolate and we’d listen to canto-pop. So I just got fat and learnt a lot about Mandarin and Cantonese pop music. So I learnt nothing, and it cost a fortune. But my sisters got very good, they’ve all lived in China but I’m not very good at it. I can only say, ‘it’s hot’ or ‘it’s cold’ or ‘this is my friend’ or ‘this is Mr Wong’.
What’s your fascination with China?
The first time I went there, I was about eight or nine years old. And at that time there weren’t a lot of tourists going to China at that time, and everywhere we went, there’d be like a crowd of 40 people following us around. I looked at my mom and told her in French, ‘It’s got to be like this if you’re Michael Jackson!’ but of course, as we went back about seven times over the next few years, it was interesting to see the changes happen and so quickly, made me more fascinated with it. The thing about my mother was fixated on the emphasis of moving away from the West, and from Europe, and she told us ‘One day, Europe is going to crumble, and the only countries left would be China, India and the rest of Asia and those are the countries that are going to take over.” And how right she is!
Have you had a chance to try any of the local food yet?
Not yet, but I want to go to one of those food courts, at like 2am in the morning. I’ll probably go after the show.
Have you been watching the World Cup?
I had the most amazing experience, because I was playing a show in Seoul a few days ago. They made us go on stage at 6pm, and I was off-stage by 815pm. They emptied the arena by 820pm, they brought in a whole new audience, and put huge screens up while my crew was still taking the set apart. It was the South Korean match, and I stayed and watched the whole match. It was amazing, just watching it in that hall with all these people chanting. I watched the England game. I liked it. But the one thing that confuses me about soccer in the UK is how so many of the teams that people are willing to die for are made up of people that have nothing to do with where the people are from. You can have a player from absolutely anywhere, and it’s all about money. It’s about what you can buy for the team, who are the people you can afford. And the players can switch identities just like that. It drives me a little bit crazy. So I think the World Cup is a bit of an exception, that the players at least are all from the same country, and you get this kind of unity that’s kind of rare in the major league.
There are always two types of people out there – the fans that love your music, and the people that don’t. Now that you’ve got a few albums under your belt, what do you have to say to the people that don’t like your music?
Nothing, really. I had a hard time in school and was very much an outsider. And people ask me, ‘is this song a version of vengeance?’ and I think no because that would mean that I’m doing it all for them and they’re the last people I want to think about now in my life. So as far as record companies and stuff like that, I’m too busy building this little world for my music. I think two things that can kill a career are comparison and competition. And I think revenge certainly breeds both.
If your life was turned into a movie, what genre would it be and who would you want to play you?
It’d be an absurd tragic comedy. And who’d play me? Winona Ryder. She’d be great, she’d be awesome. But if she’s not available, I guess they could call Johnny Depp. But only if Winona’s not free. I like her, she’s cool.
If you could live your life again, what would you change?
Nothing. Even the mistakes that I’ve made, of which I’ve made many. I think that I wouldn’t change anything. Because it would torture you. You look at some people in the world, and they seem to have everything but they’re so full of regrets. But then you look at some people who are assumed to have nothing, but have no regrets at all. And I know which side I would be on.
You’re perceived as flamboyant and pretty interesting, but there’s not much about you in the tabloids. How do you keep your private life out of the spotlight?
It’s because I hide. I’m like a hermit. I hide, and I hide. And I tour. From the beginning of the first record, I managed to avoid a lot of the press in the UK. A lot of them were bribing people I knew, and calling up and waiting outside the house. But I managed to avoid it by touring. So I toured. And it’s kept me from being in one place for too long, so it was hard for them to get me because I was never in the UK very long, despite being based there.
If you were a character in Kick-Ass, what superhero nickname would you have, and what would your super-power be?
Let me think. I know what my superpower would be, I’ve thought about this a lot. It’d probably be the ability to stop or freeze time. The thing is, if you can turn back you only get miserable, because you’ll regret the things you didn’t change. If you can go forward, you get miserable because you realise what’s going to happen to you. And if you live forever, then you get miserable because everyone you know dies and you get too lazy to make new friends. So you’d kind of just end up hanging out with oak trees.
So if you could stop time, and keep everything else the same that’d be great. You could walk past a jewellery shop and see something that you really liked, stop time, walk in and take it. So you’d never have to work because you could make money by stealing things. Sometimes you could stop time if you’re enjoying the company of the person you’re with. Sometimes you could compromise someone by stopping time, taking off all their clothes and then putting them in a park, so they’d wake up and they’re in hell and you could get your revenge.
I don’t know what I’d call myself though. Probably something really lame. Like Time Snatcher.
Mika performs tonight at the Max Pavillion. For all the details, click here.