The lesson to be learned? Don’t mess with Mika
Mika was not in love when he wrote the title track of his newest album. He just had a crush on someone. That belies the fact that “Origin of Love” is one of the most unabashedly romantic songs the British pop star has ever written, so sweet it could give you a cavity after multiple listens.
From the air I breathe, to the love I need
Everything I know
You’re the origin of love
From God above, to the one I love
Everything that’s true
The origin is you
“It was one of the first things I wrote after a year and a half of not writing,” says Mika, who plays a sold-out show at Royale on Saturday. “I wrote it in about 20 minutes. It’s delusional because it was written in a delusional state: What is the most pumped-up, kaleidoscopic, dreamy, flirtatious pop song that I could ever write for somebody I like?”
When told that if he played that song for someone he had a crush on, the person would likely flee in the other direction, Mika is so sheepish you can practically hear him smiling at the other end of the phone.
“That’s exactly what happened,” he says, stifling a giggle. “It was a complete disaster. That’s why you skip forward a couple of songs on the album, and you end up with ‘Overrated’ as a reaction to that. One second I’m saying I’m going to build churches in your name, and then the next song I’m going, ‘You’re worth nothing. This love is worth nothing.’ ”
Perhaps the lesson to be learned is, don’t mess with Mika.
“Oh, I’m quite harmless in real life,” he says, his voice soft and refined. “It’s just words, it’s just songs.”
Maybe so, but his latest album, his third full-length since the smash success of his 2007 debut, “Life in Cartoon Motion” (buoyed by the hit “Grace Kelly”), is also a testament to Mika’s penchant for couching heavy sentiments in fizzy dance-pop songs. The giddy choruses and big, bouncy beats are intentionally over the top, putting Mika in the same family as Scissor Sisters and even Queen. At 29, he’s a big believer in the idea of songwriting expressing who you’d like to be.
“I write songs to turn myself into something else. And then I become that and I want to become something else,” he says. “It’s the same way that songwriting is projection, it’s desire. Which is why I think that Rufus Wainwright album title, ‘Want,’ is one of the best album titles ever. We write love songs as fantasies of the kind of love we’d like to experience.”
Asked about an interview in which he supposedly said the new album is more simplistic and less layered than its 2009 predecessor, “The Boy Who Knew Too Much,” Mika scoffs at the suggestion.
“Oh, no, that was a misquote,” he says emphatically. “It was a misquote that Universal [his record label] put in my press release. Whoever wrote that press release probably didn’t listen to the record. It’s completely layered, it’s crazy dense.
“But there is something in that. There’s less deflection and mirrors, less hiding behind comic-book and cartoon characters and more use of the first person,” he allows, referring to the playful artwork that accompanied his first two albums. “Now there’s a candidness in the writing, which I felt was needed. But musically it’s not less layered.”
If anything it’s relentlessly upbeat, flush with electro-pop melodies and Mika’s glorious falsetto croon. Born in Beirut and raised mostly in London, Mika says he grew up looking to music as a source of salvation.
“It didn’t have to have a stomping beat, but it had to give me that feeling of power, because I lacked so much of it,” he says. “I fell in love with melody because it was transformative. I looked at music as something uplifting, that broke down the barrier between me and the person in front of me. There was something quite humanizing and unifying about it.”
To that end, “The Origin of Love” has a handful of songs meant to empower. “Emily, are you stuck up or are you gay?/ If you are, then that’s OK/ ’Cause it doesn’t even matter, Emily/ Emily, it’s your life and you can’t live it twice,” he sings on “Emily.”
Mika also has a wicked sense of humor. On “Love You When I’m Drunk,” he comes to grips with the truth about his beloved. “When I get a little more sober/ I know I’ll be over you.” (“Slightly tipsy,” he says of his mindset when he wrote the song.)
“The best way to make the most serious point in the world,” he says, “is to be as unserious as possible.”