Music Saved My Life: Mika - Life In Cartoon Motion
At twenty-four, I am securely back to where I was at thirteen: pimply, bespectacled, and too shy to talk to girls. At least I can now wear black nail polish and play my music as loud as I want, and I am getting paid to write about my feelings! All that sad teen poetry DID go somewhere, everybody. As I press play on MIKA’s 2007 debut album Life in Cartoon Motion, I begin to cry the bittersweet tears that come with this strange second adolescence, as a queer young adult finally getting adjusted to living life as who I am.
At thirteen, MIKA was all up in that mess. MIKA was lost with me, in the muck of all these feelings of love and paranoia, trying to figure out why my affections always felt all wrong, why I liked boys AND girls. “Love Today” dried those tears as we cheered for everyone to love “anyone you want to, any way you’ve got to” — I sure have since then.
MIKA heard my screams as I cried in my childhood closet, begging the moth-ball scented void to envelop me, an absolute failure at playing the part of the perfect girl, into the darkness as I sobbed to “Any Other World.” Yet, the pain seemed a little bit less as I clunked through the defiance of being THAT kid in the family with “Stuck In The Middle.”
The joys and pitfalls of this album are dimensional — just like the helter-skelter hell ride that is life on earth. This album is triumphant. It is heartbreaking. It is happy and loving and completely and unapologetically gay. It is everything.
It is also an album that captures the journey of being an unwilling descendant of intergenerational trauma: MIKA was born in war-torn Beirut to a Lebanese mother and American father in 1983, and fled to Paris before he was a year old. These experiences also surface in a monologue that begins at the end of “Relax, Take It Easy,” and opens “Any Other World”:
"There is a little spoken introduction that many people may miss,” said MIKA while promoting Life in Cartoon Motion. “It's about a family friend of mine who lost her eye during the war in Lebanon, and I realized in everyone's life there comes one point, or several points where something happens and you have to completely change the way you have lived your life because of one event. And it really makes you readjust and rethink and rejudge parts of your life all over again. That happens to some people in a dramatic way like Rafa who lost both her eye and her husband within 6 months. Or it can be in a much quieter way like when you are 22-years-old and you finally leave university after being in education all your life or when you lose your job. I wanted to put that in the song, because when you're 68 or 14, it's still the same feeling and it's still just as hard. I wanted to try to capture that quite difficult period that people have to go through at least once in their life.”
Needless to say, this album is a friend to me.
This was the first piece of media I interacted with at thirteen years old in Eastern Washington that said it was okay to be queer, but that it was going to hurt. As the tears dried on my cheeks, I also learned that this did not mean that my life would all be pain: I would survive, damnit!
The cheeky directness of “Grace Kelly” gleefully takes down the people who didn’t like me as I was, and told me that I could do this flesh body up any way I wanted to, which was perfect for getting sticky with “Lollipop.” What can I say? I liked getting sweet with MIKA, imagining the people I could someday meet, and share my feelings with, and not experience any fear.
That fearlessness feeds into “My Interpretation,” a ballad of confrontation and acceptance that, yes, what we had is over. The defiance of this song, though, comes from its strongly individualistic heart: all you need to have is yourself, and if you are the only person who believes in you, then you are all you need.
That was pretty helpful, straightforward advice in those lyrics for a severely isolated, bullied, and scared thirteen-year-old kid. Yes, this album saved my life, because it was the one space where I could be gay, or something that looked like it, without anyone saying shit about it or trying to hurt me — even if it only existed between one earphone and the other.
Life in Cartoon Motion doesn’t fit any one category: it boasts love ballads, heartbroken eulogies to lost relationships, a body-positivity bop… it’s got it ALL. Honestly, you can play it in any order and create a unique story each and every time, and have it be something that is true to you, because it is a collection of art that is true to itself to the end, and that will make you want to be true to you, too.
Thank you for saving my life, MIKA.