Singer-songwriter Mika released his debut album Life in Cartoon Motion on February 5, 2007. The album debuted at number one in the United Kingdom and sold over 7.8 million copies since it’s release. It’s downright amazing and a wonderful example of what a debut album should be. With Life in Cartoon Motion, Mika cemented his songwriting aesthetic, giving us an amazingly fun album in the process.
The album shows the building blocks for what would be hallmarks of Mika’s career. He’s always been good at writing songs about celebrating the uniqueness of outcasts, inspirational pieces about dealing with the challenges of what make you you. Later songs like “Kick Ass (We Are Young)”, “Popular Song” and “We Are Golden” continue this trend, but it was lead single “Grace Kelly” that started it off. “Grace Kelly” takes full advantage of Mika’s range—the way he hits those high notes in the chorus on “violet sky” is downright beautiful. The message is universal: why don’t you like me and should I do something to change it? Mika deftly bounces between pop culture figures and colors to describe his shifting personality state, backed up by a peppy glam backing. There’s a beautiful moment near the end where Mika starts to sing the chorus, accompanied by just a piano, enjoying that quiet before the rest of the band pops in and the fun starts back up. It’s an amazing song and the perfect choice for a lead single. “Grace Kelly” hit number one on the UK Singles Chart and stayed there for a good five weeks.
Life in Cartoon Motion is marked by it’s FUN. So many of the songs on this album are adorable and cheerful, drawing in schoolyard chants, positive messages, and high-energy pump you up musical stylings. One of the highlights off the album is the song “Big Girl, You Are Beautiful.” Ten years ago, the body positivity movement was certainly a thing, but not as pronounced and visible as it is in the mass media today. To not only feature a song about body positivity on a mid 2000s album but to make it one of the lead singles? The song is absolutely brimming with self-love as Mika tries to dispel the titular big girl’s image anxiety with cheerful positivity. Yes, the song does fall on some levels: this is a man trying to tell this woman that she’s beautiful and not a woman reclaiming that image herself (And on a petty note, some of us drink Diet Coke for the taste, thank you very much.) But I can overlook that, partly because of the time when the song was written, and partly because that final chorus, where the phrase “big girl you are beautiful” is repeated over and over again and the music swells up to a dance and handclaps beat is downright glorious.
And yet, the album isn’t a complete bastion of cheer and uplifting positivity. There are moments where Mika gives us a more serious track. The most memorable one of these is “Happy Ending” (though “Any Other World” does take a strong stab at second place.) The song takes a minimalist approach, pairing Mika’s voice with a simple, repeated piano and chorus background and slow, sweeping strings in the background. The first half of the song lets Mika’s voice shine, as he wrenches as much emotion out of his voice as he possibly can to describe this heartbreak. “Happy Ending” builds and builds up, as choirs get layered on top of Mika’s vocals, the strings kick into high gear, the music swells, and the entire thing builds up to a giant crescendo of sound near the end…only to wonderfully deflate back into that a sole singer singing the song’s simple melody against a stark piano backdrop.
I admit, it’s pretty hard to give this album a proper retrospective as I discovered Mika when I was a weird chunky high school student who desperately needed something fun and bouncy in her life. All I want to do is take people by their metaphorical shoulders and yell “LISTEN TO THIS ALBUM” until they do. But seriously. Listen to this album. Life in Cartoon Motion is a bright bundle of cheerful pop fun, with occasional detours into something serious, but always perfect for bouncing around your room and singing into your hairbrush.