Mika, Academy, Birmingham
Girls, Audio, Brighton

From weirdo to family guy, kerching-ah!

Mika Penniman is, on the face of it, a difficult man to warm to. The snazzy-suited, cane-twirling dandy who strutted to the top of the charts in 2007 with "Grace Kelly" didn't turn out to be the all-round entertainer (a thinner, camper Robbie Williams, say) we expected.

Instead, we got a private man, who is never to be found sending himself up in a Lycra body suit on Hole In The Wall or whoring himself on Pop Star To Opera Star, nor disgracing himself in front of the 3am Girls then apologising chummily on Wossy's sofa.

It's a testament to the man's staggering excellence at writing killer pop tunes that this lack of media friendliness has barely hindered him. In fact, it makes me like him even more and, even though The Boy Who Knew Too Much hasn't done the business Life In Cartoon Motion did, there are thousands of besotted devotees who agree.

The first few times I saw Mika, it felt as though he was representing for the circus freaks, the burlesquers and the oddballs. Now, he's the choice of the daytime Radio 2-listening ordinary folks. His appeal is cross-generational: one of the first things I see, on entering the Academy, is a mum and dad with their tiny daughters on their shoulders, clapping like crazy to "Blame It On The Girls". When he stands on the drum riser, he isn't being rock'n'roll. It's so the shorties can see.

The pipecleaner-thin Stephen Mangan lookalike still puts on a show, in a lo-fi kind of way. As well as the most OTT finale this side of a Flaming Lips concert (balloons, confetti, huge inflatable skeleton-child) there's a technicolour dreamcoat (very apt), an umbrella with tinsel inside, a puppet-on-a-string of himself, a skull-headed Mexican Day of the Dead procession that wanders on and off, randomly, and – my favourite bit – a top hat with a miniature one underneath, like a millinery matryoshka doll.

What's more impressive is the hit-after-hit nature of the set list. One tends to forget just how many Mika songs are familiar, and in how many styles they come. There's Paul Simon-style faux Afrobeat ("Blue Eyes"), street-corner hopscotch chants ("Lollipop"), vintage vaudeville ("Good Gone Girl"), and Bee Gees falsetto pop (pretty much everything else).

"We Are Golden" is a devilishly effective earworm, and overexposed it may be, if you heard "Grace Kelly" for the first time today, you'd think it was amazing. Best of all is "Big Girl (You Are Beautiful)", a song whose message is newly vindicated.

When he released it, Mika was called a chubby chaser or, worse, patronising. Last week, research by Dr Steven Platek of Georgia Gwinnett College claims to have shown that looking at curvaceous women rewards pleasure centres in the male brain, giving a high akin to alcohol or drugs. With his hymn to the Rubenesque aesthetic, Mika's going with the majority after all. "Ker-chinggg-ah!" indeed.

Paul Hawksbee and Andy Jacobs, presenters on Talksport, have a game they like to play while watching the horse racing, called Posh Or Irish? The idea is that you mute the TV, then whenever a pundit or personality appears on screen, you try to guess, by sight alone, whether they're one thing or the other.

I like to play a similar game with hotly-hyped new indie bands: Upper Class Or American? You come across their name in a live ad in the back pages of the music press, or hear it via word-of-mouth buzz, then develop a hunch as to which category they fall into. If you're very lucky, you can avoid spoileration until you see them in the flesh.

I turn up to see the painfully hip Girls – someone, I think it was Foals, has decided that definite articles are uncool – without a clue as to whether they've come to Brighton from Harvard or Hurstpierpoint. On this occasion, I correctly guess that they're Americans. In fact, my musical sat- nav is far more specific than that. Before they've even spoken, their sound is so classically Californian that I can home in not only on a city (San Francisco) but to within a couple of streets (namely Haight and Ashbury).

In the case of Girls – who own nary a uterus between them – the origin of the members is more significant than most. Band leader Christopher Owens was raised within David Berg's notorious Children Of God cult. His elder brother died as a baby because medical intervention was against the group's beliefs, and his father disappeared. Most relevantly, where Girls is concerned, Owens was forbidden from listening to secular music. It puts Kings of Leon's evangelical upbringing into perspective.

One could argue that a little of Owens' happy-clappy indoctrination lives on in Girls' sound, a blissed-out, druggy haze which takes in elements ranging from Hawaiian pop to shoegaze, but mainly centres around chiming West Coast harmonies and idyllic surf guitar.

You may not be big, Girls, but you are beautiful.

Next Week:

Simon Price bows before bonkers Brits show-stealer Dizzee Rascal, and cowers in front of the weird talent-free genius of Jedward

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

film
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment

film
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...