Audrey Mika Went from Singing into a Toy Microphone to Selling Out Shows

Like most artists in 2020, Audrey Mika built her career on the Internet. The 19-year-old singer first made waves on YouTube, gaining traction for covering popular songs—many by Billie Eilish or Ariana Grande—with a pink toy microphone that’s now become her signature prop. But video fame isn’t Mika’s end goal; releasing her own music is.

The first video Mika posted on her YouTube account at the age of 15 was an original composition, but by singing other people’s songs, she built an audience for her own music—and it’s massive. Mika has more than 1.4 million subscribers on YouTube, and her top video has 10 million views. Over on Spotify, she has more than two million monthly listeners. Though she released EPs in 2018 and 2019, her big break came months after with the summer single “Y U Gotta B like That,” a bright and tingly pop hit that went viral on TikTok. If songs like “Old Town Road” and “The Box” have taught us anything, it’s that the video-sharing app is a launchpad for hits, and it sent Mika soaring.

Mika grew up in Oakland, California, with a musician father and athletic mother. She lived in the Bay Area all her life before moving to Long Beach with her best friend last year. During this period of transition and adjusting to fame, feeling is everything. In January, she released her 5 A.M. EP, a project about vulnerability and emotional struggles. It’s something her young (and young-at-heart) audience can relate to. “Connecting with my fans is one of the most important things to me ever,” Mika tells “And I still tried to respond to DMs as much as I can. It gets a little overwhelming at times. But connecting with my fans is a priority.”

Mika recently went on tour and sold out her New York shows, but for now, she, like the rest of us, is quarantining. During her time indoors, she’s performing via livestream for various outlets, watching TV, writing music, taking photos, and going out for an occasional, social-distance-acceptable walk. At the end of our interview, she thanks me for my time and reminds me, “Wash your hands!”

Is being stuck inside a good environment for creating new music?

I feel like it’s a little suffocating sometimes, so that’s why I feel like I just really need to get out. But honestly, just being here with my best friend is inspiring enough, and I actually write with my best friend. So we’ve just been getting sent beats and working like that. And I’ve been trying to pick up the guitar, but nothing seems to be flowing right now, and I feel like the stress of the world is getting to me a little bit, so it has to remember that I think it’s going to be okay. But, yeah, we’ve been keeping busy for sure.

When you were growing up, what were some musicians or songs or albums you were always playing?

To be completely honest, I didn’t build my own musical taste until I was at least 10 or 12. But my family was always playing Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and jazz musicians, so that’s definitely in my blood. When I started to have my own opinion on music, Ariana Grande, Imagine Dragons, and Marina and the Diamonds were, like, my top three artists I would always listen to.

That’s awesome. What made you think that you wanted to start releasing covers on YouTube?

I started my YouTube channel when I was 15, when I got my first instrument, a ukulele, and I posted my first YouTube video. I’m pretty sure it was an original, actually, so I was very bold to go for the original straight-up. But after that, I started posting covers, and then I stopped posting for a while. It was really the top of 2019 when things started to really take off, because I was just consistently posting covers twice a week for at least six months, and it really paid off.

I genuinely loved creating those videos, and I think the pink mic has a huge part of my covers, and it just has this nostalgic feeling to it that is a nice familiarity to people.

Where did you find the pink microphone? Was it just lying in your house somewhere?

It was. There’s literally no story behind the pink microphone. I just had it already, since I was eight at least. I would use a pink mic, and I would sing in my backyard, and then when I’m shooting covers, I just like to hold something just for comfort, and then if I didn’t have the pink mic in a video, people would be like, “Where is the pink mic? Why didn’t you have the pink mic?” I would literally get attacked for it. So that was when I was like, “Oh, this is a thing.”

Do you have a favorite cover that you’ve posted?

One of them is definitely “Xanny” [by Billie Eilish]. I think I put the most work into that one, and another one is “You Were Good to Me” [by Jeremy Zucker and Chelsea Cutler]. That’s my ultimate favorite sad song. I just really love that video, too, because it’s a farewell to my home, and I put a lot of effort into that one too. But I think those just have a place in my heart.

The fact that you said that everything really started taking off at the top of 2019, that’s only a little more than a year ago. So, this journey has been very quick for you. How are you processing it?

Yeah, sometimes I don’t really process it, and it doesn’t really hit me until someone says, like, “Did you know your song is on TikTok?” Or, “You just did a Vevo Discover.” It’s just those types of things. And tour, that went by so fast, and I still can’t believe that happened. I was able to sell tickets; just that itself is an accomplishment, and I feel like still just nothing has hit me yet. And I don’t even know how this happened so quickly.

I’m honestly so grateful every day that I get to do this as my job, and I just get to do livestream concerts and sing with a pink mic and make music. It’s just a dream come true.

You recently released your 5 A.M. EP. Can you tell me a little bit about the inspirations and motivations behind putting that project together?

Starting with the title, it’s called 5 A.M., because all of the songs and the ideas were created between 2 and 5 a.m., and I thought it was just the perfect theme to tie everything together, aesthetically as well. It was really fun to create around it. I feel each song is very vulnerable.

I will say it’s very deep and sad, but I think it was—it’s meant to be an introduction of who I am as an artist now and really not being afraid to show who I really am and what I struggle with. It has different aspects of anxiety and being scared to move out of the house and missing my sister. It’s all very personal, and it was really important that it was personal, because I’m not really afraid to leave everything out there.

And it was important that it was easy to read, and I’m really happy that people are connecting with it as well. That’s literally why I do what I do, is to connect and make sure people don’t feel like they’re alone when it gets hard, because life is scary.

I really paid attention to the track “Pan!c.” What was in your mind at the time writing that song?

Actually, the story behind that song is I just came back from a huge Malibu party, which was very, very overwhelming, and there were just tons of people there, tons of different smells, very loud. And I had a really bad panic attack there. And so when we got home from the party, I just felt like I had to get something out there. I needed to write a song, and I was desperate to write a song.

I just sat myself down by the piano, and I started fooling around with chords, and I got the panic chords that you here and I got the melodies. I just really wanted to write a song that laid everything out there about my anxiety and how I deal with it and how I feel. It really, like, touched a lot more people than I thought it would. I couldn’t be more happy with the outcome of that.

“Y U Gotta B like That” is a huge song for you. When did you realize that it was going viral, and how did you react?

It was crazy, because my friends back from home, from the Bay Area, were texting me, and they were like, “Did you know your song is blowing up on TikTok right now?” And I was like, “Wait, what? That’s impossible. The song isn’t even available on TikTok.” And I was just freaking out, and I was like, “Is this really happening right now?” And I am honestly forever grateful for TikTok and for that song to exist, because it has truly changed my life, and I will be forever grateful for finding that beat on my Instagram Explore page, forever.

What kind of music are you working on right now? Is there a new sound or new direction you’re taking?

We’re writing the album right now and I really want my music to feel like it’s cohesive even between projects. This EP was very vulnerable and very sad, and so I really want this album to feel more empowered and more like, “Okay, I’m taking charge of my life, I’m taking my control.” Just standing up for yourself and trying to be very powerful. I want that in production as well. I think the literal sound would mean bigger production. Just very cinematic and dramatic is where we’re trying to head, if that makes sense.

I was actually at your Mercury Lounge show, and I heard you play a new song called, “Just Friends.”

Yeah, that song is coming out in … I’m not actually sure, I think it’s coming out in May, but we are working on that one. We just cut the vocals a couple of weeks ago, so we’re all really excited about that one.

Who are you inspired by at the moment? Is there anyone you want to collaborate with?

There are tons of people I want to collaborate with. I think the big ones are Dominic Fike, Omar Apollo, Daniel Caesar has been one for a long time. I think I really actually would love to collaborate with other up-and-coming artists as well. I think Conan Gray would be a really cool collab.

There are so many and actually so many artists that I love, but I think those are the main ones. But also, like, I don’t want to do too many features at the moment, because I really want to focus on getting my sound and establishing myself, because that’s also important to me. But features are definitely fun. We have a couple coming out, and they’re very collaborative, and I love collaborating with other artists.

What is the best piece of career advice you’ve ever gotten?

Honestly, I think the biggest advice truly is not to get caught up in the numbers and the views and the likes. That’s honestly the advice I would give myself as well. Always remember why you do this and why you love it, and you can’t let yourself get caught up in not selling enough tickets or … because numbers can really screw with your brain.

I’m telling you, it’s happened and it’s really bad. I’ve heard that one a lot. I think that’s the biggest one that I’ve gotten from most people. And just remember why you do this. When it gets hard, you have to remember why you do it, because that’s why you got where you are, is because you’re always stuck by who you are and what you do.

Exactly. Where do you see your life in five years?

My honest answer is, I have absolutely no idea. I did not think I would be here in a year. So I don’t know where I’m going to be in five years. Hopefully, I would like to have the album out at least. But I think that’s already definitely going to happen. And I would also love to be able to go on tour in Europe. So hopefully, those things will happen. But I couldn’t tell you specifically.

How will you know if you’ve made it? Is there a certain achievement that you’re going for?

No, I don’t really think there’s really anything that would tell me I made it, made it, just because everything that I do, I honestly take it day by day and everything. I’m just extra grateful, and I would never take anything for granted. So just living my life and being grateful for everything is just making it for me, and being able to go through this with my best friends is so, so enjoyable.

But if you want a real answer, I feel like I did get a billboard in Times Square, so that was a big moment for me, because I did not think that would happen. I guess you could say that was a, “We made it moment.” But we’re still growing.

And then, what’s next for you?

I’ve got a couple of songs lined up for the next two months, so you should be looking out for those. Actually, I’m very excited for that, and “Just Friends” is also coming out, and I’m very, very excited for that one.

I really want to do some festivals. Not sure if that’ll happen this year, but I really hope someday I’ll be able to do a festival. But right now, it’s just writing the album as much as we can and really thinking of every detail just so the rollout comes out really nice and clean and cohesive.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Photos courtesy of Audrey Mika and Lauren Lamboy. Design by Ingrid Frahm.

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