WHEN MARS ATTACKS!
Seven Grammy nominations in, and Bruno Mars’ ego still hasn’t landed. Does he not know how good he is? No, he’s aware. Did he miss the chapter on his idol Elvis’ arrogance? Probably not. He’s just not into the song and dance that comes with drama. Say aloha to music’s second most drama-free international pop star
Photos: Jill Greenberg
Bruno Mars breezed into the Zeitgeist like a breath of fresh air flowing into a smoggy city. At a moment when the culture is filled with ego-driven, irony-drenched songs meant to perpetuate various cults of personality, here comes Mars with a slew of hits with—wait for it—good messages that have nothing to do with him or his life story. The Hawaiian native—born to a Puerto Rican by way of Brooklyn dad and Filipino mom—has brought a laid-back islander vibe to music by writing lush, dreamy, well-crafted pop songs like “Nothin on You” for B.O.B., “Billionaire” for Travis McCoy and “Just the Way You Are” for himself. Even “Fuck You,” the omnipresent single he wrote for Cee-Lo, is cheeky enough to make you laugh, even though the protagonist is cursing mad.
Mars’s desire to please comes, perhaps, from being a lifelong performer. He grew up onstage in a musical family, so even though he’s only 25, music has been his life for almost two decades. He played all over Waikiki with his family, and then by himself in Los Angeles before becoming a well-respected writer and producer who worked with Brandy, Adam Levine, Sean Kingston and Flo Rida. But he always wanted to perform, so his 2010 debut album, Doo-Wops & Hooligans, was the fulfillment of a long-held dream. Now, he’s nominated for seven Grammys, including Record of the Year (a performer’s award where both “Nothin on You” and “Fuck You” are nominated) and Song of the Year (a songwriter’s award where “Fuck You” is nominated) and Producer of the Year (Non-Classical) with his trio the Smeezingtons. Even if the academy gives him the proverbial finger, and the little-island-boy-who-could walks away with nothing, he seems destined for a long career. Because Bruno Mars is that rare thing: a writer/producer/artist who knows how to make hits and get respect. We spoke in Midtown Manhattan, in an almost-empty hotel lounge, as he sat in a new Moncler winter coat, ready for a trip to Germany.
VIBE: You’re all about trying to make people happy and saying things that make people feel good about themselves and feel good about you—which is interesting because right now there’s a lot of egotistical music succeeding.
BRUNO MARS: That’s probably because of my upbringing in Hawaii. If you ever go to Hawaii and just kick it with people, you’ll notice that they’re just really content with life and what they do. You know, they work at a bar, they do construction, but they’re content and happy. Their girl’s pregnant for the third time, and it’s all good because the beach is two minutes away. You know what I mean? Everyone’s laid back. You’re driving around and everyone’s driving a little slower. It’s what I would call island time. It’s a little slower, it’s a little mellower.
You grew up playing music?
Yeah, my father used to do a 1950s rock ’n’ roll show in Hawaii. That’s where I started. Where you see the Elvis clips and stuff like that, that’s me in his show. When my parents got divorced, the money thing kinda fell through. And so from being in sort of a well-off neighborhood we go into the slums of Hawaii. A lot of people think Hawaii is all white beaches, but there’s definitely ’hoods… But wherever you go in Hawaii there’s live music. If you ever go to a party, if you ever go to a barbeque, there’s a Hawaiian dude with a guitar, with the prettiest girls in the world singing. You go to the beach, there’s cats with guitars and bongos and just jamming. Everybody’s all about jamming and singing. It’s in the air over there.
You come from a family of musicians. Did you ever imagine doing anything else with your life?
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