Bruno Mars didn’t just pop up out of nowhere. The 23-year-old Hawaii–born singer-songwriter who got his stage name from wrestler Bruno Sammartino has been singing since age 2 (on stage with his dad’s band, the Lovenotes) and on his songwriting grind since age 17. All the apprenticing paid off. Bruno’s “Just The Way You Are” sits at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Not to mention, he’s built a rapid buzz thanks to his charming hooks on some pretty big pop songs—B.o.B.’s chart-topper “Nothing On You” and Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire”—plus a co-writing credit for Cee-Lo’s viral smash, “Fuck You.”
Everything is on the upswing for Bruno. (Almost everything. He was officially charged on Saturday with cocaine possession after being arrested in Los Angeles). With his debut album, Doowops & Hooligans, dropping today (Oct. 5), the singer chats with VIBE on his way to a radio interview in Long Island about his rise to the top, the difficulty pinning down his sound, the song he wish he produced and the one he’s got for Nicki Minaj. —Clover Hope (Twitter: @VIBE_Clove)
VIBE: How did you celebrate having the No. 1 song in the country with Just “The Way You Are”?
Bruno Mars: Stayed in my hotel room and ordered a movie [laughs]. Doesn’t it sound exciting?
What movie was it?
I think it was Get Him To The Greek. Of course, I made a couple phone calls to Momma and to everybody at home—everything that had to deal with the song—to congratulate them. You kinda never know what to expect. We just write songs and cross our fingers. And No. 1 is so hard, because you gotta think, I’m up against Eminem and Rihanna, and these are guys that have been doing it for years—monsters in the game—and little ol’ Bruno Mars just climbed his way up there.
What’s been the toughest part about making your first album?
Not over-thinking it. A lot of times when I work with other artists, it turns into a jam session, and those normally work out the best because you’re just going off pure feeling. It’s easy to be like, “Today, I’m gonna write a song that’s gonna change the world,” and it becomes shit and that was the wackest song you ever wrote. It’s really just going in the studio with an open, clear mind.
What is the wackest song you ever wrote?
I wrote a song called “Bedroom Bandit.” I don’t know what I was on. I was in the studio, and it wasn’t for me. It was for a hip-hop artist, and you know… By the title alone, you can tell it was pretty corny.
Did the success of “Nothin’ On You” serve as a jumping off point for you to work with other artists, or did you already have those connections?
I’ve produced for artists like K’Naan and Brandy—a bunch of acts. But I guess “Nothin’ On You” was the real hit. That was the first time I think people heard my voice. And that’s kinda our sound. Sonically, that kinda established our sound as the Smeezingtons [He and his production partner Phil Lawrence].
You definitely have a very unique voice.
Yeah? There’s no Alvin & The Chipmunks [sound]? Well, good. [Laughs]
Would you consider your music emo?