About Bruno Mars
Bruno Mars has a good story about Prince: Mars is hanging out at an awards show, during a commercial break. The crowd is filled with celebrities. Suddenly, Mars feels the room shift, people part, and there he is, Mars told Apple Music in a 2016 interview—Prince, “just floating by, levitating by.” Prince catches Mars’ eye and gives him a thumbs-up, and Mars—stunned—gives Prince a thumbs-up back. “And that’s it,” Mars said. “What more can you ask?”
More than a Prince cosign? How about a stack of multiplatinum records? The privilege of being able to entertain people the world over? Mars has those too. But you get the sense that the nod from Prince was affirmation of a higher order. Even when he was living on instant ramen noodles and trying to find his way into the industry, Mars knew he didn’t just want to be a songwriter or a singer or a producer, but—like Prince, or maybe Michael Jackson—a total pop package, the kind of artist who’s as powerful in the studio as they are onstage. Those records, though: “Uptown Funk,” “Locked Out of Heaven,” “That’s What I Like.” Fun, omnivorous, generation-bridging. The kind of stuff that Mom will be pulling you onto the dance floor for. Mars could do old-fashioned showmanship, could credibly play the crooner with a live band to boot. But he also had an ear for hip-hop and R&B, could—like all great pop—collapse the distance between then and now, Black music and white. Most of all, he knew how much retro was retro enough: Music that made you think about the past, not pine for it.
Born Peter Hernandez in Honolulu in 1985, Mars took the stage early, famously doing Elvis impersonations with a family revue at a local hotel before he even hit kindergarten. (In one formative moment, young Mars wet his jumpsuit during “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” but finished without flinching.) As a teenager, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a deal with Motown Records. The deal went nowhere, but Mars kept himself afloat by writing and producing with a team called The Smeezingtons, which he helped found. In 2010, he released his debut, Doo-Wops & Hooligans. By 2012’s Unorthodox Jukebox, the image had gotten a little grittier, the sound a little more diverse, and the retro affectations—goodbye, pompadour—a little less pronounced. Leaning on the slick bounce of ’80s and ’90s funk and R&B, 24K Magic followed in 2016, sweeping its nominations at the Grammys.
A confessed perfectionist, Mars pushes on. “All the statues or Time magazine—that s**t is beautiful and made my parents and my family proud and all that,” he told Apple Music. “But there’s this battle within—that you always wanna. You got this fighter’s spirit. I still feel like I’m chasing to prove something to myself, that I got a better song in me.”
BORNOctober 8, 1985