Bruno Mars

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Bruno Mars—that’s a cool name.
It’s a stage name; he was born Peter Gene Hernandez in Waikiki, Hawaii to Puerto Rican and Filipino parents. The Mars part is a boast—girls presumably thought him “out of this world.” (More on that later.) Bruno, meanwhile, he got from his dad as a child for resembling wrestler Bruno Sammartino. Can’t see it? Neither can we. Maybe another resemblance will be a bit clearer: a certain ‘50s heartthrob with swiveling hips.

What is this, some kind of lead-in to Bruno Mars being an Elvis impersonator?
Actually, yes; he was pretty much the Willow Smith of Elvis impersonators. He started at age 2 and, thanks to the almost uncanny spectacle of this kid mugging in a spangly open-shirt costume, got screen time, as a four-year-old, in the documentary Viva Elvis and the 1992 comedy Honeymoon in Vegas.

That’s actually adorable.
It really is. And fortunately for Bruno, he kept his charm, if not the suit, post-Elvis. He’d sing for girls in high school, something that no doubt has many readers quite jealous. But not everyone approved at first; although he moved to L.A. and got a recording contract, it was a dud. He ultimately farmed out one of his songs to a boy band for $20,000 and went on to work behind the scenes as a songwriter and producer.

Where do the Smeezingtons come in?
Right around then. Mars, songwriter Philip Lawrence and engineer Ari Levine teamed up and, as the Smeezingtons, wrote and produced songs for artists like Brandy, K’Naan (he of the World Cup theme “Wavin’ Flag," which is theirs) and Flo Rida—“Right Round” was by far their breakout, and say what you will about Flo’s, uh, performance, the Smeezingtons at least provided a galloping chiptune line to enliven their Dead or Alive sample. Although they lost 2011’s Producer of the Year Grammy to Danger Mouse, they haven’t forfeited momentum, with rising hits like “Bow Chicka Wow Wow” by Mike Posner and Far*East Movement’s “Rocketeer in their portfolio. And, of course, if Bruno Mars is involved in something, the Smeezingtons probably are too. As far as their name, they decided a “smeezington” was a smeeze—a smash, as in smash hit. It was probably funny at the time.

But he goes by Bruno Mars, not a Smeezington. When did that happen?
In mid-2010, Mars released the solo EP It’s Better If You Don’t Understand, with Cee Lo Green and B.o.B guesting, but his real success came after a few well-timed credits—crooning the sugary hook of B.o.B’s “Nothin’ on You” and playing sincere dreamer to Travie McCoy’s wisecracker on Billionaire”. Both were, uh, smeezes, the former reaching No. 1 on both the U.S. and U.K. charts and the latter not far behind. Then follow-up solo singles like the sweet “Just The Way You Are” and theatrical “Grenade” and gold-certified debut album Doo-Wops & Hooligans solidified his place in the pop world.

Wait a minute, you skipped the cocaine thing.
We were getting to that. Mars was arrested on Sept. 19, 2010 at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas after performing and was charged with criminal drug possession. He’s since pled guilty and will have to pay a $2,000 fine and do 200 hours of community service. The arrest hasn’t hurt his career much, though. Take his performance at the Grammys, a stripped-down throwback with B.o.B and Janelle Monae. Did anyone mention drugs? Okay, so a network that censors the line “that don’t mean I can’t get you there” in Cee-Lo’s “Fuck You” (more on that later) isn’t the best gauge, but were you even thinking of the charges? We weren’t.

How does he get away with it?
By having complete control of his image. What’s a little cocaine when you’re otherwise such a perfect boyfriend surrogate? One minute he’s crooning about how all the beautiful girls in the world have nothing on you, the next how you’re amazing just the way you are, the next how he’d die for you, with all sorts of gory details to prove his point. It’s self-esteem pop just like “Firework,” and when the radio’s idea of romance is more along the lines of “tonight I’m fucking you,” Mars’ lyrics are a big point in his favor. And just like lovermen of old, Mars knows this message is best delivered via pleasant backing tracks and a silky tenor, crowned with falsetto when appropriate. Sure, he looks a little goofy, but after a while, it’s endearing. He’s also savvy enough to keep his more salacious work like “Right Round” or Cee-Lo Green’s Smeezingtons-produced “Fuck You” (otherwise known as “Forget You”) under the radar. Would you curse out a girl (or forget her, whatever) as your first impression? Bruno wouldn’t!

He sounds like the best boyfriend ever. Taken, right?
Shockingly, he’s managed to keep his dating life out of the press. Bruno Mars has been linked online to dancer Chanel Malvar, but other than that, if he’s seeing someone, he’s kept it private. Maybe he’s on the market after all!

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