Life on Mars

By Rob Tannenbaum Photography by Tony Kelly , Illustration by Jennifer Ryan Jones

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Meet 26-year-old musical phenom Bruno Mars, if you haven’t already. Inspired by Motown, reggae and doo-wop, Mars was the best-selling artist worldwide by digital single sales last year. So, Bruno.…

Q: You grew up in Hawaii, where, if The Descendants is to be believed, every guy dresses badly.

A: Don’t hate on those Hawaiian shirts, man. I’m telling you, those are the most comfortable shirts in the world. When I’m 50 I’m gonna be wearing them every day.

Q: It seems as though your dad had a big influence on your style.

A: Yeah. My dad’s from Brooklyn, and he was a slick dude. Always had his hair done right and some jewelry. Because he was in show business—my mom was a hula dancer and she met him at a show where he was playing percussion—he’d wear flashy suits and patent leather shoes. In elementary school, it was weird. He’d drop me off at eight o’clock in the morning wearing a denim jacket with studs on it. All the kids would be like, “What’s up with your dad?” But that’s what I’m gonna be doing when I drop my kids off—I’ll be wearing a jumpsuit.

Q: You were raised knowing about old-school entertainers, it seems.

A: Absolutely. Growing up in the showbiz world, I looked up to those guys: Frank Sinatra and of course Elvis Presley. My dad was into the 1950s doo-wop era. If you look at those groups, or at James Brown, Jackie Wilson and the Temptations in the 1960s, you’ll see you had to be sharp onstage.

Q: If you could work with any musician, living or dead, who would it be?

A: Jimi Hendrix. I think he’s the greatest guitar player in the world, and I would want to see him do his thing in person. He’s the reason I picked up a guitar in the first place.

Q: You were nominated for an NAACP award. What do you think the organization sees in you?

A: Awesomeness! Don’t you see that? Oh man, I’m hoping they recognize hard work, and being a part of modern music.

Q: But your music isn’t strictly modern.

A: Right. My album is called Doo-Wops & Hooligans, but it’s not a 1950s “Earth Angel” sound like you hear in Grease-type movies. I could sing you a thousand and one doo-wop songs. I love the simplicity in that music. It’s not superpoetic, it’s just from the heart. Take my song “Just the Way You Are.” If you told me, “Bruno, write a song for your girlfriend and make her feel like the most special girl in the world,” that’s the song I would write.

Q: So did you write “Just the Way You Are” for a girlfriend?

A: I actually wrote that for my dog. Her name is Lisa. [laughs] I give my dogs human names—it’s weird.

Q: In “The Lazy Song” you talk about wearing a Snuggie. Have you ever worn one?

A: I did. The record label made some Bruno Mars Snuggies, and they gave me one. I threw it on and then immediately threw it off. [laughs] It feels weird because your ass is hanging out. It’s like wearing a backless dress.

Q: How do you know that? Have you ever worn a backless dress?

A: No, I’ve never worn a dress. A muumuu, maybe, but never a dress.


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