Bruno Mars: The Idolator Interview
Bruno Mars is the voice behind some of the biggest songs blasting on the radio this year (Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire” and B.o.B’s “Nothin’ On You”, for starters), and the 23-year old singer-songwriter just scored another instant hit with Cee-Lo Green’s NSFW step-off anthem, “Fuck You”, which he co-wrote. After dropping his EP It’s Better If You Don’t Understand earlier this year, the Hawaiian-born Mars is preparing to take the leap from featured artist to center stage performer with his debut full-length album Du-Wops & Hooligans, due October 5.
His single “Just The Way You Are” is currently sitting pretty at #9 on Billboard’s Hot 100, which doesn’t surprise us at all—it would shock us if any of Mars’ catchy melodies didn’t become an immediate success. Check out our exclusive interview with the stylish hitmaker below to find out his adoration for Elvis, his appreciation of Cee-Lo, and why he doesn’t mind throwing a few F-bombs around.
IDOLATOR: I just watched some clips from your solo show at New York’s Bowery Ballroom. You were awesome and the crowd was loving it!
BRUNO MARS: This is the reason I’m doing it. I’m comfortable on stage. I grew up doing the show stuff, performing live, band and talent shows, and all that. I had to get used to recording and writing songs as opposed to [performing live]. That’s the fun part for me.
As well as all the screaming girls?
That’s always a good bonus!
Tell me how you came up with the album title Doo-Wops & Hooligans.
I’m a big fan of doo-wop music, my album has a little bit of that influence, with the simplicity of it… you can listen to a thousand doo-wop songs, and it’s the same four chords. But it’s the message behind the song—its straight to the point and it’s beautiful. That’s what you call your girl, your “doo-wop.” I call my girlfriend my “doo-wop”! On this album, I have records that women are going to relate to and men are going to relate to. So doo-wops are for the girls, and hooligans are for the guys.
“I Think I Wanna Marry You”, which you debuted during your set at the Bowery, is classic doo-wop. How did that song come about?
That song came about just playing the chords, and I just freestyled “I think I wanna marry you!” and it felt good to say. It’s that feeling when you’re in Vegas, and you’ve had way too many drinks, and you love everybody, and you want to do something that you probably shouldn’t do and you’ll regret in the morning. We wanted to capture that feeling and put it in a song.
Do you have any crazy Vegas stories that may have inspired that song?
Yeah, I don’t wanna talk about that. [laughs]
During the same show, you also performed a very emotional, gutwrenching song called “Grenade.” How did that track come to life?
I was with my friend Benny Blanco [songwriter of hits like Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl” and Ke$ha’s “TiK ToK”] and he was playing me some songs, and he played me this song that had a lyric like [the one in “Grenade”]… he said, this band is not signed, this is a CD that wasn’t released. I said to Benny, I can relate to that so much, I want to take that and make it my own. He was in contact with the dude, and I started writing my version, basically. It’s a heartbreaking, heartbreak song, and I think everyone can relate to that. You’re so in love with this woman and you don’t understand, “ What am I doing wrong? What am I not giving to you? I’ll go as far as putting as putting a bullet in my brain for you, and why can’t I get that kind of love in return?”
“Grenade” (Live at the Bowery Ballroom)
Do you know if “Grenade” will be a single?
I hope so. That’s one of my favorite songs on the album, my personal favorite.
Between Cee-Lo’s “Fuck You” and Travie’s “Billionaire” (the album version of the song has you singing “I wanna be a billionaire so fucking bad”), you’re obviously not afraid of a few F-bombs. Should more pop artists be unafraid to throw around expletives in their songs?
You know what? I try not to use it [too often] because it could get corny. You’re just trying to raise the bar. It’s really just raw emotion and I want people to feel the emotion. I know I said it when I was performing in New York in the “Grenade” song, but that’s not even on the record – that was in the moment. The Cee-Lo song, it was just like, let’s be real. When you’re in love with a girl and you see her with another guy, what do you really wanna say? That’s the thing – we just gotta keep it real and not worry about the radio. Just worry about what we’re trying to say.
Was anyone involved in the production of these tracks on the fence about the racy language?
No. It just has to feel good to us. We have to feel good about it — we’ll worry about the politics of radio and the other stuff later. Our job is to make music, that’s what people signed us for, and that’s what they’re gonna get. Whether we put an F-bomb in there or say something too racy for radio, we’ll figure it out later. If that’s what feels right and natural, that’s what it’s gonna be.
You’re a big fan of Elvis Presley – you even played a Little Elvis impersonator in the 1992 movie Honeymoon in Vegas when you were six-years old! What is it about the King that inspires you?
Just the star that he was, that’s what I dig about Elvis so much. He was just an entity with confidence and swag . I’m a big fan of the young 1950s Elvis when he would just go onstage and control the whole environment. His aura… that goes for Prince and Michael Jackson, James Brown, too — they all have that same “You came to see me, and I’m gonna give you a show”, they all have that factor in their performance.
Who would you love to write a track for?
I really like Vampire Weekend, I’d love to get in the studio with them. Would love to get in the studio with Jack White… Kanye and Gucci Man and Soulja Boy! That’s what keeps us on our toes and having fun. One day we’ll be in the studio with Cee-Lo, the next day it’s Mike Posner. It’s all over the place.
Who are some of your favorite songwriters?
[Elvis songwriters] Lieber and Stoller, Smokey Robinson, Billy Joel, Elton John, The Beatles, John Legend, McCartney. The classics! I look up to the guys who did it the best! That’s a good question, no one ever asked me that!
Do you have any other producers working on Doo-Wops?
It’s just me! And the Smeezingtons. Everything that’s been on the radio, that’s how it’s been.
You’ve worked with so many artists over the years. What kind of advice have you received from them?
I learned from every single one of them… Cee-Lo proved without trying to teach me that basically you gotta do what you want for you to keep your sanity. You gotta say what you want to say, dress how you want… individuality. You want people to want to know you and know what you’re about and like you because of those things. And the things you’re saying in your lyrics, that has to come from your soul.
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