From Cereal To Super Bowl: The Evolution of Bruno Mars
The first paragraph of this post appears in the January 20th issue of Forbes Magazine.
When halftime rolls around at Super Bowl XLVIII, it’s safe to say Bruno Mars won’t be worried about the score. “Hawaii doesn’t have a team, so I bounce around,” says the Honolulu native. “I go for the underdog.” That term hardly describes Mars, who will play the halftime show in the tradition of Paul McCartney, U2, Michael Jackson, and other music legends. Mars is the first artist in ten years to headline before turning 30, but he’s already got two platinum albums and 14 past Grammy nominations (including one win), with 4 new ones this year. His best preparation for the upcoming performance at MetLife Stadium may have been hosting Saturday Night Live in 2012, despite having about as much experience with sketch comedy as Hawaii has with snow. Says Mars: “You gotta be fearless, man. … If I’m ever gonna sing in a blizzard, it may as well be at the Super Bowl.”
I first sat down with Bruno Mars three years ago, when he was probably still best known for “Billionaire,” his catchy collaboration with Travie McCoy. The song had sold 2 million copies in two months—and helped lift Mars’ own finances out of the place that inspired him to write the tune.
“I wouldn’t have to worry about, you know, ‘I can’t afford to get breakfast, so I’ll wait until lunchtime to eat,’” he said, explaining the song’s origins at his manager’s Hollywood Hills home. “If I was a billionaire, none of that would matter. I’d be eating diamond cereal.”
He’s still got a ways to go before he joins Oprah and Queen Elizabeth, but he’s a heck of a lot closer. His inclusion as the featured musician on this year’s 30 Under 30 list is just the latest in a long line of accolades that have helped transform him from a struggling songwriter into an international superstar.
“There’s diamonds in my cereal,” he now jokes. “24-carat Kellogg’s.”
Though Mars’ rise is largely the product of his talents as a singer and songwriter, it’s also the result of a carefully executed plan by the singer, his team and his label, Atlantic Records. Mars’ manager, Brandon Creed, laid out his strategy for FORBES back in 2011: build a fan base by “underplaying”—deliberately performing gigs at smaller, more intimate venues.
That year, Mars turned down multiple offers to open for famous pop artists on arena tours, instead opting to tour alongside fellow Atlantic artist (and 30 Under 30 member) Janelle Monae. The move may have limited his earnings in the short term—he has never cracked FORBES’ list of the world’s highest-paid musicians—but likely helped enable him to launch his current tour, a lucrative affair that has taken him to arenas around the world as a solo act.
Creed wasn’t Mars’ only prescient advisor. Lyor Cohen, Warner’s former recorded music chief, offered the following prediction for the young star: “The experience of going from obscurity to celebrity is going to make for a very rich and exciting new album.”
Indeed, Unorthodox Jukebox, released a little over a year ago, has enjoyed success on the same level as his debut, Doo-Wops & Hooligans, if not more. Mars’ latest effort was partly inspired by his last tour; now, it’s giving him enough material to fill up a solo show.
“I remember touring Doo-Wops & Hooligans, and I was like, ‘Man, the next time around, I want a song that feels like ‘Locked out of Heaven,’” he says. “I feel like live instrumentation is such a big part of our tour and what we do. Maybe there was a void in that for me on the first album, and that’s why I kind of pushed it more on Unorthodox Jukebox.”
These days, life on the road once again has Mars thinking about new material.
“I’m already starting to get excited about going back in the studio and creating more, now that I’m out on the road and basically playing my entire catalogue,” he says. “I feel like there’s definitely some other creative places I haven’t journeyed into yet that I’d like to take the next album to.”
He’ll have to wait until at least the third quarter of the Super Bowl.
“Guys we’re here today, another show, another city. Don’t forget these people have been waiting in line all day to see a show tonight and let’s give it to em’. Let’s connect like a band, everybody watch each other. Guys.. I love you all, let’s do what we only know how to do and that is music. Amen.”