Every clean cut, down-the-middle pop superstar has an alter ego hiding just out of sight. In the case of Bruno Mars, we’ve gotten glimpses—this is a man, after all, who’s already had one high profile drug-possession bust and whose latest global smash-hit single is all about a girl’s vagina. But when he picks you up in his car just after midnight in Los Angeles, you never know where he’s going to take you next. Chris Heath goes for a ride with pop music’s biggest hitmaker:
“You know how hard it is to write a big song?” he says. “That shit is hard, man. It’s so hard to do. Might be one of the hardest things to ever do. I don’t ever want to come out with something safe and get away with ‘It sounds good!’ It’s got to be more than sounding good. The music I like are events. Fucking ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’is my favorite song—that song’s an event. And that’s what I want to do. I’m sure that shocked the world, that song. ‘Billie Jean’ shocked the world. ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ Those songs are events. That guy put everything he got into that, and he meant it.” Just like Mars did, he’s saying, for his latest songs. “It’s that unexplainable high. Why I keep doing it. That feeling that you keep on chasing and chasing. Because it’s nothing, man. It’s taking the air and turning it into something. That’s the feeling.”
Bruno Mars, who works with two partners as the songwriting-and-production team known by the name the Smeezingtons, is beginning to stake a claim as one of the most gifted songwriters of his generation. Among the highlights so far: the two biggest hits off his first album, “Grenade” and “Just the Way You Are”; the new “When I Was Your Man”; Cee Lo’s “Fuck You”; Lil Wayne’s “Mirror”; the pair of songs that started it all, B.o.B.’s “Nothin’ on You” and Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire”; and, of course, “Locked Out of Heaven.”
“That one shocked me. That it turned out the way it did. I haven’t done a song like that. And hopefully every album, I’ll get that feeling. And shock the world! Shock the world!”
You want to shock the world?
“Hell yeah! I’ve got nothing else to do.”