Peter Gene Hernandez is one of the most famous and prolific members of the current batch of male pop stars. Better known as Bruno Mars, Hernandez will bring his Moonshine Jungle Tour to Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on Saturday.
His career as a performer, songwriter and producer has skyrocketed in the past five years.
For many, the 28-year-old Mars first came to pop music and culture prominence with Just the Way You Are, the lead single from his 2010 debut album Doo-Wops & Hooligans. The song is an unabashed sweet, R&B flavored pop song with a rising melody that explodes into a huge chorus.
While some folks who have done some living, loving and losing may find the tune’s simplistic romantic declarations of love and admiration of a paramour’s inherent perfection a bit corny, it struck a big chord with listeners, particularly with young women always ready for a catchy, positive, uplifting anthem.
Mars continued wooing listeners with another declaration of love in Grenade (“I’d catch a grenade for you, Throw my hand on a blade for you”). He and his partners in the production team The Smeezingtons (Philip Lawrence and Ari Levine) write and produce catchy tunes that coupled with his smooth, ethnically ambiguous good looks (his gene pool includes strains of Puerto Rican, Filipino, Ukrainian-Hungarian Jewish, Spanish and other ethnicities) and three-octave tenor vocal range, which he expertly uses to convey urgency and emotion, started his rise as an eclectic pop star.
But before he was playing Super Bowl halftime shows, Mars and The Smeezingtons were already in demand having written/produced hits for other artists including B.o.B.’s No. 1 single Nothin’ on You, (featuring Mars), emcee/singer/professional weirdo CeeLo Green’s No. 2 single Forget You, African rapper K’naan’s Wavin’ Flag, better known as the theme song for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and rap super-duo Bad Meets Evil’s top 5 rap tune Lighters (also featuring Mars).
The Smeezingtons have garnered several Grammy nominations including producer of the year, nonclassical in 2012.
But more recently, Mars has said he is no longer interested in selling his songs, instead focusing on his own music. His 2012 album and current reason for touring, Unorthodox Jukebox, continues his and The Smeezingtons’ popular contemporary retro songwriting and production style, mixing their influences which include classic rockers and R&B artists such as Led Zeppelin, The Police and Jackie Wilson alongside more contemporary production teams such as The Neptunes.
The double platinum-selling album is a concise and eclectic 10-song collection floating by in 35 minutes. It has singles such as The Police inspired Locked Out of Heaven, which uses “old-school” techniques such as a live bass and drums, that garnered Mars his third chart-topping single.
Other songs from the album include the spare piano ballad When I Was Your Man — nominated for best pop solo performance at the most recent Grammy’s — Show Me, a reggae tune built on a classic dub/dancehall groove, the blatantly retro early ’80s R&B tune Treasure (more live bass!) and an old-school soul ballad If I Knew, clearly modeled on Sam Cooke and Lou Rawls’ classic harmonies and call-and-response from Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come.
But Mars also sets aside his sweet romanticism for some relatively darker tunes such as the rough sex touting Gorilla, and the bitter revenge fantasy of Natalie and the can’t-trust-these-women-tune Money Makes Her Smile, garnering him a bit of critical backlash.
Nevertheless, the album was a huge hit and now Mars is on the road impressing fans and critics with a taut, 16-song, up-tempo and uplifting 95-minute Moonshine Jungle set. He is assisted by his multi-talented octet, The Hooligans, which include his younger brother and drummer Eric Hernandez, Smeezington partner Lawrence and a horn section — which in yet another nod to the old-school revues of artists such as James Brown — spend much of the show playing, performing elaborate choreographed dance moves and singing alongside the concert’s star attraction.
Mars shows his musical versatility Prince-style by switching from guitar to piano and even taking a drum solo.
He is a prime example of a 21st century pop star. He’s no controversial bad boy, and despite a 2010 cocaine bust which was later dismissed, he mostly stays off of the TMZ radar.
Mars also realizes that a cross-generational appeal is probably the surest way in these download-chew-em-up-and-spit-em-out music consumer times to ensure he hangs around for several years making music that both grown folks and their kids can enjoy.
By Malcolm X Abram - Akron Beacon Journal (MCT)
©2014 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
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