This year's charts would be a dismal place if it wasn't for Bruno Mars. The pop star, 25, has owned the Billboard Hot 100 with his hooks on B.o.B.'s "Nothin' On You," Travie McCoy's "Billionaire" and "F--k You" by Cee Lo, not to mention his own No. 1, "Just The Way You Are" (off his Top Ten debut disc, Doo-Wops and Hooligans).
I recently caught up with the sensation to discuss his big ascent, big songs and a possible big collaboration with Justin Bieber.
UsMagazine.com: This year was your year! Do you see yourself as an overnight success story?
Bruno Mars: I moved out to California when I was 18-years-old, and I got signed at a very young age without really knowing how this business works. I had never recorded a song, never written a song, never produced a song before, and that was the problem. I got signed a little too young, and I personally think I wasn't ready yet. If you'd have asked me if I was ready then, I would have said, 'absolutely!' But I’m glad that it took this long because throughout the process, I learned how to compose a song and put a song together. Instead of walking into a label and saying, 'hey, I can sing. I'm pretty good,' I walked into the label like, 'I got some songs. Check 'em out!'
US: In your opinion, what distinguishes you from other artists on the radio, such as Jazon Mraz?
BM: I don't know! I don’t know how to describe it. My EP is titled It's Better If You Don't Understand, which is fitting because I don't understand what my sound is. I just know that I'm a songwriter -- I sit down in the studio with my guitar or play the piano, and I just write a song. So whether it calls for a hip-hop beat like "Nothin' On You" or the reggae beat on "Billionaire," it's just what I do, man.
US: What influences did you grow up with?
BM: Doo-wop music is a huge influence on me. My father was originally from Brooklyn, and he put me on to doo-wop from a very young age. He could play four chords for you and sing 1,000 different doo-wop songs. I think I pull a lot from that as far as my writing is concerned, style-wise because those songs are really simple. It's just really about trying to capture the emotion in what you're saying, and I really take that seriously when I'm recording.
US: Your songs are very romantic. Do you worry about being characterized as too gushy?
BM: I have a romantic side, but if you come see a show, we're rocking out. But no, I don't mind being the gushy dude.
US: That's sort of your thing right now. What kind of things have inspired your romantic lyrics?
BM: It comes from a beautiful lady who I'm actually sitting next to right now.
US: How long have you been together?
BM: We've been together for awhile. She's been the one throughout the whole thing. She hates to admit it, but these songs are about her.
US: Cee Lo's "F--k You" was one of the biggest songs of the year. How did that happen?
BM: Well, Cee Lo is one of those artists who says whatever it is that he wants to say. And what do you really want to say to a girl who leaves you for a guy with more money? Do you want to say 'good luck? Have fun in life?' No. You want to say, 'fuck you!' And if anyone's going to do it, it's going to be Cee-Lo.
US: Were you surprised that that song became such a mega hit?
BM: You never know what's going to happen when you write a song. All we can do is just have a feeling in the studio -- the feeling that you want to listen to it over and over, and you can't believe you had something to do with creating it. When you have that feeling, that's the only thing worth working on. You never know whether people are going to love it or hate it but we were definitely in love at the studio.
US: Is there anyone else on the scene right now that you look up to?
BM: I really like Alicia Keys. I think she's really sustained a great, respectable career, and she puts out great music, great albums, and isn't a tabloid darling. She's just respected for music, and she's incredible live.
US: What's next? Are you going on tour?
BM: World domination is what's next! (laughs) The goal is to transform our songs and bring them alive on stage. I'm doing a bunch of tours -- with Maroon 5, with Travie McCoy in the UK. I've also got some headlining things I'm doing. The moon is next!
Us: Is it true that, as a kid, you were featured as Little Elvis in Honeymoon in Vegas?
BM: Of course you read that! Yeah, man, that was the start. My dad had a 1950s rock and roll show in Hawaii, and we used to do a Vegas-style show. One day he brought me up on stage and I did an Elvis song. I started pelvic thrusting at a very young age!
US: You've gotten to meet so many people! What would you say has been the biggest celebrity encounter so far?
BM: When you're walking through the VMAs, you kinda see them all! Justin Bieber hollered at me at the VMAs, and that was pretty huge. He was just sitting next to Will Smith's son. I didn't know he was there and he was just like, 'yo, when we workin'?' Then he took a drag of a cigarette, and I'm like, 'yo, Bieber, calm down!' (laughs) No, I'm kidding.
US: What do you think of the whole Bieber phenomenon? Do you think it's justified?
BM: The world needs pop stars like New Kids on the Block or *NSYNC. I grew up on New Edition. I'm not mad at Justin Bieber at all.