Bruno Mars traces swagger to Elvis stint in Läie
By Dave Dondoneau
Nearly 20 years after Bruno Mars performed as "Little Elvis" at the Polynesian Cultural Center, the former Peter Hernandez is still channeling his inner Elvis — and his career is reaching new heights because of it.
"My music may not exactly sound like his, but I grew up idolizing him, and I think I'm kind of a throwback to that era,"Mars said in a recent phone interview from Los Angeles. "Being Little Elvis was incredible for me. Following him taught me so much about showmanship and swagger. He'd get up on stage and just rock the place. I try to capture that feel when I perform."
Mars, 23, is making his own name in the music business, too. His first solo EP "It's Better If You Don't Understand" was released Tuesday on iTunes, and he's already featured on B.o.B's Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 single "Nothin' on You."That song will most likely be dethroned in the near future by Travie McCoy's quick-rising "Billionaire," also featuring Mars' sweet voice.
And it's only getting better and bigger for the 2003 Roosevelt High grad.
When the 2010 FIFA World Cup kicks off June 11 in South Africa, K'naan's "Wavin' Flag" will be the tournament's official anthem. Mars, with The Smeezingtons partner Phillip Lawrence, is credited with writing and producing the catchy tune. Their songwriting credits also include Flo Rida's "Right Round"and Matisyahu's "One Day," which was the official anthem for the Winter Olympics earlier this year.
Mars is eager to see the reception "Wavin' Flag" gets in the United States, largely because it's the first song The Smeezingtons produced two years ago.
"It's already the No. 1 single in Germany," Mars said. "K'naan really gave us a break when we needed it. He was the first guy we produced for, and he came in with an open heart. We were real newbies. He didn't know who we were. He was a new artist with a lot to offer, but he stuck with us and we just worked and worked together.
" 'Wavin' Flag' is our one song together, and now it will be the 2010 theme for the World Cup. That's something. We just had a meeting with Coca-Cola about how they're going to be promoting it. Two years after we did it, it's finally seeing some light — some huge, multi-million-dollar light."
While it seems like Mars has skyrocketed to success, he says the climb hasn't been easy. He left for Los Angeles at age 17 and had to fight through some rough patches that included scrambling to pay bills and being homesick.
"I had to put in my time," Mars said. "I left four sisters, my parents, aunties and uncles all behind on O'ahu, but I knew I was coming to L.A. for a purpose. As a producer and writer I'd write a song and say 'dang, I wish I could keep that one for me,' but you have bills to pay, so you do what you have to do. You just wait for the day when somebody will say 'Bruno, you're ready.' "
Nowadays, Mars seems to have the "it" factor: a fresh sound with talent to produce, write and sing; a collaborator turned solo artist.
While he writes and produces everything from rap to R&B, he describes his own music as having more of a doo-wop feel to it.
"I think simple songs are home runs," he said. "You can get your point across with beautiful melodies and simple concepts.It's what The Beatles and Elvis did. As a solo artist, I think my music leans more toward a throwback feel than some of the songs I produce.
"It's been great, but I haven't changed. I live a very humble life. Now that I'm a solo artist, I'd love to get play in Hawaii more often."