Mission to Mars

Written by Jason P. Woodbury Category: Arts Issue: November 2017
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Bruno Mars’ Funky Forefather

Honolulu-raised Peter Gene Hernandez, better known by his stage name Bruno Mars, got his start behind the production board. But you’d be forgiven for assuming he emerged fully formed on the main stage like a pop culture Athena from Zeus’ head. Early on, his production team crafted hits for CeeLo Green and Flo Rida, but it was solo records like 2010’s Doo-Wops & Hooligans that made him an instant pop icon. Blending R&B, pop, funk and hip-hop, Mars is a master of synthesis, always quick to shout out his inspirations. Here, five of the most integral influences on his 24K Magic sound, which comes to Talking Stick Resort Arena on November 5.

Elvis Presley
As a kid in Hawaii, Mars performed as an Elvis impersonator, mimicking the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s trademark dance moves and sporting a pint-size glittery jumpsuit. Search “World’s Youngest Elvis Impersonator” on YouTube for a taste of his Presley persona.  

James Brown
When Bruno sings, “I’m a dangerous man/With some money in my pocket” on “24K Magic,” it’s easy to hear echoes of soul king James Brown. On his jam “Perm,” he evokes Brown even more explicitly, employing a Brown-style rasp over a crisp backbeat.

The Police
Mars’ 2012 hit “Locked Out of Heaven” bears an unmistakable resemblance to the new wave, reggae-inflected sound of the ‘80s trio featuring Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers. Mars’ impassioned yelp sounds straight out of the band’s ode to a lady of the night, “Roxanne.”

Michael Jackson
Though he’s often referred to as “the next Michael Jackson,” conspiracy-cracking website Snopes had to actually bust the fake news claim the King of Pop is Mars’ actual biological father – even if his smooth dance moves seem to indicate a genetic bond.

Prince
On his massive 2014 hit with producer Mark Ronson “Uptown Funk,” Mars channels the “Minneapolis sound” pioneered by The Time with Morris Day, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and the Purple One himself, Prince, demonstrating the kind of aggressive bounce that populates Prince’s early records.