NEW YORK — Bruno Mars should be having the best week ever: He has the No. 1 song in America, his debut album, “Doo-Wops & Hooligans,” was released this week and his 25th birthday was on Friday.
But while the singer-songwriter-producer has much to smile about, at the same time, his success is being tainted by a recent felony charge.
Mars was arrested last month for allegedly possessing 2.6 grams of cocaine at the Hard Rock Hotel. He’s due in court Nov. 18, and if convicted, he faces up to four years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
But some industry experts believe the drug charge won’t do much harm to the singer’s rising career.
“I don’t think he meant it to come off that way, but his recent arrest shows that he has a little bit of edge I suppose,” said Craig Marks, the editor of Billboard.
Marks said the arrest might have the unintended effect of introducing Mars to a wider celebrity audience than he would have enjoyed before.
“It’s not the best kind of publicity, and hopefully it doesn’t really indicate some kind of deeper problem,” Marks said, “but the fact is that I don’t think it will harm his following.”
The drug charge for the talented musician comes as a surprise. Though a newcomer, the image Mars built was an easygoing, wholesome one.
He’s the man with the cooing falsetto and guitar grooves, behind the scene and in front of it. He sang on, co-wrote and co-produced two of the year’s biggest songs: Travie McCoy’s jam “Billionaire” and B.o.B’s No. 1 rap groove “Nothin’ on You.” And Mars’ own single, the pop tune “Just the Way You Are,” is spending its third week on top of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
“He’s got a good mix of R&B and pop styles, which is very ‘right’ right now,” Marks said.
Mars is one-third of the production trio the Smeezingtons, which includes Philip Lawrence and Ari Levine. Mars said they put together “Nothin’ on You” and “Billionaire” in a single day. The Smeezingtons also have produced international hits such as Flo Rida’s “Right Round,” K’Naan’s “Wavin’ Flag” and Cee Lo’s “(Expletive) You!” And they’ve penned tunes for Justin Bieber, Brandy, Matisyahu, Mike Posner and Sean Kingston, among others.
They met in Los Angeles, where Mars moved in 2002 after graduating from high school in Hawaii.
Mars’ mother, from the Philippines, and his father, of Puerto Rican descent, met in Hawaii. Mars said he has been singing professionally since the age of 6 and credits the island with helping him discover his musical talents.
“I was real lucky because I come from a real musical family and Hawaii’s already so musical, like everybody already plays instruments, everybody’s already singing,” he said. “You have your Top 40 radio so you can get your hip-hop and your R&B, but then you get this other stuff, this cool folk music, these really beautiful songs on ukulele and acoustic, and (I) just grew up with a lot of (that).”
When Mars started writing for “Doo-Wops & Hooligans,” he focused on creating songs that would translate during live performances, drawing inspiration from Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and Prince.
“I like watching rock stars, people that come up on stage and do their thing. Even Tupac. That’s what I idolized,” said Mars, who is currently on the road with Maroon 5 and OneRepublic (his own tour kicks off in November).
He found creating songs for his own album somewhat complicated.
“It’s easier for me to do it for someone else, and that’s kind of a curse. Because sometimes we’ll whip up something so fast (and) it’s great, and then we’ll over-think my project,” he said.
“This is my product, this is my first album, and now I got to compete with songs I’m featured on,” he added.
But Marks said Mars’ behind-the-scenes role is aiding in his massive success.
“I think his background as a producer and a writer gives him a really solid grounding. He’s gotten on people’s radars in a sort of secondary role. … I think that’s a pretty smart way to build a brand and build an audience right now.”
McCoy, whose Mars-assisted “Billionaire” helped him establish a solo career outside of Gym Class Heroes, said Mars is an artist who has the “it factor.”
“Now it’s his turn to get out there and shine. He’s definitely going to be that dude this year that everybody’s going to be calling to do hooks for,” McCoy said.