Bruno Mars: Billboard Artist of the Year Cover Story

Bruno Mars

Kai Z. Feng

Jukebox Hero: How did Bruno Mars become Billboard’s Artist of the Year? He grabbed hold of the album and single charts and never let go

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And there's also the fearless factor. In addition to the Smeezingtons, Mars personally asked such producers as Mark Ronson and Jeff Bhasker to collaborate with him. "It's not about what's hot on the radio or the fastest way to make a buck," Mars says. "These guys are fearless, doing the music they want to do."

While melody and lyrics are important, Mars remembers the biggest lesson he was taught when he started writing songs focused on rhythm: Does it make you move? Make you dance? Whether the song is up­tempo or a ballad, Mars says, "there has to be a heartbeat in back of it. There needs to be a pulse in the song."

Since kicking off the Moonshine Jungle tour in June-with opening acts including Ellie Goulding and Fitz & the Tantrums-Mars has been keeping audiences dancing in various arenas across North America through the summer. Then, following a performance at the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas on Sept. 21, he traveled to the United Kingdom and Europe for a two-month arena tour.

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Co-manager Creed says playing arenas was on the list of goals he and Williams Morris Endeavor music division partner John Marx had for this year after the groundwork had been laid in smaller venues on behalf of "Doo-Wops & Hooligans" -- which turned out to be underplays that worked to their advantage now. "We probably left a lot of tickets on the table with the first album," he says of opportunities offered then to play larger venues than theaters and ballrooms. "But it was so we could come bigger this time.

"Something happens when Bruno performs on TV and in concert," Creed continues. "Having poured himself into his songwriting, then singing and recording the songs, they flow through his veins-it's his pulse. And at the end of the day, that's what people want: a connection with someone speaking the words they wish they could say. And on the other side, Bruno and the band are having a blast onstage, so you can't not have a good time. It's an infectious environment, the show you can't miss."

Smeezingtons partner Lawrence adds, "There's nothing contrived about Bruno. He's a genuine person who's extremely passionate but also likes to be silly and cracks. And that's what sucks people into this special kind of energy. It harkens back to Earth Wind & Fire and Michael Jackson when people came to a show and got a show."

And that's exactly what made the NFL offer Mars the Super Bowl halftime slot. Compared with recent halftime headliners the Black Eyed Peas, Madonna and Beyonce, Mars has fewer years in the spotlight. But he matches them in live performance power, as the NFL's Sarah Moll and Tracy Perlman realized when they saw the Moonshine Jungle tour several times this summer.

"If you go to his concerts, it's 11-year-old girls to 65-year-old women-it's everyone," director of entertainment and TV programming Moll says. VP of entertainment marketing and promotions Perlman adds, "Our fans engage with music regardless of genre or gender, and people like Beyonce have helped us hit on all cylinders. We really feel we'll be able to do the same with Bruno this year."

Moll, who books the halftime performers, and the NFL's entertainment team started working with Mars and his management on the halftime set list around Thanksgiving week. They'll spend the remainder of 2013 mapping out the production and staging, not to mention the guest list. "He's got a few calls to make," Moll says, hinting that Mars' 12-minute set won't be an entirely solo affair.

In the meantime, Mars and his band have been "fooling around, having a blast" prepping for the high-profile gig at the outdoor MetLife Stadium during tour sound checks. "But being from Hawaii, me and the cold don't really speak that often," he says with a shudder. "And everyone is saying there's going to be a blizzard. So how do you rehearse for that? Go perform in meat lockers?"

When the Moonshine Jungle tour picks up again in late February, fans can expect some tweaking of the set list and opening acts. For now, however, Mars is reveling in being a rolling stone without a schedule. He's been catching up on concerts (Beyonce's Dec. 3 show at Staples), eating ice cream and getting into "American Horror Story" on Fox ("Angela Bassett and Kathy Bates are killing it").

As for his next studio album, Mars says his "in" box is empty right now. "There's going to be a point on the tour where I'll wish I had a new song or 10 more songs to sing. That's when the excitement comes back and you start working that muscle, ready to get back into the studio.

"But I'm good right now," he hastens to add. "If you put me in the studio, I don't know what I'd come up with, because I'm so enjoying this moment right now."

Additional reporting by Andrew Hampp in New York.