Bruno Mars redefines what it means to be a Latino man.
By Jesus Trivino Alarcon Photographs by John Russo
BRUNO MARS DOESN’T WALK; HE GLIDES.
It’s as if he’s perpetually ready to perform a Motown-style choreography set in front of tens of millions watching the Super Bowl (which he has done twice in the past four years)—even easing his way into a suburban L.A. pizza parlor, where moments earlier, his sexy, chart-topping 2012 hit, “Locked Out of Heaven,” was on blast, as if anticipating his appearance. Mars just has that aura. His outfit is straight Fania-era salsa/blaxploitation swag—Gucci cap over his curls; sunglasses; an open shirt, floral and teal; tan shorts; dress shoes (no socks, to accentuate those smooth legs); and minimal gold jewelry. He orders a plain slice, which he sprinkles with garlic powder, and a root beer. It’s obviously a joint he frequents, since he knows all the fellas by name, and the workers aren’t taken aback by the superstar in their midst. He walks to an open booth, wolfs down his food, controlling his urge to eat six more slices, he jokes, and proceeds to be the smoothest cat to ever have lunch at an old-school checkered-tablecloth pizzeria.
Mars learned about charm, confidence, and estilo early in life. “My whole sense of rhythm is because my dad was teaching me bongos as a kid,” he says of his father, Pedro Hernandez. “He’s an old-school working musician, so that’s where the pinky rings come from, the patent-leather shoes, the suits, and the pompadour. It all stems from watching my father. I remember at the time, me and my sisters would be a little embarrassed when he would take us to school in his big-ass Cadillac. No one had Cadillacs in Hawaii. But my dad would show up in some boat-looking Caddy wearing some silky shit, and we’d run out into the car as soon as possible. And here I am wearing the swap-meet gold, driving Cadillacs,” he says with a laugh.
Take one quick look at Mars’ recent music (the omnipresent Mark Ronson collaboration “Uptown Funk,” which amassed more than 2 billion YouTube views, the fourth-most ever, or his critically acclaimed 24K Magic) and his style (“pinky rings to the moon”), and it’s easy to see that his persona is not only inspired by his father but delivered as a conscious ode to Latino and African American masculinity. Brown and black men have long dealt with the stereotype of being hot-blooded, suave, savage animals lusting after anything with a pulse. Now Mars, 31, is embracing the Latin Lover archetype (if you’re not treating your girl right, we’re Mr. Steal Ya Girl) and giving anyone who’s offended a big middle finger. Mars’ dominance in pop culture takes on even greater resonance now, when the leader of the free world has called Latino men “rapists,” “drug dealers,” and “bad hombres.”
“I hate that we’re even having a conversation about injustice in America,” he says of the current climate of social unrest. “That we are having a conversation about this in 2017; the same conversation that’s been had decades and decades ago.”
Yet Bruno Mars doesn’t want to drown you with his wokeness; he just wants to make you shake what your mami gave you. The man is a musical genius—he writes, produces, sings, dances, plays instruments, and puts on arguably the best performances in the universe.