An artist doesn’t just appear from the ether. By the time someone like Bruno Mars becomes popular, the music they’re creating has been shaped and influenced by countless elements from their past, and we can’t discount the role that race and culture have to play in someone’s upbringing. So what is Bruno Mars’ heritage and how has it affected who he is as a musician? Keep reading to find out.Bruno Mars is a highly talented and mega-rich pop star that has been playing music for over a decade. Considering he is one of the top-selling musicians of all time with consistent hit singles, there has been a lot of speculation about his family tree. He is one of few pop artists who appeal to just about everyone of every culture across the board.
Before he was Bruno Mars, Peter Gene Hernandez was the Elvis impersonator from Honolulu, Hawaii. Growing up he came from a musical family who performed together on stage as a family. His father, who is half Puerto Rican half Ashkenazi Jewish had a big influence on music Mars listened to. He is said to have listened to many classic rock artists as well as R&B and jazz. His mother emigrated from the Philippines to Hawaii. Over the years many have speculated whether or not Mars may or may not be black. These days in this political climate, more people have been speaking up on the toxicity of racism in the United States. Mars is not only proud of where he came from but personally flaunts that in his music. However, some have accused the on social media for not being vocal enough about his heritage claiming that he plays up cultural ambiguity.
Mars is Accused of Cultural Appropriation
In early 2018, Mars was accused of cultural appropriation on the social media platform, Twitter. The artist even was the subject of a roundtable discussion online posted by Seren Sensei who is a writer post a video calling out Mars. The video was viewed up to 3 million times with many coming at the singer’s defense and some were agreeing with Sensei’s assessment of the singer. “Bruno Mars 100% is a cultural appropriator,” Sensei says in the video. “He is not black, at all, and he plays up his racial ambiguity to cross genres… because people have realized that they prefer their black music and their black culture from a non-black face… we have artists now that are much more willing to step into black genres.” Sensei said Mars has incorporated jazz, funk, soul, reggae, and hip hop into his music, which is not necessarily genres he can appropriate since they are all genres popularized by historically black artists. Considering he was using this to influence his songs sent the internet into a tailspin. “What Bruno Mars does, is he takes pre-existing work and he just completely, word-for-word recreates it, extrapolates it,” Sensei added. “He does not create it, he does not improve upon it, he does not make it better. He’s a karaoke singer, he’s a wedding singer, he’s the person you hire to do Michael Jackson and Prince covers. Yet Bruno Mars has an Album of the Year Grammy and Prince never won an Album of the Year Grammy.” One Twitter user agreed with Sensei writing “Yeah, she makes a valid point about the appropriation of Blackness and how it is now lucrative rather than taboo. Bruno Mars as an example is an awkward one because he has paid homage but that doesn’t discredit that he can still benefit from the ambiguity,”
Defending the Singer
While many agreed with Sensei some came to the defense of Mars including R&B singer Charlie Wilson who Mars was accused of copying in the discussion. Charlie Wilson wrote on the social media site that the singer is credited for popularizing that old school R&B sound that has been missing for too long. Considering he was the vocalist of one of the singer’s favorite bands, The Gap Band his support was a huge turning point in the backlash Mars experienced at the time due to the controversial video. He praised the singer’s album “24 Magic” which was released to critical acclaim. “Bruno’s songs on this album are original and no different from any other artist pulling inspiration from genres before him,” Wilson wrote on Twitter. Another avid supporter of Mars was Black Lives Matter activist and writer Shaun King. “I just want to be practical here. Are people saying that Bruno Mars shouldn’t sing? Or that when he sings he needs to somehow whiten that s- — up and sound more like Rod Stewart,” he Tweeted. “I’m dead serious. What type of music is this man “allowed” to do?”Mars told Latina magazine that although his music does take elements from different genres of music but only does it as an admirer of the different genres. “When you say ‘Black music,’ understand that you are talking about rock, jazz, R&B, reggae, funk, doo-wop, hip-hop, and Motown,” he told the magazine. ”Black people created it all. Being Puerto Rican, even salsa music stems back to the Motherland [Africa]. So, in my world, Black music means everything. It’s what gives America its swag. I’m a child raised in the ’90s,” he continued. Pop music was heavily rooted in R&B from Whitney, Diddy, Dr. Dre, Boyz II Men, Aaliyah, TLC, Babyface, New Edition, Michael, and so much more … I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for these artists who inspired me.”Some music critics also jumped at the chance to defend the star. Marjua Estevez of Vibe wrote “in no room is Bruno Mars a white person. Given his Puerto Rican and Filipino ancestry — both of which have African roots… one could argue Bruno’s artistry pulls from intrinsic knowledge and influence,” as a comment on the backlash. Stereo Williams of Billboard magazine wrote, “Sensei’s take is ahistorical, in that she presupposes that appropriation is now more prevalent and prominent than ever. White folks making Black music is not a new phenomenon.”Mars took to his Twitter to get the NFL to incorporate more black artists into their roster of performers. The star said on the platform he believes the NFL should consider adding Atlanta native artists like Lil John, Outkast, and Gucci Mane after the NFL announced that the Superbowl would be held in Atlanta. “@NFL you have the opportunity to celebrate incredible Hip Hop Artist from Atlanta next year,” he wrote. The year the Superbowl was in Atlanta, Maroon 5 performed with Big Boi and Travis Scott as guest performers. Race can be a complicated thing, and navigating your lane can be especially difficult if you’re a person of color who isn’t necessarily black. But regardless of wherever Mars’ influences come from, he’s proven himself to be thoughtful and conscientious about racial representation. He also is an amazing performer who can not only dance but is extremely gifted musically. He can completely energize and brings positivity to so many people. And he demonstrates that Puerto Ricans and other islanders have a whole lot to offer the music industry. Considering where he is from, there is certainly a place for everyone to universally just enjoy the music. Sources:https://apnews.com/article/6c9e4f4f6167476aa2dfc924189140b2https://www.nme.com/news/music/bruno-mars-accused-cultural-appropriation-2261789https://www.latinousa.org/2017/02/01/no-bruno-mars-didnt-change-name-hide-latino-roots/