If one male artist can claim to be on top of the world, it’s Bruno Mars. Over seven years, the diminutive, Hawai’i-born Filipinorican has pumped out hit after hit after, with absolutely no sign of letting up. He’s headlined the Super Bowl halftime show twice, sold over a hundred million records, and cracked YouTube’s top five most viewed videos with Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk”.
But even after so much success, the little brown dude with the slick moves continues to confound folks who can’t wrap their minds around a non-white musician who doesn’t wear a pre-packaged ethnic label on his sleeve. It’s an understandable position to stake out in an entertainment industry so eager to silo artists into easily marketable categories, but it’s also irked a whole lot of Latinos who feel like Peter Gene Hernandez should be reppin’ for su gente on the world’s biggest stages.
So, in a recent interview with Latina Magazine, it seems Bruno Mars was ready to set the record straight once and for all. Responding to a question from Latina entertainment editor Jesus Trivino Alarcon, Hernandez unleashed a passionate, profanity-inflected tirade that left no doubt how personal this issue is for him.
“I never once said I changed my last name to hide the fact that I’m Puerto Rican. Why would I fucking say that? Who are you fooling? And why would anyone say that? That’s so insulting to me, to my family. That’s ridiculous. My last name is Hernandez. My father’s name is Pedrito Hernandez, and he’s a Puerto Rican pimp. There’s no denying that.”
Hernandez goes on to explain the origins of his artistic alter ego: “Bruno” was a nickname his father gave him from a young age, while “Mars” was simply a playful add-on with some metaphorical resonance. And in case anyone thought his style was a shallow re-appropriation of throwback black and Latino swagger, he makes it clear that papa Pedrito was the one who really influenced his papi chulo flow:
“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… 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.”
Indeed, it may be hard to appreciate given the singer-songwriter’s carefully crafted mass appeal, but Bruno Mars is very much a Latino artist – though he’s also much more than that. So maybe when we look back on Peter Gene Hernández’s astronomical rise to the top of international pop culture, we’ll remember him as the first proud Latino artist to make it while sticking up a big middle finger to the industry’s cynical labels game.