This week's madness surrounding the ticket sales for Bruno Mars' performance in Tel Aviv's Park HaYarkon on October 4 is a sensation that is rarely if ever, witnessed in Israel.
Israel has seen major stars fill its largest venues in the past. Michael Jackson performed at HaYarkon Park twice in a row in 1993, and Madonna, who visited Israel for the first time in the 90s, also managed to fill the park twice.
There is no doubt we all have a lot of respect for Mars, but comparing him to Madonna and Michael Jackson leaves us wondering how he got here - What is it exactly that justifies the excitement of the Israeli audiences?
Mars is considered one of the most successful singers in the world, largely because he has been present and active for over a decade, and because he manages to evolve and diversify, establishing his retro-vintage tunes that sound innovative and refreshing.
His versatility is his thing - Since 2010, he has reached the Israeli charts with his soulful ballads, party anthems, and extremely catchy songs. On top of that, he doesn't keep all his talent to himself and is generous in his collaborations, with a list including artists Cardi B, Mark Ronson, and Anderson .Paak. In his musical journey, Mars succeeds where many others struggle, and constantly explores new fields as he matures. However, a glimpse into his biography reveals that he didn't really have much of a choice – Mars' path to musical success was paved for him from the beginning.
A Born Performer
Bruno Mars was born 37 years ago as Peter Gene Hernandez in Honolulu, Hawaii, to a half-Jewish Puerto Rican father with Ukrainian and Hungarian roots, and a Filipino mother of Spanish origins. The love for music runs through the veins of the Hernandez family and has played a significant role in all of their lives. From a young age, Mars was exposed to various musical genres, including rock 'n' roll, reggae, and later on, R&B and hip-hop. He began imitating the King of Rock 'n' Roll, Elvis Presley, at two years old, and by the age of four, was already taking performing on stage.
Young Mars was considered the youngest Elvis impersonator of his time and in a video documenting him singing "Heartbreak Hotel," his exceptional dancing and singing skills stand out, alongside his charming charisma. Elvis was the young boy's role model as he grew into adolescence, and when he finished high school, he left Hawaii for Los Angeles to launch his music career.
The beginning was not easy. Mars was initially signed with various record labels that couldn't quite elevate his talent to commercial success, and for years he worked but didn't receive recognition. A producer and songwriter named Philip Lawrence recognized his immense potential and plucked him from one record company to another, with the aim of exposing his great talent to the world. Lawrence took a gamble on Bruno Mars when he still had nothing - not even five dollars for a bus ride. They worked together for many years, with Lawrence dancing and singing alongside Mars for a substantial part of their shared career.
Before Mars became a musical sensation of his own, he used to write and produce songs for various artists, including the British pop band Sugababes, rapper Flo Rida, Sean Kingston, and Brandy. He even co-wrote the songs "Fuck You" by Cee Lo Green and "One Day" by Matisyahu. However, his first two big hits that established him as a star were "Nothin' on You," an R&B song from 2009 with retro touches performed with rapper B.o.B, and "Billionaire" from 2010 with rapper Travie McCoy.
A hopeless romantic and passionate lover, but also a naughty party animal
To some extent, the two hits that launched the singer's career perfectly represent his personal traits he has become most associated with. On the one hand, there is the romantic Bruno Mars - the king of ballads who would do anything for love, exemplified in songs such as "Grenade," "It Will Rain," and "When I Was Your Man." Alongside the heartbreak, there is, of course, Bruno Mars - the ultimate lover, who shines through in songs like "Versace on the Floor," with captivating, seductive lyrics.
Mars has another side to him - the naughty guy who doesn't take anything too seriously, and just wants to have a good time, as seen in his song "Treasure." He's very relatable, and speaks about self-love in a humorous and uplifting way in "Uptown Funk," and sometimes, like all of us, he just doesn't feel like doing anything - as he describes in "The Lazy Song."
And for the cherry on top, Mars is also an outstanding dancer. Despite being only 1.65 m (~5'4") tall, his presence and swag dominate the huge stages. It's evident that he learned from rock 'n' roll legends, and incorporates a lot of tributes and references to the great stars who came before him.
Two of the many notable achievements in his career were his Super Bowl performances. In 2014, he stole the show with his halftime performance, where he hosted the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who merged perfectly with his groovy sound. But when he returned for round two, two years later, with Coldplay, Mark Ronson, and Beyoncé, he brought something totally original to the stage as he dazzled it with vocal and impressive dance moves.
The recipe to Mar's uniqueness is his original take on pop. He takes a genre that tends to fall into trendy cliches, and delivers them in a skilled and colorful manner, with personal touches.
It's no surprise that Mars' latest collaboration with the esteemed musician Anderson .Paak, received widespread acclaim amongst critics and audiences worldwide. In this collaboration, Mars shines as both a performer and an artistic visionary. The lead single from the album, "Leave the Door Open," topped the charts and earned four Grammy Awards, adding to the eleven gold records Mars keeps at home.
What about Mars appeals to the Israeli audience?
Yes, Mars' talent is indisputable, but the extremely quick ticket sell-out surprised many. Despite the tremendous success the American singer enjoys, he is not intuitively included in the list of the biggest names in the industry today who dominate global stages in world tours, such as Harry Styles, Beyoncé, and Taylor Swift. It seems that the Israeli audience does not wait for these artists to decide to come to our shores, but rather plans vacations abroad based on their tour dates in Europe. Mars, apparently, falls under a different category - talented and relevant musicians who have been in the industry for a considerable time and manage to come out with timely hits on a regular basis. Although the Israeli audience doesn't flock to his concerts overseas, audiences here don't think twice before buying tickets to his concerts.
"While Harry Styles is just at the beginning of his journey, Bruno Mars has 15 hits that the Israeli audience knows from listening to the radio," explains Noi Alush, the Content Deputy Director of Live Nation, the company responsible for bringing Mars to Israel. "Every song on his setlist will be a sing-along with the crowd, that's what's amazing about this artist."
Mars is perceived as a high-quality artist, one with whom both mainstream fans and those who prefer alternative genres can connect.
According to Alush, Mars manages to appeal to three different audiences: a young audience thanks to "Silk Sonic" and some of his more trendy hits, an older audience ("who recognizes references to songs from the past, soul, R&B, and rock and roll"), and through social media, he also reaches the teenage audience when his songs go viral on TikTok. When Miley Cyrus came out with "Flowers," which was inspired by his song "When I Was Your Man," she actually gave new life to the decade-old hit and made it trendy again.
Social media platforms also play a role in the rush for tickets in Israel. "Concerts have become part of the entertainment culture," Alush says, "when you buy a ticket to an artist's concert, it is considered a status symbol. That's why everyone wants to be at the first show because then it goes up on Instagram and TikTok."
If we look at the performances at Park HaYarkon in recent years, we can say that the hype surrounding Mars is positioned somewhere between Maroon 5, who performed twice last summer, and Justin Bieber, who was expected to perform here last October but had to cancel his visit.
Bieber's recent success relies mainly on his public recognition (in the past year, he stopped performing and kept a low profile). Mars, on the other hand, continues to perform and maintain the status of an active artist. In return, he receives love and appreciation from a diverse audience, that is not moved by gossip columns.
In that sense, Mars is considered a major headliner for Israel, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the entertainment industry, and it has been years since we've seen big names coming to Israel on a regular basis. This year, HaYarkon Park will be packed with stars - Guns N' Roses and Robbie Williams who performed here in the past two weeks, rapper Travis Scott, who visited in the spring, and Imagine Dragons who will arrive here at the end of August. Bieber, Sam Smith, Celine Dion, and Post Malone were also scheduled to visit but canceled.
Among all the aforementioned excellent artists, in the context of the Israeli audience, Mars is undoubtedly the hottest name that the park has seen in recent years. The sell-out may have been perceived as a surprise to the average person, but not to those who have been following the star's development and success.