NEW YORK >> When Bruno Mars was in the studio crafting his upbeat, funky new album, he had a dress code: Wear your finest clothes and leave your sloppy sweatpants at the door.
He said dressing up set the mood so that he and his collaborators could write and produce groovy, smooth and soulful songs that make up “24K Magic,” his first album in four years.
“I made it a point: I’m showing up to the studio, we working, but I’m not showing up in sweats ’cause you’re going to get what sweats sounds like … so I’m going to wear every jewelry piece I collected, and my finest shoes, and write some songs,” Mars said. “It just helped keep the motion (going).”
His swag and style — a curly, miniature afro, silky Versace shirt, classic shorts, slick shoes and a studded pinky ring — match the sound of “24K Magic,” an epic ’90s R&B-inspired album that plays like a cohesive jam session. It was released Friday.
Mars, 31, said the album was inspired by his love for R&B acts like New Edition, Boyz II Men and Jodeci, as well as West Coast rap. Mars says the trendy sound that some of his peers have adopted — downbeat, alternative R&B — isn’t him.
“See, when I grew up you had to know how to dance, that was the whole thing. Everybody danced, thugs are dancing, the girls ain’t looking at you unless you’re dancing,” he said on a couch in the finely decorated and hip Atlantic Records office in New York.
“I remember having so much fun growing up going to functions and dancing, having a good time. People see me and my band do what we do, and I’m just trying to push that even now, more so on this album than the last two. It’s like, ‘We got to be moving’ — that’s it.”
“24K Magic” is Mars, yet again, crafting his own space in the pop music landscape: After debuting in 2010 as a co-writer, co-producer and guest singer on hits like “Nothin’ on You” and “Billionaire,” he became a solo star with his debut, “Doo-Wops & Hooligans,” and its follow-up, 2012’s “Unorthodox Jukebox.” He won Grammys for both multiplatinum albums.
They helped him headline the 2014 Super Bowl — an accomplishment no other artist has achieved so early in their career — and the success of last year’s “Uptown Funk” brought him to the big game for a second time in February.
“What’s really helped us — and I don’t think a lot of producers have the luxury of, have the privilege of — is being able to be in the studio recording an album and then going out and performing it,” said Philip Lawrence, who performs in Mars’ band and has co-written and co-produced with the pop star since he became a household name.
“We got two different vantage points: We got the sitting in the studio laboring over songs for hours and days and weeks, and then we get to take whatever that energy is and put it in front of people.
And when you do that it gives you the opportunity to see what works, what doesn’t work, what could be better, what could be improved on.”
Mars’ dance routines have gotten attention because they are slick, hip and, at times, hilarious. He started working with Phil Tayag of the hip-hop dance crew Jabbawockeez for “Uptown Funk” and continued to work with the dancer for his latest project and tour (“The 24K Magic World Tour” kicks off in March, and Mars will open today’s American Music Awards in Los Angeles).
“We’d link up and just start moving and see who could make each other laugh first,” Mars said of the choreography.
That was also the mood he had in the studio while writing his new album: “If we can make each other laugh, that should mean something.”
The only guest on the album is Halle Berry, whose voice appears on the irresistibly smooth “Calling All My Lovelies.” R&B icon Babyface co-wrote the closing track, the slow groove “Too Good to Say Goodbye,” and T-Pain co-wrote the catchy “Straight Up & Down,” which uses parts of the 1993 hit “Baby I’m Yours” by R&B group Shai.
Mars said when he first played his label the new music, they were hesitant about the sound.
“I remember the label was iffy when they heard it, and I was like, ‘Trust me, there’s a whole vision behind this,’” he said. “Thank God they trust me.”
Hardscrabble life revealed on ‘60 Minutes’
In the late 1990s a teenage Bruno Mars called a run-down building in Manoa Valley home.
Mars talks about his hardscrabble childhood in a taped interview on “60 Minutes,” which airs at 6 p.m. today on CBS.
Born Peter Hernandez, the 31-year-old music star was known as “Little Elvis” while performing as a tot with his family in Waikiki. His parents’ divorce left Mars living out of the back of a limousine and on random Honolulu rooftops with his father before they discovered the hideout at the Paradise Park bird zoo.
“The bed would be right there in the middle,” Mars tells “60 Minutes” reporter Lara Logan in a segment filmed in Manoa. “We had each other, and it never felt like it was the end of the world.”
Mars also said the experience helped instill a sense of determination to succeed as a recording artist.
“Maybe that’s why I have this mentality,” he said. “I know I’m going to figure … it out, just give me some time.”
— Jason Genegabus, Star-Advertiser