A solid 10 years after Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s infamous Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction, the halftime performance at Sunday’s Super Bowl match-up between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos is going in a decidedly less controversial direction. Bruno Mars, the 28-year-old singer and 2013 Billboard artist of the year, is a safe, good-natured pick for the show (and throwing in the Red Hot Chili Peppers means your dad will probably want to watch, too).
So who is Bruno Mars? The singer-songwriter and producer was born Peter Gene Hernandez in Honolulu, Hawaii, where his late mother immigrated from the Philipines as a child. She met his father, a half-Puerto Rican and half Jewish-transplant to Hawaii from Brooklyn, while performing in a show (she as a hula dancer, he as a percussionist; the Vows column basically writes itself). Their son was nicknamed Bruno for his young resemblance to wrestler Bruno Sammartino, and he later added ‘Mars’ to his stage name. The rest, as they say, is Top 40 history.
Mars’ father is of Hungarian and Ukrainian descent, and on the Ukrainian side there was a one-time Hebrew teacher who came to America via Galveston, Texas. While Mars is hardly in Drake territory when it comes to embracing his Jewish heritage, he doesn’t shy away from it either. (Plus his song “Marry You” inspired this adorably over-the-top marriage proposal video.) All of which makes the title of his newest album, Unorthodox Jukebox, a bit more interesting.
Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.