Michael Bublé Always Finds a Way – The New York Times


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Hustle, charm and a remarkable ability to slot himself into songs have made the musician a star — even though his style has never aligned with pop trends.
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Michael Bublé had a lot to share in the first five minutes of a recent video chat. He hates having to use the bathroom at a movie theater, because the idea of missing a crucial plot point is stressful. The creamy vegetable soup he apologized for eating on camera — not great. He also did not care for “The Matrix Resurrections,” the 2021 installment of the sci-fi franchise; that said, he loves Keanu Reeves, who lives on his street in Los Angeles. Though they’ve never met, every time Bublé and his family pass the actor’s house, they say, out loud, “Hi, Keanu.”
“He’s a Canadian, too,” the singer pointed out. “So there’s this giant urge to go, ‘Hey, we’re connected.’”
Bublé, who turned 46 last fall, has built his career off such immediate accessibility. Perhaps you’ve seen him on one of his televised Christmas specials, where he sings holiday songs alongside stars like Barbra Streisand, Jimmy Fallon and Kermit the Frog. Maybe you’ve watched his many appearances on “The View,” “The X Factor,” “30 Rock” or “Sesame Street,” or just about any talk show you can think of. The traditional showbiz entertainer is a disappearing breed, but Bublé, an exceptionally congenial singer who can seamlessly slot himself into any song, room or situation, is built in this classical mode.
Bublé is most famous for reinterpreting other people’s songs. His tastes draw from a deep pool of eras and genres: Dean Martin, Louis Prima, the Bee Gees, Nat King Cole, Justin Timberlake, the Drifters and many, many more. (He has, improbably, tackled the theme from the “Spider-Man” cartoon.) On “Higher,” his new album out March 25, he belts “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” which was popularized by Vera Lynn in 1940, and directly follows it with “Make You Feel My Love,” a 1997 Bob Dylan song also notably covered by Adele in 2008.
The through line for these seemingly disparate selections is his buoyant and mellifluous voice, capable of roping any and all material into the realm of genuine romance. Bublé’s earnest commitment to rendering songs written for many generations of lovers has won him cross-demographic popularity. He has released four albums that have gone to No. 1 on the Billboard charts, and has sold north of 70 million records around the world, despite having never aligned with contemporary pop trends at any point in his career.
“It’s hard to categorize what I do; people would like to, and I’ve fought it my whole life,” he said very matter-of-factly. “I categorize myself as a soul singer who loves the great American songbook, but loves writing pop songs. It’s a very strange place to live.”
Bublé’s passion for the classics was fomented during his childhood in Burnaby, British Columbia. His grandfather, a plumber, would play songs from the ’40s and ’50s and explain their history to Bublé, who “fell in love with the depth of what it meant to that generation.” At the time, he was a self-described “nerdy kid” with “no girlfriends” and said his growing interest in this music was a means of feeling unique.
“I wasn’t one of those guys who wanted to dress in retro clothing,” he said. “The music just moved me, and so I knew, even at that age, that was all I wanted.”
His intent on pursuing a singing career through an off-market style of jazzy big band music led him down some winding paths. The nightclub gigs were “the good ones,” he said; more humbling were the cruise ships and shopping mall performances, and worst of all were the singing telegrams, where for $20 he might sing for a lucky birthday girl at the Canadian restaurant chain White Spot.
In 2000, Bublé was hired to perform at the wedding for a daughter of Brian Mulroney, the former prime minister of Canada, and met the producer David Foster there. Eventually, he convinced Foster to sign him to his Warner subsidiary label, with the caveat that Bublé had to personally raise the budget to make a new album. The result was the 2003 LP “Michael Bublé,” which placed multiple singles on the Billboard Adult Contemporary charts and ultimately went platinum.
When he broke through, Bublé was approaching 30 — young for the world, but not the music industry. While some record executives paled at his age, one bonus was that he was ready to meet his moment with proper humility, when it finally came. “I was so late to this party, that I was already who I was,” he said. The years of grinding had also inculcated a relentless work ethic that, in retrospect, came with trade-offs. “I was blinded to anything that wasn’t the ascension of a career — becoming the greatest musician, the greatest songwriter, the greatest entertainer,” he said. “Everything I did was going toward that goal, and I never stopped to smell the roses.”
He missed friends’ birthdays and weddings; he said he rarely explored the cities where he’d perform. Greater success followed, both professionally and personally: In 2011, he married the Argentine actress Luisana Lopilato and released “Christmas,” a record of holiday songs that remains the best-selling of his career. But when his commercial momentum momentarily flagged with “Nobody but Me” in 2013, “It was the first time that I probably had ever felt a sense of panic,” he said, pausing to let the thought sink in. “I felt like my false self had started to get the best of me — I started to doubt myself and who I was and what I wanted to do.”
In 2016, he learned his eldest son, Noah, then 3 years old, had a rare form of liver cancer. “I just remember thinking that for the first time, I could see everything completely clearly,” Bublé said. “That’s when I started to have a much healthier relationship with this thing that I do — this person you become when you go on tour.” (After months of chemotherapy, Noah went into remission.) Bublé started paying closer attention to his fitness so that he could better maintain the stamina required for long performances; he also allowed himself to open up the creative process, after what he called a “micromanaging” approach to his earlier work.
On “Higher,” that partly manifested out of necessity. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, it wasn’t always possible to hash out an idea in person; instead, he would trade ideas and demos over email with other musicians, and excitedly await their response. Bublé isn’t a trained musician, but he can play piano well enough to feel his way through a song. He described one solo session in between Zoom calls where he stumbled upon an arrangement for Sam Cooke’s “Bring It on Home to Me,” which he likened to gospel by way of Donny Hathaway and Elvis Presley, leading him to immediately call the producer Bob Rock (Metallica, Aerosmith) with his idea. He pronounced the result the best thing he’s ever recorded.
“People still think of him as a singer who’s been handed material to sing,” said Greg Wells, a first-time collaborator with a vast résumé who executive produced the album. “But he’s a real record maker — he had this incredible Hubble telescope overview of what he wanted to accomplish.” He pointed out that many of Bublé’s highest-charting songs, like the jaunty 2009 track “Haven’t Met You Yet,” are ones he co-wrote himself, contrary to his reputation as an interpreter.
“Higher” also benefited from a series of lucky happenstances that are just very Michael Bublé. A duet with Willie Nelson on his standard “Crazy” developed through Bublé’s friendship with Nelson’s son Lukas. And after Bublé recorded a demo of Paul McCartney’s late-career ballad “My Valentine,” McCartney agreed to produce the version that appears on the record. Bublé’s interpretation sidesteps McCartney’s guitar-driven arrangement and applies what he called a “cinematic flair” — stirring strings and swelling builds, guided by his tender vocals. (He and McCartney hit it off, and occasionally text; after waffling over whether to refer to him aloud as “Sir Paul” or “Mr. McCartney,” he displayed his phone, which lists the former Beatle as “Sir P.”)
Though Bublé described the “sense of anxiety and dread” that comes with every album cycle, there were bigger things to think about. He pointed out, his voice turning soft, that the week of our interview also marked five years of clean cancer scans for Noah. He emphasized his appreciation for all he’s been able to do, and acknowledged this sounded like a cliché. But he said he was still motivated to find his audience, regardless of how trends change or the methods we use to listen to music evolve.
“You just have to find a way to satisfy that hunger,” he said. “I can never just expect that they’re going to stick me on the radio.”
After expounding further on how he had openly bawled watching “Marriage Story” (a recommendation from the director of his wife’s new comedy, he noted with bewilderment), our conversation came to an end. The singer had been chatting from a hotel room in Los Angeles, to avoid potential interruptions from a noisy gardener near his home. As usual, Michael Bublé was finding a solution.
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