Michael Bublé is late for the photo shoot. Not rock-star, been-up-all-night-partying-and-couldn’t- get-my-shit-together late. More like “Vancouver traffic was miserable” late. After arriving, he mills about for a while, shaking hands with some, acknowledging others, before making his way to an impromptu changing area.
Bublé is lean, even lithe, and today he’s dressed in a leather jacket, a T-shirt and strategically kicked-in jeans. His stubble is neatly trimmed. But when he emerges from the maze of clothing racks cluttering the second floor of the Warehouse, the Gastown music-production studio owned by Bryan Adams, something isn’t quite right.
“Can we talk about the first shot?” he asks. The concept—ripping open his suit jacket à la Superman to reveal a Vancouver Canucks T-shirt—could be a problem. A long-time booster, Bublé knows that his hometown team is, shall we say, not lovingly embraced outside B.C.
“They fucking hate the Canucks,” says Bublé, neatly summing up the relationship between Vancouver’s hockey club and the rest of the universe.
But he agrees to the concept, and the shoot begins. The photographer dances and twists around Bublé, punctuating every click with “Perfect!” “Amazing!” “That’s it!” “Brilliant!” Bublé seems comfortable in front of the camera, effortlessly striking pose after pose. All the while, music pours out of a house sound system. Bublé ignores the tunes until the 1965 Roger Miller classic “King of the Road” comes on. He stands a bit straighter and starts to sing: “Trailer for sale or rent / Rooms to let, 50 cents…”
Bublé’s voice is huge: resonant, rich and smooth. A striking instrument, it’s more polished and less textured than the gravel-edged timbre of, say, a Tony Bennett, but it’s a far cry from the watered-down treacle peddled by so many other cocktail crooners. For a moment, you forget the hype, branding and myriad strategic decisions that have turned Michael Bublé into Michael Bublé, Inc. You listen, and you understand. It’s all about the pipes.
“King of the Road”—it’s a fitting song for Bublé to sing. In the past year alone, he has performed in 46 countries, a schedule that would make any road warrior cringe. It’s a dramatic change from his early days, when he was barely eking out a living singing standards at BaBalu, a long-gone Vancouver martini lounge, back in the 1990s.
Today, Bublé is a bona-fide superstar. His eight studio albums and three live albums have sold more than 35 million copies worldwide, he has four Grammys under his belt and his last four albums peaked at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart in Canada, Australia and the United States. In 2014, Forbes listed him as the world’s 17th-highest-earning musician, raking in a cool $51 million, ahead of Rihanna and the Rolling Stones. Not bad for the only son of a Burnaby, B.C., fisherman who says he got into music to get laid.
Bublé is now 40 years old, and his life has changed dramatically of late—and not just professionally. In 2011, he married Argentine actress and model Luisana Lopilato, and in 2013, their first child, Noah, was born. Change can be difficult at the best of times, but when it occurs under the microscope of celebrity, even small missteps are amplified and distorted, playing out as above-the-fold gaffes.
In June, Bublé and his wife found this out the hard way when Noah pulled out a bottom kitchen drawer in their Buenos Aires home and used it as a ladder. The two-year- old reached for a cup of freshly made tea on the counter and knocked it over, scalding himself. He was rushed to the hospital. It was, of course, a traumatic time.
“I tried to stay really positive and remind my wife that it could have been much worse,” he says. “He was okay, but, of course, when you’re a parent, there’s nothing worse than seeing your little boy hurt.”
“Little boy”—it is said tenderly, and with awe. For some, fatherhood can spark gut-wrenching introspection; others take stock differently. “I did go through an awareness of my mortality, not wanting to do the risky or stupid things that I had done before,” says Bublé. So, parachuting, for example, is now out of the question. “The dream of jumping out of an airplane sort of fades, and the excitement of doing something so breathtaking doesn’t come close to wanting to be alive for this little boy.”
For Bublé, his son’s accident came with additional pain. “Some people said we were irresponsible parents and that my wife was at fault,” he says, clearly saddened but angered too by the sting of anonymous social-media attacks. “I mean, this is just getting crazy now. It’s just shifting up,” he says, citing the recent Ariana Grande doughnut-shop incident, wherein the young singer was caught licking doughnuts she hadn’t purchased and bashing the United States on a security-camera feed that went viral.
But another controversy hit much closer to home. Posted on Instagram last April, the photograph is now infamous. In it, a smiling—some would say smirking—Bublé is in the foreground while the real subject, a woman in short shorts with a Kardashianesque backside, stands behind him, unaware of his presence. His caption includes a number of hashtags, like #babygotback, #hungryshorts and #myhumps. The social-media backlash was swift, vicious and relentless; “body shaming” was the charge. An apology and a clarification were issued, but the damage was done.
“If I could go back, would I have posted that picture? I wouldn’t have,” he says. “But I feel I did nothing wrong. I was more surprised it became a news story than anything else.”
It is, perhaps, a troubling sign of the times. “There’s so much political correctness that humour becomes a scary thing, you know? You don’t know how far you can go. And if you’re somebody who has a sense of humour,” says Bublé, ruefully, “it’s so very easy to cross the line. Celebrity has become this very strange world. I don’t know why it’s so attractive to people. If they lived in it for real, I don’t think they’d want to live in it for very long.”
For another artist, the Instagram controversy could have been a career killer. But Bublé’s brand—smooth sophistication twinned with a cheekiness that sometimes borders on bawdy—has proven resilient. How many other crooners could get away with calling a diehard fan who had seen him in concert 45 times a “crazy bitch”? What other tuxedo-suited singer could describe an evening spent performing for his hometown crowd as “fucking perfect” and get away with it?
“You know, I think my brand is about timeless music and, I hope, class,” he says. “But when I say ‘class,’ I don’t mean a time or a genre that doesn’t exist anymore. I’m not Cary Grant.”
Today, Bublé divides his time between Vancouver, Los Angeles and Buenos Aires—the latter being home base for his wife and her extended family. “It’s not like moving from Vancouver to Portland,” he understates. The one drawback, however, is something he rarely worries about in Canada. “The only issue I have is security,” he says, admitting that when he travels anywhere outside his gated community there, he’s accompanied by a detail. “There are a lot of people struggling, and when you have desperate people, you’ll find they do desperate things.”
Although there’s no new album on the immediate horizon (he’s at the writing stage with long-time partner Alan Chang), he’s got other things on his mind: He and Lopilato are expecting their second child in January.
In the midst of these changes, though, his closest friends are still the 10 guys he has hung out with since kindergarten. They are his anchors, tethering him to the life he knew before his every move was scrutinized, before each Instagram post was vetted by millions.
But he has another anchor now. During a break in the shoot, Bublé pulls out his iPhone and people crowd around to watch a home video. “Look at my little dude!” he exclaims. “Dancing his ass off.”
Aww. Awe too.