by Grace Lee
Peter Hernandez was born on Oct. 8, 1985 in Honolulu, Hawaii. Part of a musical family, Hernandez started performing with his parents and relatives when he was as young as three years old. At 17, Hernandez went to Los Angeles to make it as a singer, where he continues to work today.
But this isn’t a story about Peter Hernandez, it’s a story about Bruno Mars. To be fair, they’re one and the same, with Bruno Mars being the stage name that Hernandez adapted after that fateful move to Los Angeles. The same is true for a million other celebrities. There are the obvious stage names, like Lady Gaga and Snoop Dogg, but there are plenty of subtle ones, ones you might not even know about. Case in point: Bruno Mars.
Which, for me, raises the question— what does Bruno’s girlfriend call him? Peter or Bruno? Shockingly, Google doesn’t quite know the inner workings of the relationship between Bruno Mars and his girlfriend (though I have no doubt that they could get the information if they really tried), but I still can’t get it out of my head. Is it weird to call him Peter, a name that he hasn’t used professionally in decades? Or is it even weirder to call him Bruno, a name that represents his persona as a celebrity and performer but not necessarily who he is as a person?
I’m sure that Bruno and his girlfriend have figured out a pretty good solution over the last eight years of their relationship, but stage names and public personas tell us a lot about celebrities and the culture we’ve built around them. Originally, these stage names helped separate an individual from their act, whether singing, acting, or dancing. On stage, you could be Human Cannonball; offstage you were just Rosa Richter. But things have changed over the last century. It has become nearly impossible to separate the public and the private. We’ve always been obsessed with the rich and famous, but the rise of social media means that everything can be used for clicks and views and likes. Friendships, children, families, grief, joy— it’s all up for grabs in the world of YouTube and Instagram. Even beyond traditional celebrities, regular people, whether college students or doctors, regularly post content about their jobs, what they eat, or how they dress.
All of this is both incredibly invasive and incredibly addictive. Celebrities and influencers have effectively commodified their private lives, and on-camera acts no longer require extraordinary talent. Instead, you can make money off videos of your child talking for the first time or a crazy trip you took with your best friend. And while things like authenticity and realness often get emphasized in this content, the truth is that we all act differently in front of cameras or on stage. So how do you separate these on-screen portrayals from off-screen reality? How can you begin to disentangle what is real and what you manufactured—consciously or subconsciously—for the camera? Or is it easy, just two different masks that can be swapped on demand?
Now I’m not famous so I don’t really know the answers to these questions. But as someone who consumes this content and who cares too much about celebrity drama (as evidenced by my extensive research into Olivia Rodrigo and Joshua Bassett), it’s something that I want to keep in mind. At the root of it all, I don’t know any of these people. I don’t know Bruno Mars, and I sure as hell don’t know Peter Hernandez. For so many celebrities, their persona is a product that they want us to buy, and I couldn’t tell you how that persona is different from who they really are. I wonder if they can.