Music is one of Hawaii’s most distinct and proud cultural traditions. Whether it’s traditional Hawaiian mele, classic instrumentation on ukulele, steel guitars and slack key, or contemporary reggae-infused Jawaiian jams, the music of the islands has always been a vital way to understand life in Hawaii.
The 2010s saw an explosion of Hawaii’s musical talent at home and internationally. While local radio stations were dominated by the likes of Anuhea, Fia, Kimie, Josh Tatofi and The Green, two artists transcended Hawaii’s shores to reach new audiences, while still representing their home. These are KHON2’s Musicians of the Decade.
Hawaii Island’s Kalani Peʻa seemingly burst onto the scene in 2016 with his debut solo album E Walea, which earned him a Na Hoku Hanohano Award as well as a Grammy — the first time anyone has won both. On top of that, Peʻa was the first Hawaiian music artist to win a Grammy since the “Best Hawaiian Music” category was retired in 2011; Peʻa won in the “Best Regional Roots Music Album” category. The award launched him into the spotlight: he performed at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, during halftime of the 2018 Hawaii Bowl, the Hawaii Theater, and more. He didn’t stop there, though. Peʻa doubled-down on his success, winning another Grammy for his 2018 album No ʻAneʻi. Despite picking up a slew of awards and honors across the islands and the continent, Peʻa remained grounded. He is a vocal advocate for Alzheimer’s patients, and donates a portion of money from every live show to support people who suffer from the disease, as well as their caregivers.
It’s hard to imagine a time when Honolulu’s Bruno Mars was not a household name, but in 2010, he was mostly known as the smooth voice on the hook of hits like B.o.B’s “Nothin’ on You” and Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire.” Both of those songs soared up the charts, creating a buzz for the young singer-songwriter. Then he released his first hit single, “Just the Way You Are” in 2010, and never looked back. The album on which the single appeared, Doo-Wops & Hooligans, was an instant hit, reaching number 1 on the charts in the US, Canada and the UK. His followup singles, “Grenade” and “The Lazy Song,” also became smash hits, giving Mars three consecutive top 5 singles. Doo-Wops & Hooligans went platinum and picked up awards and nominations from the Grammy’s — including Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for “Just the Way You Are” — and the Billboard Music Awards.
His next album, 2012’s Unorthodox Jukebox, continued his success, selling millions of copies worldwide and winning the Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Album. In 2014, he co-wrote and sang the decade’s foremost earworm, “Uptown Funk,” from British producer Mark Ronson’s album Uptown Special. “Uptown Funk” won Grammy’s for Record of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance and became one of the biggest hits of the 2010s. His third album, 2016’s 24k Magic, elevated Mars to pop culture’s stratosphere. It went triple platinum in the states and sold millions more worldwide, and wracked up awards including the Grammy for Record of the Year, Album of the Year, and Song of the Year for “That’s What I Like.” Between these studio successes were countless groundbreaking milestones including two Superbowl halftime performances. While riding his extreme run of success, Mars was a dedicated philanthropist for Hawaii, donating to needy people in Hawaii and around the world.
It would take several pages to accurately detail all of his noteworthy achievements. He was arguably the most successful musical artist of the decade, an incredible feat for anyone, let alone a humble Hawaii boy. No one else from Hawaii has achieved the kind of international fame Mars has, and probably no one else will for a long time. Unless he has some more of that magic left over for the 2020s.