There’s that part of Adam Levine that is pure, unadulterated pop star: his band, Maroon 5, has sold more than 20 million records and nabbed three Grammy awards; he’s married to Namibian-born Victoria’s Secret supermodel Behati Prinsloo, with whom he rolls around naked — he loves to be naked — both smothered in blood, in the boundary-pushing music video for “Animals”; in 2013, he was crowned People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive; and in September, Prinsloo gave birth to a girl with the decidedly groovy, retro-stylish gender-neutral name, Dusty.
Levine also runs his own record label (222 Records), is entering his 12th season as a coach on NBC’s Emmy Award-winning reality-competition series juggernaut, “The Voice,” and he and producing partner David Dobkin are developing an hour-long reality pilot for NBC based on the wedding-surprise-themed video for Maroon 5’s infectiously bouncy track “Sugar,” which has logged 1.5 billion views.
The band — comprising Levine, James Valentine, Jesse Carmichael, Mickey Madden, Matt Flynn, PJ Morton, and Sam Farrar — is readying a studio album for release later this year and in March will wrap up its world tour, having played over 120 concerts in 30 countries. And on Feb. 10, Levine will join the legions of tattooed rock stars with chiseled cheekbones and rock-hard abs that have come before him (he’s a devoted yoga buff) and receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
But despite the inevitable material trappings of fame and fandom, what’s always stood out about Levine is his voice — soulful and sultry with a strong, dulcet R&B sensibility. Some have compared it to Stevie Wonder; others to Prince. Levine credits both as artistic inspirations. It’s a sound evident on everything Levine has created, from Maroon 5’s 2002 debut album, “Songs About Jane,” off which “She Will Be Loved,” a balladic, pop-rock confection, was a break-out hit single; to “Hands all Over,” featuring chart-topping electro-pop dance track “Moves Like Jagger” (with Christina Aguilera on backup vocals); to “V,” which bowed in 2014 and sold 164,000 copies in its first week.
“Adam Levine’s voice … possesses a light, airy tenor with a sure rhythmic sense that can rise to a pure, aching falsetto,” Steven Mirkin wrote in Variety in November 2007, when the band was just starting out. “It’s the kind of voice boy bands have been built around.”
Levine, born and raised in Los Angeles — his father is Fred, co-owner of successful clothing store chain M. Frederic — was noted for his musicianship at a young age, though it took a bit to coax it out of him.
“He was shy and very sweet,” says Eileen Horowitz, Levine’s second-grade teacher at the Center for Early Education. “I actually wrote and directed a children’s theater group called Lullaby of Broadway at the school and Adam didn’t participate. My colleague Gar Burke, may he rest in peace, was also the music teacher at the school. Gar saw the musical talent in him early on.”
One of the key reasons behind Levine’s artistic appeal is that he’s able to access that boyish vulnerability in the songs that he writes and performs. It’s that fiery desperation in “Payphone” and “She Will Be Loved,” with its aching- romantic lyric, “I drove for miles and miles and wound up at your door/I’ve had you so many times, but somehow I want more,” that points to Levine’s lingering emotional anguish.
It’s this adolescent turmoil Levine harnessed when co-writing the song “Go Now” for John Carney’s 2016 film “Sing Street,” about a teenage boy who starts a band to impress a girl in 1980s Dublin. And it’s this other, arguably underrated, side to Levine’s professional persona — tender and introspective, more folk than flashy — that harkens back to the great singer-songwriter tradition of the 1970’s.
In “Begin Again,” Carney’s 2013 drama in which Levine plays a newly minted rock star who cheats on his songwriter girlfriend (Keira Knightley)—“I acted like an actor,” Levine told Variety. “It was very meta.” This sensitive quality shines brightest in the Oscar-nominated song, “Lost Stars,” which Levine recorded for the film. While he did not write the song — credit for that belongs to Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois, former “All in the Family” child star-turned-songwriter — it seems to have been expressly penned with Levine in mind.
There’s a wistful poignancy that runs throughout “Lost Stars” — “God, tell us the reason youth is wasted on the young” is one of its most bittersweet lyrics — and Levine’s rendition, with its stripped-down guitar, his voice drunk on melancholy and nostalgia, makes for one of his dreamiest and most beautiful career performances, the type of performance one can only hope Levine will keep on giving.