Michael Bublé on babes, Burnaby and that Instagram incident
If you grew up here, chances are you crossed paths with Michael Bublé, Burnaby’s loud and proud international recording artist. And if you just moved here, you’ll likely see him soon enough, because Michael ain't going anywhere.
November 19, 2015
This article was originally published in the November 2015 issue of Vancouver magazine.
Watch Vancouver’s interview with Michael Bublé here.
Michael Bublé is the local boy who happens to be an international celebrity. Chances are, you or someone you know has spotted him at a grocery store in West Vancouver, near his West Van house; or at the Vancouver Aquarium with his kid; or while eating at White Spot. Or maybe you dated him or went to school with him. He counts local hockey players, firefighters, and cops among his friends.
The Burnaby-born boy is one of the world’s best-selling artists, routinely making Forbes magazine’s list of World’s Highest-Paid Musicians. His last tour grossed more than $200 million, with 1.8 million tickets sold in 39 countries. He’s the winner of a whopping 13 Junos and four Grammys. His 2011 holiday album, Christmas, has become a classic of its kind—a perennial bestseller that peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200. And although he just came off a massive world tour, he’s back at it again, writing more songs and working with some heavyweight names he can’t yet reveal.
I started writing about Bublé nearly 20 years ago, when I worked at the Vancouver Sun. I was a cub entertainment writer and he was an eager young singer. We’d occasionally chat on the phone while he was struggling in Los Angeles, living in some cheap rental apartment with a mattress on the floor, and playing celebrities’ birthday parties. He’d gig anywhere in those days—boat cruises, bar mitzvahs, corporate gigs (including a long-ago Vancouver magazine Christmas bash), thanks to a work ethic he undoubtedly picked up from his father, who used to be a commercial fisherman. (Bublé spent a lot of summers toiling on his dad’s boat, catching salmon with a tough crew of salty dogs, slathering Vaseline on his calloused hands every night.) We’ve kept in touch over the years, and I helped him write his bestselling memoir, Onstage, Offstage. Sitting down with him recently for an interview, he seemed the most comfortable in his skin that I’ve ever seen. His charisma has always loomed large, but there used to be a tension, as if he were literally on the verge of bursting for his life to get started. Having just turned the corner on 40, he’s got the relaxed air of a man who’s conquered some imaginary mountain and is in the enviable position of only having to enjoy the view.
A hefty part of that contentment is on display in calligraphy across the inside of his wrist: a tattoo that says “Noah,” for his two-year-old son. He and wife Luisana Lopilato, the 28-year-old Argentinian actress and model, also have another baby due early next year. When Bublé’s not at home, he’s on the road, and when he’s on the road, he tries to recreate home, which was always the plan. Years ago, he went backstage to visit the Barenaked Ladies and saw they had a jungle gym set up for their kids. He’s copied that set-up, and now that several of his bandmates also have children, it’s more like a daycare backstage than a scene out of Almost Famous. His beloved grandpa Mitch still travels with him on the road, too, but these days he’s in the company of two full-time nurses. Mitch was his earliest influence—the one who got him interested in the Great American Songbook as a kid.
They’d play old vinyl records in his grandpa’s living room, listening to guys like Frank Sinatra or Vaughn Monroe. Bublé would make tapes of his grandpa’s recordings and listen to them while working on the boat. While his high school friends were discovering Pink Floyd, he was listening to the oldies station CISL 650.
Perhaps because he was a unique kid, he’s giving his own son a wide berth. He doesn’t even mind that his boy is already showing signs of wanting to play soccer over dad’s beloved hockey. (Bublé is co-owner of the Vancouver Giants.) “Whatever he wants—if he wants to be a gay ballet dancer, I’m cool with that,” he says. “I’m so in love. There’s no way to put into words how he makes me feel, about myself or about him. I’m more scared of death than I was before; I’m way more aware of my mortality. Way happier, way more fulfilled. I think I just found out there was a new level of love I didn’t even know existed.”
A member of a tight-knit extended Italian family, including sisters Crystal (an actress) and Brandee (a children’s book author), Bublé has plans to continue to grow his own family unit. He wants four kids, and he wants to raise them between Vancouver and Buenos Aires, where he and Lopilato have a second home and she has family. “We’ll probably try to do six or seven months here, then go and home-school or set up schooling in Buenos Aires, because it’s so important for her to be home—her heart is there. And I understand that,” he says. “I’m a Burnaby kid, and Canada is such a big part of me, of who I am. This is my happy place.”
He’s enough of a Burnaby boy that he owns a chunk of real estate there, near his best friend, Carsten Love. He and Love have known each other since they were three years old, growing up in North Burnaby’s Government Road with a mess of other kids playing street hockey in the early ’80s. They’ve maintained a close bond despite the years when they’d fight over girls while hanging out at places like the Roxy. “Some of our biggest fights were getting caught up in the same girl and ruthlessly trying to cut the other guy out,” recalls Love. “And when he knew he was a singer, he’d sing in lineups to girls at the clubs. They’d swoon. And we would roll our eyes.”
Bublé isn’t sure what he’s going to do with the Burnaby property, which is currently under development and rumoured to be a personal compound housing everything from guest suites to a hockey rink. As an investor, he owns a lot of real estate around the Lower Mainland. He’s inherited his dad Lewis’s careful approach to money, and it helps that Love is a real estate agent. But Bublé is invested in the region emotionally, too. “A long time ago, I think Mike lost that wonder of living in different parts of the world,” says Love. “He doesn’t care whether he’s in a hotel room or a palace. He just recently bought his first nice car. It’s about being near the people he loves. That’s why he’s in the Lower Mainland.”
Bublé is such a dyed-in-the wool local that he even attended his Cariboo Hill high school reunion a few years ago. The target of bullies, he didn’t have it easy at school. “Mike might have been more of a target,” recalls Love. “There were a lot of tough kids, and he’s got a short fuse—like me, too—and you pick the wrong fight, and all of sudden you’re in trouble. I know it’s had an influence on who he’s become, and maybe his desire to conquer the world. It’s the feeling of being made small, and that ‘I’ll show you’ kind of thing. It’s the extra gas in his tank to keep him going.”
Bublé likes to tell kids who are suffering through school that, ultimately, it’s an irrelevant blip in the grand scheme of life. “It’s just really nice to be able to tell somebody that it’s not going to be forever, that high school is not the real world,” he says. “Life gets better. Even when you’re a huge dork, you can still be famous.”
Bublé considers himself a stand-up comedian as much as a singer, and he’s always had the sort of comic edge that can make a strait-laced audience nervous. For example, he likes to advise attendees to get out of their seats and dance. And if the person behind you should complain? “Tell them to go fuck off,” he says to audiences all over the world. Some particularly prudish attendees have even walked out of concerts. But unlike other celebrities who don’t want to risk offending the conservative Bible Belt at one end or the politically correct at the other, Bublé hasn’t gone soft in response to mainstream success.
A few months ago, his humour ran afoul of the masses where it always does: on social media. He posted a pic, taken by his wife, on Instagram while in Florida. It shows him posing in front of a girl who is facing away from him, standing at a counter. Her shorts reveal an ample amount of butt. Bublé’s expression is a naughty question mark. The Twittersphere erupted with accusations that it was sexist and a violation against an unwitting girl. Bublé eventually released a statement that stopped short of apologizing. It was one of the few times in his career where he’d crossed the line, even though he’s aware how supremely touchy a social-media mob can be. “It’s funny with the Instagram thing, because there was a very conscious decision being made on my part,” he considers. “If I could go back, I wouldn’t have posted it because of the offence that some people took to it. At the same time, I didn’t apologize because I still don’t feel I did something wrong or hurtful—I never intended it to be that way. I love women. I respect women.”
“Until the whole world knows who Michael Bublé really is, there will be a ton of people who just don’t get it,” he continues. “I’m a stand-up comic who sings. With humour, you always straddle a line. Especially with my Canadian English sense of humour, you are always balancing precariously. Is it over the line? Is it crass? Is it rude? I’ve got into trouble. I will continue to get into trouble, for sure, because I cannot and I will not filter myself. I like me. And I’m not a mean guy. I would never, ever take away someone’s dignity.”
As well, people can’t complain too loudly because Bublé is often the most brutal target of his own humour. Lately, he’s been contemplating the 40-year mark and the inner workings of the fragile male ego. No matter how famous or rich one might be, the insecurity of growing older is universal. And so he riffs openly on his inner dialogue.
“I seriously feel like I’m 16 years old. I was on that TV show the other day and I was sitting next to Heidi Klum,” he says, referring to his recent gig as guest judge on America’s Got Talent, for which he sat next to the supermodel. “I can’t remember how we got into it, but she’s talking about her new boyfriend or something. She said, ‘How old are you?’ I said, ‘39.’ She said, ‘You’re much too old for me.’ I said, ‘Whaaat?’ It really hurt me.
“And you know what hurts even more? Is when I go to Subway to get a sandwich or whatever, and these really cute 18- or 19-year-old girls are sitting there, and they see me, and I know they know it’s me. And because I still want to be cool, I still want to be loved, I’ll say, ‘Hi, how are you?’ And then they look at me like I’m their uncle. They didn’t used to look at me like that. There was a different vibe. Now I’m a safe, old… you know what I mean? Sexual tension is gone. They don’t want any of this. And that hurts me in a weird way, because even though I’m married, you still want to be a sexy man. You want that 19-year-old girl to go, ‘Oh, he’s so young.’ Not, ‘Hey, can you boot for us, Uncle Mike?’”
But, I offer, with age you could become a silver fox. For a moment, he’s confused. Like George Clooney, I explain.
“Oh, I thought you were asking if I want to be gay like Anderson Cooper. And honestly? I don’t know yet,” he deadpans. “I’m telling you right now, there are few men I find very attractive, but that Trevor Linden—there’s something about that guy. I don’t look at him like he’s my uncle. There’s sexual tension there when I talk to him.”
He pauses, a little gleefully, knowing that, for some people, he may have once again crossed the line.
“I have just pissed off a million people again. You see? I can’t stop myself. And I will not stop myself!”