Inside Adam Levine's $35 Million-Plus a Year Empire
How has he won fans over? "As a pop star, you don't have to be that smart for people to think you're intelligent. The bar is f---ing low; if you have half a brain, they think you're amazing. So I have that going for me," he jokes, before suggesting a second reason: honesty. That, too, requires clarification: "I don't lie, and that's unusual in a world of media-obsessed, media-trained f---ing liars who will sit here with you and totally bullshit you to further their own careers." The comment sets him off on a longer diatribe about his image: part bad-boy rock star, part cheese-ball TV personality, which he insists is not perfectly tailored. "I say the wrong thing, I offend people, and I piss people off, all of which I like," he adds. Levine has made headlines with such musings as "Instinctively, monogamy is not in our genetic makeup," and, "Maybe the reason that I was promiscuous and wanted to sleep with a lot of women is that I love them so much."
But Levine's savvy runs deeper. He has done a masterful job not only of exploiting NBC's many programming assets -- he presented at the Golden Globes, appeared on the 2012 Super Bowl pregame show and hosted SNL -- but also of using the primetime platform to further his band and his brand. Take Maroon 5's single "Moves Like Jagger," which strategically featured Aguilera. The duo, along with the band, performed the song -- more pop-infused than Maroon 5's previous fare and its first use of an outside producer -- on a June 2011 episode of Voice, leaning on the show and its iTunes leverage to drum up attention. "No one had done it to that extent where you were really tying the show, the band and the brand all at one time, and it just kind of exploded from there," says Feldstein. "Jagger" has sold nearly 6 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, making it one of the biggest digital singles of all time.
Although Levine's involvement in Voice's fall cycle is not yet official, sources tell THR that he's locked in for a fifth one. (The show's original coaches, Aguilera, Shelton and Green, are expected to join him.) "They're going to have to physically remove Adam from the building," says Levine's manager. "He loves doing the show, and it's been great for his career. We'll be there as long as NBC wants us."
Levine is no stranger to stardom. Having grown up in L.A., he attended the posh Brentwood School, where his classmates included bandmates Jesse Carmichael and Mickey Madden as well as other Hollywood offspring. Among the latter were Feldstein and Hill, whose father has been best friends with Levine's father since the men were 14. Levine's dad, who split from Levine's admissions-counselor mother when he and his brother were young, founded the boutique clothing chain M. Fredric.
"I was a total dickhead," says Levine of his teen years, when he was focused more on music than academics. "I didn't do any homework; I just went home and wrote music or played guitar or had band practice," he adds, having started playing dives with his band, Kara's Flowers, by the time he was 13. Hill shares that recollection. "The irony of Adam's success and my own success is that we were both the least likely to succeed growing up," he says via email, recalling how he and Levine would sit in Levine's room with Levine declaring, "I'm gonna be a rock star," and Hill hypothesizing, "I'm going to be an actor."
That the pipe dream became their reality still excites the pair. "I remember the first time I was on [Late Night With Conan O'Brien], my first talk show ever, eight or nine years ago, and [Adam] had everyone we knew over to his house to watch it live and cheer me on," adds Hill. The actor hardly is the only friend who has found himself on the receiving end of Levine's big heart and fierce loyalty. "It's pretty remarkable the extent to which he hasn't changed," notes Madden. Comparisons have been drawn to Vincent Chase, the lead character on HBO's long-running series Entourage, because Levine rarely is without members of his pack, which includes his longtime bandmates, assistant Shawn Tellez and writer-producer roommate Gene Hong. On his rare night off, the "homebody," as Madden describes his bandmate, often can be found hanging out at his refurbished 1940s home with those pals and his golden retriever, Frankie, whose paw print is inked on his shoulder.
Levine's music career got a significant boost near the end of high school, when Warner Bros. Records signed Kara's Flowers to its Reprise label. "We thought we were rock gods at that point," he quips of an era in which the band, which included current members Carmichael (keyboard) and Madden (bass), put out an album, booked gigs and even nabbed a guest spot on Fox's Beverly Hills, 90210. "I mean, we were The Beatles in our minds." But by age 20, Levine and his buddies got a reality check. After the band's first album sputtered, they were dropped by the label and forced to rethink their career choice. "Suddenly, we were just these tainted kids who are in this band that no one wants to sign," recalls Levine, who segued into a series of odd jobs, including a production assistant gig on CBS' Judging Amy (writer-producer Barbara Hall is a family friend) before packing his bags for a brief stint at Five Towns College on Long Island, purportedly to study music.
Not long after, the band reunited, adding guitarist James Valentine and changing its name to Maroon 5 (the origin remains a tightly guarded secret). In 2002, the group put out its debut album, Songs About Jane, featuring the slow-build, Levine-penned hits "Harder to Breathe" and "This Love," and spent the better part of three years promoting it. During the decade that followed, the band would pick up three Grammys (including best new artist in 2005), open for The Rolling Stones and sell more than 9.5 million albums in the U.S. before losing much of that momentum with its third album. That is, until Voice re-energized the band and its fan base.