But it's only now, 10 years after crooning his way to fame on Maroon 5's wildly successful debut Songs About Jane, that the 33-year-old rock star is feeling exposed. Lately, you can't turn on your TV or open your MacBook without seeing the singer's scruffy mug. He's on primetime as one of the four judges on NBC's reality singing competition The Voice. He sang his band's ubiquitous 2011 dance-pop hit "Moves Like Jagger" on the Victoria's Secret runway last fall, and played with Foster the People and the Beach Boys at the Grammys in February. He just signed on for a guest starring role alongside Jessica Lange on Ryan Murphy's FX cult-hit American Horror Story. He's even on the Golf Channel, for heaven's sake, perfecting his swing with Tiger Woods' former coach, Hank Haney, on The Haney Project. Then there's his new music label 222 (Glee's Matthew Morrison was the first artist signed), which also happens to be the name of his fragrance coming to a department store near you in 2013.
Jacket by Schott NYC, shirt by Diesel and pants by Carhartt. Blazer by Simon Spurr.
On a sunny day at his house in Los Feliz, with the Hollywood sign in clear view, Levine is the first to admit it's a bit much. "I feel the potential of overexposure and it's a very real feeling," he says. So instead of waiting for the inevitable backlash to whip him into oblivion, he and the rest of Maroon 5 (guitarist James Valentine, keyboardist PJ Morton, bassist Mickey Madden and drummer Matt Flynn) are beating the potential haters to the punch, naming their fourth studio album out this June, Overexposed. "We've kind of succumbed to the fact that that's what's going on. It's better to know about it and make light of it because I don't think we ever want the music to be overshadowed. You can't get sick of us if we're already sick of ourselves."
As we settle into the over-sized pillows strewn on the floor of his sleek, but comfortable living room, it's easy to imagine Levine's many longtime friends -- like Jonah Hill, his roommate Gene Hong (yes, he has a roommate) and his bandmate -- hanging out here, drinking beers and enjoying the Californian breeze that wafts through the open sliding glass doors. Levine grabs a banana from the kitchen and starts to explain that the key to his success and happiness is a good-humored self-awareness. "I can be a huge pain in the ass, huge pain in the ass. That's part of who I am and there's not a person I know who doesn't think I'm a pain in the ass. But I'm also really nice and a completely affable and socially adept person. There's a difference between being an asshole and a pain in the ass..." Levine then stops and takes a bite of his banana, "It's fucking impossible to look anything less then lame when you're eating a banana."
It's this combination of SoCal skater dude and over-the-top diva that makes him so compelling on The Voice, a fresh take on the American Idol model, which attempts to focus solely on contestants' voices by starting off with "blind auditions" with Levine and his fellow judges Blake Shelton, Christina Aguilera and Cee-Lo Green. Levine balances frat-boy style remarks like, "I think Blake just bought a one-way ticket to boner town," with solid advice to the singers. The judges also serve as coaches to a team of pop star wannabes, and last season Levine led the smooth and soulful soft-rocker Javier Colon to victory. "I'm a very competitive person and I think it took a minute for everyone else to get it," says Levine with playful cockiness. "Now they're all gunning for me." But as he glances at the copy of Rolling Stone featuring the foursome on the cover that's sitting on his coffee table, he says seeing them all together "warms his heart." It's clear that the four have formed a bond. When asked about Aguilera's over-the-top, post-divorce style, he says, "You know what? She likes rhinestones. What are you gonna do?"
Blazer and shirt by Band of Outsiders.
Of course signing up for a reality show usually means one thing for a musician's career; it's over. Sorry, J.Lo, it's true. But that doesn't seem to be the case for Levine. In fact, being on the show seems to have actually breathed new life into Maroon 5. Known for dramatic pop-rock songs like "Misery" and "Wake Up Call," their first proper carefree dance tune "Moves Like Jagger," featuring Christina Aguilera, which debuted on The Voice last year, is Maroon 5's biggest hit to date.
As survivors of TRL's reign, an era that saw Gwen Stefani leave No Doubt, Mariah Carey lose her mind, *NSYNC scatter and that weird dude Uncle Kracker become but a strange, distant memory, Maroon 5 has managed to ebb and flow with the times. Thanks in no small part to their frontman's uncanny ability to be extremely entertaining ("I have an almost unquenchable thirst to be the center of attention"), while tugging on his listeners' heart strings -- hard; like on their debut album Songs About Jane, the unofficial breakup soundtrack of the millennial generation.
After high school at the prestigious Brentwood Academy in L.A., where his classmates included most of the members of Maroon 5, as well as, other late -- '90s alt -- pop bands like Phantom Planet, he didn't go to college, but bummed around UCLA bars playing open mic nights. "I was a loser," he says. But it was during this time that he spotted "the most beautiful girl" he'd ever seen at a gas station. She turned out to be the infamous Jane of the album's title. A hopeless romantic, Levine wrote her a song and had a friend play it over the speakers where Jane worked. "If I really liked a girl and I felt these romantic feelings towards her, I would literally write a song and make sure they heard it. I was so bold," he remembers, shaking his head. It wasn't until a few years later that they got together, but it didn't last long. "It was a brief relationship," he explains, "but we really did fall in love with each other and when we broke up, my heart was broken. I didn't have money or a job. All I had was a girl I was in love with and the dream of being a famous musician. I was like, 'I need to turn this into something good or it's going to be a bad thing.'" And so he wrote songs that expressed his raw leftover feelings (and showcased his reggae-flavored arena-rock falsetto), like "Harder to Breathe," "This Love," "Sunday Morning" and "She Will Be Loved," which is still great to pop on every now and then when you need a good cry.
Blazer and shirt by Band of Outsiders.
Ten years and three albums later, Jane is married (they still call each other up on occasion) and Levine is single again, after ending a two-year relationship with Russian model Anne V last month. Which may have had something to do with the fact that he's still baffled by the idea of marriage. "I'm extremely fascinated by marriage," he explains. "I want to study marriage. I want to learn about it. I want to know it. I want to figure out whether or not I want to do it. I'm not just going to leap into it, because that's not good for anybody." Or maybe it's because he hasn't had a day off in over a year. "Somewhere along the line I became addicted to work," laments Levine. But despite his many Grammy Awards and model girlfriends, he never takes himself too seriously, and hasn't gotten too big for his skinny jeans. Even as "Adam Levine" turns into a 360-degree brand, he insists that he has no plans to leave Maroon 5. "I'm going to do everything in my power to avoid [going solo]. Everybody does that," he says. "I spent my whole life doing everything I've ever done for Maroon 5. I love playing music with my friends." And why would he leave right now, when he can have his fragrance and smell it too? "I'm a big fan of not doing everything the way that I'm supposed to. I like to spike in some weirdness -- not that it's weird to stay in my band, but nobody does it anymore so it makes it more of a challenge to keep that as your rock."
In the studio this spring, Levine says creatively he "never felt freer," and the new album is totally "unselfconscious." In the past the band wrestled with their identity. "We were thinking to ourselves, 'Are we making a pop record? Or are we making a rock record? Are we going really organic? Or are we going really programmed?' And this was more of a song-by-song basis. It was kind of a cool collage on this record. I'm really happy with it. It just feels like it doesn't give a shit and I love that."
As season two of The Voice comes to a close (at press time, it was anybody's game to win), Levine's hoping to sign on for season three, and he's getting ready to promote Overexposed overseas this summer. But he's not planning on working overtime forever. "I just hope this isn't the case when I'm 40," he says. "I turned 33 and I thought, 'OK, this is exactly where I need to be,' and why should I stop until I get to a point where I can, and say, 'Fuck this, I'm going to go play golf.'"