Of all the crazy cameos in “Saturday Night Live” history, it was one of the most unexpected. A few weeks ago, Andy Samberg was anchoring one of his trademark digital shorts, rapping a forbidden-love ode to Iran’s homophobic, anti-Semitic leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, played hilariously by Fred Armisen. As the “Iran So Far” clip built to a campy crescendo, an interloper stepped into frame to croon the smooth chorus. It was photogenic pop icon Adam Levine of Maroon 5, who deadpanned with perfect timing.
“It’s a strange song, a strange sentiment, a totally weird, surreal idea,” the frontman says. “And obviously, I think Ahmadinejad’s stance is a pretty barbaric one to take against any country or people, so I don’t understand it. But I liked poking fun at the whole situation, and Fred Armisen in a dress, of course, is always a hoot.”
Samberg, notorious for enlisting left-field guests such as Justin Timberlake, met the M5-ers in an earlier “SNL” appearance.
“And I think he wanted a certain kind of R&B voice for ‘Iran,’” says Levine, still not sure why he was selected. “I think [Andy] just knew I’d be down for it — and the rest is history. We were in tour production rehearsals in Detroit, and I flew to New York for a total of 10 hours, did the video, recorded the vocals on Pro Tools at the ‘SNL’ office, and flew right back to Detroit to start the tour — it was a blast.” The tour hits San Jose on Nov. 6.
The clip became an instant You Tube hit, marking the first time Levine had an on-screen role outside of rock star. He says he’s not going to pursue acting full-time, though. “I don’t want to be the musician that tries to be an actor. It might be a fun detour at some point, but it’s just not my thing right now.”
Levine isn’t hurting for extra cash. Thanks to his crystalline tenor, Maroon 5’s Grammy-winning debut “Songs About Jane” sold 10 million and paved the way for this year’s already-platinum A&M/Octone follow-up, “It Won’t Be Soon Before Long,” and the single “Makes Me Wonder,” which made its debut at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. The singer is also becoming the go-to guy for bluesy duets,recently jazzing up Kanye West’s “Heard ‘Em Say” and Alicia Keys’ remake of “Wild Horses.” He says he’s happy his talent has finally been recognized.
“I always knew that I had a high voice,” the guitarist says. “And a lot of my heroes when I was growing up had really high voices, too, like Sting, Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder. So I think I just started to emulate my heroes, and fortunately I had the range to do it. So it seems like I was destined to be a singer, even though I never pursued it — I was just the guy in the band who could sing, so I assumed the position.”
For Maroon 5, it’s all about making connections. Small ones, like a friendship with Samberg. Or larger ones, like the one Levine’s made with his audience.
“Our band has never existed as a trendy thing,” he says. “We’re not considered to be particularly hip, and we’ve never ridden on the wave of what’s currently happening. So that’s kind of prevented us from falling into the here-today, gone-tomorrow category. We stand alone, and I love that. We’ve always relied on genuine fandom to carry us, and that’s why we’re still around.”