The singer has had his biggest year professionally since releasing “I’m Yours” in 2008. Along with the release of his eighth studio album, February’s Mystical Magical Rhythmical Radical Ride, Mraz has put out a 15th anniversary edition of the album that spawned “I’m Yours,” We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. And, most recently, he’s experienced skyrocketing popularity on DWTS. Somehow, Mraz is handling everything gracefully—literally so, when it comes to the dancing.
“It’s just been wild,” Mraz tells The Daily Beast’s Obsessed over Zoom about his whirlwind year. “Honestly, I couldn’t have planned it.”
Mraz uses the word “play” around a dozen times in our interview. Everything in his life at this moment, he says, can be summed up by that one joyous word. “We felt this full-circle collaboration happening, and those collaborations, they share this sense of play,” Mraz says. This year exploring playfulness, the singer continues, has really helped him get jiving while he continues to compete on Season 32 of Dancing With the Stars, alongside folks like Ariana Madix of Vanderpump Rules and Marvel’s Xochitl Gomez.
Mraz never expected to compete on such a huge reality show. Then again, he says he also used to think he’d be stuck playing in coffee shops forever. Now, he’s going viral on social media for a bonkers Halloween costume and his dazzling dance numbers. The singer sat down to chat about the somewhat-surprising state of his career in 2023, what it’s like to dance to his own songs, and the legacy of We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things., 15 years later.
I need to know everything about the costume you wore for the Halloween episode. How did that come together?
Both by luck and by accident. I knew I was going to be a mummy, and we had talked about having some flesh and something decaying around my face, but we didn’t do any tests. I get there early, I get in the chair, and I’m in there for about a half an hour, and I’m already covered in this fake skin glued to my face. My partner walks in, and the first thing she says is, “Too much!” But it was too late. You couldn’t get this stuff off.
At the end of the night, it took an hour and a half to fully scrub all this weird stuff off my face. There was no turning back. I felt like I was stuck in one emotion. I was also the most unrecognizable cast member.
Still, you managed to make it your own. How did you come up with the idea to keep that dead-eyed stare going throughout the night?
We went first—which I loved, I’m glad we got to start off the night with our monstrous contemporary. But my partner even told me, “It sucks going first, because you want people to keep voting for you through the competition.” So I just made sure I was in the skybox, supporting all the other dancers.
But that zombie makeup—I couldn’t move my face! I had one emotion, so I just stuck to it. I figured, it’s Halloween! If you’re tuning in, I’m going to try to scare you the best I can by doing absolutely nothing. But at the same time, [I didn’t want to be] rude to the other contestants. I still got to cheer them on and support them. It was a lot of fun. I did not expect to go viral. If anything, I was really just trying to make my brother laugh, who I knew was at home watching.
I was going to ask if you had to practice doing that face, but it seems like the makeup did the work for you.
It was the makeup. It was so hard to move my face or even blink because the makeup was all over everything. I was like, “I’m just going to milk this.” The show kind of did me dirty by dressing me up as this weird character, so I’m going to make sure to stay present and give them the weird that they gave me.
On that note, how much creative control do you have over your outfits and the dance numbers?
It’s definitely collaborative. I don’t have absolute control, but I make suggestions on what songs I resonate with. I might submit three songs, and they’ll come back and say, “Great! We can do this one.” [Then,] the wardrobe department shows you a sketch of what they have in mind for you, and I love what they do anyway, so I have no problem instantly agreeing to what they have in mind.
My partner Daniella [Karagach] is my choreographer and my coach, and she makes these strong suggestions on what our background could possibly look like. If I don’t nail certain elements of the choreo, my partner can help me adapt. She’s like, “Well, what are you doing in this moment that we can do that’s more you?” That way, the dances are still ticking the boxes of what the judges want to see, but they’re also becoming personal expressions of who I am, as a dancer. If I were in control, it would not be going this well, that’s for sure.
You danced to one of your own songs to kick off this season. Did you enjoy that?
I did! And I had hoped that it would happen at some point in the season, because I think that was the song that got me on the show. I made a music video for “I Feel Like Dancing,” and I performed it from start to finish in one take. I did the same thing on Good Morning America [earlier this year]—we did the song in one take. It was on Good Morning America that Michael Strahan said, “You should do Dancing With the Stars.” I got a phone call from the producers around that same time that said, “Hey, you should do Dancing With the Stars.”
[DWTS] is very much like those performances—you get one take, one shot to do your dance across the stage in 60-to-90 seconds. I had the music, I had the experience, it was just the right timing. That’s how I ended up on this program.
And now, you’re a huge fan favorite.
People love you! Were you expecting this kind of reaction?
I had no idea I would do this well. I thought I would go on the show, do a couple of dances, and hopefully one of them would be to my song, “I Feel Like Dancing.” I’ve seen the show. People get eliminated. That’s how it goes. I thought, “That’s me, I can be that guy.” I had no idea that I would connect to dance, to my body, and even to fans. I’m definitely already deeper into this than I imagined I would be. I canceled all my plans for the rest of the year, because I realized, “Uh oh. I’m really on this show.” I’m very surprised.
You’ve had a big year beyond the show too. You released a new album and dropped a rerelease of We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. Have you had a chance to catch your breath?
It’s definitely been an exciting year. We made the newest album, Mystical Magical, last summer. When you’re doing that, you not only get excited about the music you’re birthing, but you can start to envision: Where can this music go? We can obviously play it live, we’ll maybe make some music videos, but who knows where this music will land and what lives it’ll touch? This whole year has been an unraveling of this mystical, magical, rhythmical, radical ride. I decided to let go and go on the ride.
It’s hard to predict what you’ll do in entertainment. I never knew what I would do. Twenty-five years ago, I thought, “Am I going to be a busker? Am I going to work at a coffee shop? Will I work on a cruise ship? I want to go wherever the stages are and I want to be a performer.” This year has gotten to take me to a lot of different stages and perform in ways that I’ve never performed. That’s something I always look forward to doing. I’m tickled. I’m thrilled. I can’t believe my career is still going. Next year, I hope to start creating new music again.
What have you learned while revisiting We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. all these years later?
When I made that album, I was coming off of a second album that—I wouldn’t say it flopped, but it didn’t have any real hit singles on it. I had done two albums straight, and I was completely burnt-out, and I had just decided I was going to kind of quit the game and go and do my own life. Stop touring. Go to the grocery store. I spent a lot of time doing yoga and surfing, tapping into a new sense of self and freedom.
I started writing about songs not thinking about radio, not thinking about charts or what the record label wanted. That became the album We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. To me, a lot of those songs were written for the fun of it or were written to be a little weird or to cheer up a friend, or to make another friend laugh. They were not written for a label. They were just written for fun. That’s why the album resonated so much with fans, because it was a unique album, compared to formulaic songs that I may have been trying to do in the past.
And it really resonated. “I’m Yours” was a mega hit.
Looking at the legacy of the album—I get why it’s popular. The album I made after that, Love Is a Four Letter Word, it went back to that formulaic, “I have to produce an album.” We Sing. We Dance. was so fun, but it also put me on tour for two straight years. Because the album was so successful, I ended up going into another slump after that—hence, “I Won’t Give Up.” I wrote that to keep going while becoming a very busy, if not even borderline depressed, person.
The legacy of [We Sing] was: Don’t worry about the reviews, don’t worry about the charts. Don’t do this for a committee. Do this for your heart, and the success will already be built into it, because you did it from your heart. I think that’s what’s happening with Mystical Magical. We made Mystical Magical from that same sense of freedom. It’s been taking us to wild places. The legacy of We Sing has taught me to do what I’m doing today.
Before we say wrap up, how are you feeling about your upcoming performance on Dancing With the Stars for Music Video Week? You’ve got a lot riding on this one, dancing to “Take on Me” by a-ha.
Of course, I’m nervous. I’m nervous every single week. This dance is going to be fast, there’s going to be a lot of footwork. We’re dancing jazz. I’m excited about that, because it’s the kind of dancing that I most likely would do on the dance floor, in a Broadway show or in a show choir. It’s very modern. I think a lot of modern dances are based on jazz, which is open to improv as well. It’s a fun dance, there’s a lot of syncopated, fast footwork. It’s going to be difficult to learn, but if we pull it off, it could be a real crowd-pleaser.
Well, get practicing!
I’m definitely going to go practice. We do it every day. It’s crazy!
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