Levine has adjourned to one of the studio's shady garden patios, joined by his yoga instructor, Chad Dennis. He rarely misses a day's workout, and with the band jetting to Costa Rica tomorrow to headline a festival, Levine, a fearful flier, is eager to schedule a session. He starts to sing the chorus of Buddy Holly's "That'll Be the Day," a ritual meant to appease the gods who watch over rock stars traveling on chartered flights. (Holly was killed when his plane crashed in 1959.) "I hate flying," Levine says. "Know why? Because no one really understands how planes actually work."
I ask him if he's really as anguished as he appears when forced to choose between team members during the show's Sophie's Choice–like battle rounds. "Oh, totally, dude," he responds. "If I'm incapable of one thing, it's that I can't ham shit up like that. Trust me." Cast by the reality-TV impresario Mark Burnett as the show's quote-unquote rock star—"He's got the swagger, he's got the looks," Burnett coos—Levine has used the opportunity to present himself as anything but.
"I've always felt a little misrepresented in the world," he explains. "I felt like people only knew me as a singer who dated pretty girls. A little bit of a bimbo. Maybe I was kind of a bimbo," he adds, laughing. "I was the music dude that was naked all the time with the girls, and that's fine, no problem with that." (Levine and Vyalitsyna posed together in the altogether for Russian Vogue.) "But I wanted to create a little balance. When the show came around, I thought, 'People now know that I have a brain.'"
Reality TV is rarely thought of as a platform to establish one's gravitas, but such is the plight of a soft-rock stud. Maroon 5's blue-eyed soul, channeling funky-honky standard-bearers like Hall and Oates and the Police, was never going to be hipster fare, but the band's club-honed chops, their sure-handed embrace of R&B, and Levine's silky high register created a string of hits and established Maroon 5 as one of the few old-fashioned bands (they write their own songs, play guitars and drums and shit) who could crack Top 40 radio in the face of hip-hop, teen pop, and super-divas.
"A lot of people perceive our music as very safe," Levine says unapologetically, "but it was a reaction to the conformity I was rebelling against. When I graduated high school, I moved to the east side of Hollywood and everyone was hip and cool. Everybody wanted to be the Strokes, and I wanted to sound like Michael Jackson and write pop songs. Maroon 5 may not be groundbreaking—we're not fucking Arcade Fire—but we did shit that other bands weren't really getting down with.
"We're counting on the cultural-feedback loop to pull a Journey on us," he continues, half joking. "Journey wasn't cool. Now I can't go out one night without somebody screaming the words to that fucking song. That's what we're banking on. We'll play Coachella in 15 years."
Pop acts like Maroon 5, though, much more so than Coachella headliners like Arcade Fire, rely on hit singles to keep their profiles and ticket prices high. With the 2010 album Hands All Over, the band was relegated to airplay on adult-contemporary stations. If Top 40 radio is high school, then A/C, as it's known, is a PTA meeting. When Burnett called Levine about a U.S. version of The Voice of Holland, Maroon 5 were staring at middle-age spread. "We'd released our third record and it wasn't doing well," he says bluntly. "We weren't irrelevant, but we needed to shake things up."
Levine's bandmates, not surprisingly, had mixed feelings about their singer's solo plunge into the murky waters of reality TV, but Levine says he "was just going to listen to myself." Steven Tyler had just joined American Idol; "If he can get away with it," Levine figured, "so can I." Soon after Levine signed on, the four coaches, strangers prior to The Voice, were getting hammered, at Burnett's urging, on pricey champagne at L.A.'s Soho House, attempting to forge a connection and wondering what they'd gotten themselves into. "Adam called me and said, 'Dude, you should never have given us your credit card. You will not believe this bill coming your way,'" Burnett recalls. "But it was worth it, of course. The chemistry between the judges is absolutely crucial to the show's success."