From Moist Dishcloth to Swaggering Motherlover: The Transformation of Bruno Mars
In two singles, Mars' potential as one of the standout male performers of this decade has become realised.
Have you read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Probably. If not, you'll at least be aware of the premise: nice guy Dr. Jekyll keeps his head down, but sometimes turns into a lairy character called Mr. Hyde. At its heart, the story is a meditation on the multiplicity of human beings, and the way that our behaviour can change situationally. But what Sparknotes and GCSE teachers won't tell you, is that it's also a perfect #metaphor for the chart-dominating behemoth that is Bruno Mars.
Alright so maybe not *perfect.* But close. Jekyll Bruno is the nauseatingly affable young man who gave us "Grenade". He bleats on about "loving" his girlfriend "just the way she is" even though she sometimes says that her arse is too big. He's alright, but does he produce music that makes you want to dry hump a wall after some rum and cokes? That he does not. Hyde Bruno, however, absolutely does.
Hyde Bruno is everything Jekyll Bruno isn't: cocky, cool, and lowkey the smoothest motherfucker under five foot five. It's this character that takes the reins on Mars' new single "24K Magic", a bombastic pop song so consummate that had it entered the world in the form of a baby, it would have slid out the womb without leaving a trace. This side of Bruno Mars is good. He's shiny, he's charming; he'd buy you a cherry daiquiri and call you 'baby,' and you would bloody love it.
So how does a man with a reputation for being as moist as a dishcloth transform into the swaggering, gold chain-wearing motherlover in the "24K Magic" music video? Was he hiding there all along? The answer, obviously, is yes. Much like the real Mr. Hyde, Bruno's funkier side has been lurking under the surface for years, a bit like a disease that makes you secretly really good at writing basslines. The powerful force that is Bruno Mars in 2016 has been there all along. Out of sight; out of mind.
Despite having only released two albums, Mars has written and released five UK Number Ones and ten Top 10 singles, as well as having written for CeeLo Green, Adele and Flo Rida, so it's clear he's always been talented. The songs that define nice, talented Bruno Mars – "Grenade" and "Just The Way You Are" – are ubiquitous too. But there's something not quite right about them. They aren't objectively bad; they just seem too fit for purpose and emotionally throwaway in their intentionally wide appeal.
When you're an artist trying to secure a critical legacy, as surely all musicians are, this sort of cruise-control approach to songwriting doesn't cut it. So for his next record, 2012's Unorthodox Jukebox, Bruno changed things up a little. He let his Mr. Hyde hang out a touch more; he started to embrace the funk that evidently flows through his tiny veins. Remember his Superbowl Halftime show from 2014? This is when the transition process toward becoming the chiselled enchanter of "24K Magic" became realised. This Goliath-esque moment is imprinted onto my brain, but in case you missed it, here's a video below.
Look close and you will see the lovechild of Michael Jackson (bc tiny) and James Brown (hips that launched a thousand thrusts). Until proceedings are inexplicably interrupted by a mildly terrifying appearance from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers that seems to last twelve years, the performance is a masterclass. And sandwiched somewhere in the middle is Bruno Mars' Sistine Chapel, "Treasure", the love song from Unorthodox Jukebox that he should have always been writing. Hearing the bassline in this song is like being helplessly compelled out of your seat by whatever God you believe in.
With its demanding "Gimme your attention, baby" opening line, Bruno Mars' Hyde side asserts its dominance. This performance and Unorthodox Jukebox signalled an evolution in Bruno Mars. Before our very eyes, he started to change from Jekyll Bruno who cried after sex, into Hyde Bruno who could seduce you from the other side of the room with but a subtle nod and knowing wink. It was the beginning of a new era. A brighter and better age.
The next step from this point was "Uptown Funk" - the first iteration of Bruno Mars in Full Hyde Mode. Admittedly, it's now a song that has been sort of lost to wedding DJs the world over, but it's also cool and fun, and there's humour in its kitsch 1970s-ness. Best of all, it takes the showmanship so inherent in Mars' live performances, and finally puts it on record, to resounding commercial and critical success. Of course, "Uptown Funk" isn't technically Bruno Mars' song (the credited artist is Mark Ronson). But this technicality allowed Mars to dive headfirst into a style he excels at without putting his neck on the line if it failed.
In a way, "Uptown Funk" was a musical test drive. Perhaps it showed Mars that 'universal appeal' doesn't have to mean strangely insincere love songs. Perhaps he realised his true purpose. Perhaps he got bored. Whatever the case, it was the final stepping stone to the prodigiously assured vocalist, superlative dancer, and expert sunglasses wearer we have today.
Later this month, Mars will release his third studio album 24K Magic. If the three songs he's showcased so far (the title track, but also the mid-tempo yet bass-heavy "Chunky", and "Versace on the Floor") are any indication, it's going to continue to stray further away from his earlier releases which can only be described as the emotional equivalent of a week old lettuce. By shaking off the safety of his Jekyll in order to fully embrace his Hyde, Bruno Mars has hit the jackpot.
Of course, Bruno Mars has always had a semblance of credibility. Singer, songwriter, choreographer, producer - he has won four Grammys and received a further 16 nominations. He has written some of the best-selling songs this side of 2010. His name is as omnipresent as Tinder and is met with a similar level of enthusiasm and disenchantment. But he's also never quite managed to cross over into the realm of consideration we have recently given to, say, Justin Bieber or Carly Rae Jepsen.
For all intents and purposes, he was a deeply uncool personality packaged and decorated as the opposite, like a member of the school band who snuck into a house party in a varsity jacket. Perhaps now, though, we are moving headfirst into the golden age of Mars, medallions and all. Perhaps he is about to make his own Bieber-like transformation into an artist who can sit between Kanye West and Tinashe in a DJ set as comfortably as he can in a book of songs you could do a flashmob to at a wedding. Perhaps 2016 will finally be the year Bruno Mars gets his dues.
You can find Lauren on Twitter.