Albums, Features

Bruno Mars’ 24k Magic, or How Peter Gene Got His Groove Back


Bruno’s new album came out a few Fridays ago (I know I’m late on this, sue me) and holy 90’s nostalgia, is it good. It actually took me all 11 days for me to listen and digest this album–okay who am I kidding? I couldn’t stay still long enough to write more than a sentence at a time. I mean, have you heard this album? I haven’t stopped listening to it since it came out, which means I’ve listened to it a total of 12 million times because this album only has 9 fucking songs. That’s like 30 minutes, which I’d like to think is short, but it may be all my attention deficit millennial peers can handle. But for what it lacks in length, it makes up for in pretty much everything else.

Sometimes I forget that Bruno Mars is not a real name, the same way that I forget that he sang “Nothin’ on You” or that B.o.B. still makes music. Peter Gene Hernandez has come a long way since his humble but banal as fuck, fedora-wearing, piano-crooning days. He’s graduated from flannels and pompadours to cuban links and designer minks, and a brand new “player” persona. “Bad bitches and your ugly ass friends”? Hard to believe this is the same guy who made his name singing, “Girl you’re amazing just the way you are.” God, this album is so good, it almost makes me forget about his other crimes besides wearing fedoras, like “The Lazy Song” and the music video for “Grenade.”

That being said, I will never stop blaming him for “Marry You” and the dancing wedding entrance phenomenon, but this album is helping to assuage the deep hatred that I used to feel for him. I’m kidding, his songs never had enough substance for me to hate them in the first place. But I think we’re past that, are we not? Bruno’s new album was interesting–full of melodic color, layers on layers of lush, percussive synths and groovy funky beats. It’s like Bruno finally let his guard down, stopped hiding behind his bland good guy act, and finally revealed the true diva behind the mask. I mean I hate to say it, but compared to this new album, isn’t the old Bruno so fucking boring? Like what the hell? We caught glimpses of this energy in songs like “Treasure,” but he really came out guns ablazin’ with “Uptown Funk” and waved goodbye to the old Bruno. And though I miss the old Kanye from time to time, I don’t think I’ll ever miss the old Mr. Mars.

I can’t think of any bad things to say about any of the songs on this album, which is a first. I’m a “#hater” as they say, and I can usually find at least one thing to be spiteful about, but I genuinely liked every song on this album. What a concept, right? They could not have picked a better song to open this album than the explosive funk anthem, “24k Magic.” It builds you up slowly with that retro vocoder harmony at the start, then fully unleashes it’s viciously groovy beat and pulsating synths. This beat is so infectious, that I would almost be willing to bet $100 that you wouldn’t be able to keep your composure and not dance for the whole 3 minutes and 47 seconds of the song. (I only say almost because I know what incredible feats people are able to accomplish when money is involved and I am not that rich.) I’m willing to wait two weeks to hear your thoughts on this because like I said, you probably won’t be able to get through more than a sentence at a time.

At first listen, these songs kind of sound like they could really have been sung by anyone. But if you think about it, is there any other artist that you would forgive for saying “Chunky/Looking for them girls with the big ol’ hoops/That drop it down in daisy dukes”? Or, “Rent a beach house in Miami/Wake up with no jammies”? If those words came out of Usher, Trey Songz, or even R. Kelly’s mouths, I would slap them across the face because I could not handle how stupid it would sound. But somehow it’s okay when Bruno does it. You know what I mean? Maybe we let him get away with a lot because he somehow manages to be adorable but super suave, harmless but a little bit dangerous at the same time. I think he’s the only person that could have pulled off this album without seeming too arrogant or aggressive.

Speaking of suave and lil’ bit dangerous Bruno, “Versace on the Floor” is the kind of nice guy that I imagine Bruno Mars is. Like a sexy suave gentleman who would tell you that he loves that dress on you but he likes it better on his floor, you know? He finally quit kidding himself and realized that “wholesome” is a social construct and we’re all sexual beings at our core, and that’s ok. He totally objectifies women on this album, but he’s not gross enough for it to not be okay, if that makes sense. It’s almost endearing in a way. He also is unapologetic about knowing his designers, which I appreciate. Well, that or he’s staying relevant and it’s a nod to that catchy Migos ditty.  

One of my favorite songs on the album is “That’s What I Like.” Dare I say it’s what I like? Ugh. None of the things that he talks about in the song strike me as things I would like, but that’s beside the point. There’s just something so satisfying  about the way they articulate the “Lucky for you, that’s what I like” line. And I’m such a sucker for the “Jump in my cadillac, girl let’s put some miles on it” section. God, can I put Bruno’s producer in my will? I’d like to leave him all my worldly possessions because I might die if I hear this album one too many times. “Straight Up and Down” is a good one too. This one showcases Bruno’s range and voice really beautifully, I think. The ooohs in the background are such a nice touch too. I seriously don’t have anything mean to say. It’s almost making me sad.

Wait, actually, when I first heard “Calling All My Lovelies” I thought it was terrible. That sexy announcer voice and the Halle Berry voicemail seemed like it was trying too hard to make this a late night hotline commercial song, but then I heard the line “I’ve got Alisha waitin’, Aisha waitin’, all the eesha’s waitin’ on me,” and the ooohs building that gorgeously lush chord in the chorus and I was sold. The harmonies all over this album are seriously amazing. Seriously, I’m ready to name my firstborn child after Bruno Mars’ producer. [Editorial Note: the author has revoked this statement after discovering that Mars, Christopher “Brody” Brown and Philip Lawrence produced the album under the moniker “Shampoo Press & Curl.”]

The weakest song on this album in my opinion is “Finesse.” It’s the most forgettable, I think? And the only one that I can’t really think of a specific instance I really love. Maybe it’s the song, or maybe it’s the fact that “Finesse” was the name of a super retro looking shampoo one of my friends in elementary school used, that she bought in bulk at Costco. Who knows. Don’t get me wrong, it fits in the album perfectly, and it’s a good song! It just isn’t as interesting as the others. But oh man, “Too Good to Say Goodbye” is a gorgeous song. The chorus of this song is everything. The melody is to die for: unpredictable, yet so familiar. God, I could really listen to this album all day.

Overall, this record is all over the map yet somehow it all works. There’s a little James Brown, a little bit of Bobby Brown, a sprinkle of Usher, a smattering of R. Kelly and Boyz II Men. It’s almost scary how good Bruno is at all of this. He transitions from decade to decade, style to style so effortlessly that you only realize it when you start to think about what exactly you’re listening to. Here and there, there are jarring moments like, “#blessed” or references to Instagram and Twitter that remind us that this is not actually a record from the 90’s, but somehow even that is recklessly endearing. This album plays out like a mixtape perfectly curated by that one friend whose taste is refined beyond her years. Bruno has managed to mold the past into the future and bring the trendsetting decade into the spotlight, in front of a young audience that probably doesn’t even remember the 90’s (or, even scarier, they might not even have been ALIVE in the 90’s wtf). He’s even grasped the 90’s persona just right. Metro, hetero, and trendy af. He put some perm in his attitude and blinged himself up with some 24k magic, only to reassure other men out there that it’s finally cool to care too much about your appearance again. We’re finally past the era of trying too hard to look like you didn’t try it all, and rolling into the 24k golden age of bragging about how much you care. I love 2016 Bruno Mars and I don’t care who knows it. Now please excuse me while I listen to the album for the 12 millionth time.

December 1, 2016

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Reina Shinohara Reina is a person who just found out she's from the snobbiest city in California. You can find her at a cafe sipping unreasonably priced artisan coffee writing a condescending tweet that will probably stay in her unpublished drafts.

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