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How I was finally forced to admit that Bruno Mars is a pop genius

I hated him, now I love him

How I was finally forced to admit that Bruno Mars is a pop genius
24 November 2016

Bruno Mars has just sold a million tickets for his tour in 24 hours. A million tickets. The ‘24K Magic Tour’ will see him play 100 shows over the course of eight months, taking in the States, the UK and Europe between March and November next year.

That means that Bruno Mars is, officially, phenomenally successful.

And, finally, after years of – justified – resistance, I am taking this opportunity to publicly admit that I don’t hate him any more. A declaration that, I’m sure, will come as a huge relief for Mars. 

In fact I’ll go one step further and admit that, as it turns out, he is almost definitely a genius.

Oh, but he’s so cheesy, right? He’s so uncool? He’s just an end-of-the-pier entertainer who did an Elvis impression when he was a kid, yeah? He looks ridiculous doesn’t he?

You are wrong. But also you were also right for a long time. Such is the enigma that is Peter Gene Hernandez.

But today I must declare: my name is Dave and I love Bruno Mars.

So, like all good trials, we must address the case for the prosecution. Just why did I hate him for so long?

To be fair to myself, as I always like to be, there are some substantial crimes in the story of Bruno Mars. We must first begin by addressing two songs which established him as a bona fide hit solo artist: Just The Way You Are, and his guest spot on Travie McCoy’s Billionaire.

He’d already popped up for a vocal ‘turn’ on the sadly-it-now-turns-out-he’s-anti-semitic B.o.B tune Nothin’ On You, which was alright. But Billionaire was atrocious. The needless swearing in the chorus (alright dad police) and the possibly-even-worse ‘freakin’ clean version. He pronounced ‘city’ as ‘ciddy’, was unbearably smug and, worst of all, was on a record with ‘Travie’ McCoy (what’s wrong with Travis mate? They’re a good band, Driftwood was a tune). I will never forgive McCoy for the aural atrocity of Cupid’s Chokehold, and that’s just a fact he’s going to have to live with.

But Just The Way You Are. Jesus, it was so wet. Surely, no one would fall for this cheesy nonsense? Oh, who was I kidding, I knew deep down that every single girl would absolutely love it, despite its calculating, sociopathic obviousness. Sure enough, off it soared to number one, while every wedding I went to would inevitably see it played at peak time while the happy couple cooed over each other.

“If perfect’s what you’re searching for then just stay the same”. Pass the sick bucket guys, this is going to take a while. That said, I couldn’t help but acknowledge and admire its calculating, sociopathic obviousness: this guy clearly knew what he was doing, even if what he was doing was evil and wrong.

Grenade was more of the same. Ubersmooth wetness, listing all of the romantic things he’d do for a girl – catching a grenade, jumping in front of a train and all the rest. Yeah, alright mate, you’re making the rest of us look bad – not sure a bunch of flowers is going to cut it any more. Thanks a lot. Again, though, maddeningly, it was clearly a well-written tune. This guy was dangerous; I was fearful what might come next.

I could not have forseen quite how bad the next step would be, though, as the absolute low point of his career (according to me, if not the general public) was to follow. The double whammy of The Lazy Song and Marry You.

If I thought Bruno was smug before, The Lazy Song was next level. Dreadful lyrics, sub-Jack Johnson music (if you can conceive of such a thing), the use of ‘freakin’ again, stupid pretend record scratches, annoying whistling. What’s that sound? Oh it’s just a thousand annoying gap year kids with acoustic guitars playing it. I just tried to listen to it again now and I only just made it to the end of the first chorus before wanting to violently maim someone.

But Marry You. Marry You was the nadir.  Clearly not already content with cornering the wedding market with Just The Way You Are, he just went full throttle in to make sure he’d be the soundtrack to a thousand ‘unique days’. There are actual wedding bells in the chorus. Y’know, just in case you weren’t sure what the song was about. This was just unforgivable stuff.

I remember seeing a giant tube advert of him grinning at me around this time, having entirely, shamelessly ripped off Michael Jackson’s wardrobe. Mocking me. Taunting me. “Yeah, look at me - successful, smooth and loved by women - while you’re stuck waiting to force yourself onto a peak time Central Line vision of hell”, his eyes seemed to be saying to me. No, Mars was beyond redemption: too smooth, too cynical, a soulless pastiche of the world’s greatest popstar who was succeeding on the basis of the blindingly obvious. Plus, he was very, very punchable indeed.

But then, the turning point. Enter stage left a man to whom Bruno owes an eternal debt: Mark Ronson.

Someone mentioned to me how good the new Ronson-produced Bruno Mars song was, from his new album Unorthodox Jukebox, and how it sounded like The Police. I laughed it off. ‘As if Bruno Mars, my mortal enemy, would ever make a record that sounded anything like The Police.’ Then I downloaded it, out of duty, for a forthcoming DJ assignment.

And it did sound like The Police. Unbelievably like them. Still, at least he’d moved on from being a Michael Jackson rip-off. But, crucially, it also had some grit to it. It wasn’t perfectly smooth. His vocal had some proper soul. It was a great tune, even I had to admit that.

Then When I Was Your Man. Just Bruno and a piano. Nothing else. A tale of heartbreak and regret. And I think I believe him. It’s a proper good song this.

Next up: Treasure. Okay, with this and When I Was Your Man he’s back to being Jacko again. But my God he’s got good at doing it. A slinky, funky belter of a track and again, that word: soul.

But, as every Mars-watcher knows, the true magic moment was watching him in action at the 2014 Super Bowl Halftime show. Opening up with an actually pretty impressive drum solo (not Phil Collins level, but then what is these days) before smashing through a blistering set, proving his absolutely impeccable performing credentials. Hell, even Just The Way You Are had some balls to it and he made the wise decision to leave out The L**y S**g and M***y Y*u.

In a recent Rolling Stone interview, he explained an incident relating to the production of his show, which could be read as arrogance, and yet – in the wake of watching his performance - you should read as a respect for the age-old profession of performance and hard work.

"They wanted to show a shot of the audience wearing these light-up bracelets. I told them, 'If you take that camera off me, you're doing yourself a disservice.' And what happened? They spent all this money on these things, and it didn't work. I've rehearsed the shit out of my band, so even if you put cafeteria lighting on us, we're still going to be doing it as if we had $5 million in production. That's the school I was brought up in. It's bar-band shit. Every smoke machine and laser light is just a bonus."

And his finest moment was to follow shortly afterwards, teaming up with Mark Ronson once again for a song – you might have heard of it – called Uptown Funk. It’s a song you’ve heard a million times and yet, unlike many other overplayed hits, still sounds fresh as a daisy. And why? Well, yes the production is obviously nigh-on perfect, but that vocal is just utterly irresistible. Just compare it to the vocal on his early stuff – there’s a world of difference. Meanwhile, the video showed him rocking a pink blazer and generally looking like the coolest cat on the block. He even changed his Twitter bio to read: “Julio, get the stretch!” The sign of a man who truly didn’t take himself too seriously.

Then, he went away.

Like a smart musician, and in these modern times, he knows that if you let the quality dip, you’re finished. How on earth to follow up Uptown Funk? By working hard and striving for perfection. And he was aware of the scale of his task, telling Rolling Stone, "Every beat has already been made, every rhyme has already been said, every chord progression has already been done. I'm competing with billions of other songs ... It's like winning the lottery – you just gotta get lucky."

The comeback single was 24K Magic, a song that I can safely say was the first Bruno Mars track that I’ve actively looked forward to hearing. And it was a belter: fresh, funky, Uptown Funk-esque without being a fascimile – bringing back some early-noughties Neptunes electroslink into the charts. And that prechorus, a thing of true beauty.

And his latest track, released just before his sell-out tour went on sale, a genuine slow jam, Versace on the Floor. It harks back to the glory years of the beautifully-written ballads – complete with Yahama DX7 all over the shop – of the eighties and nineties. It’s an absolutely brilliant song.

Which brings us to now, and the realisation that Bruno: you have my heart. It was a struggle, but we got there in the end.

Julio, get the stretch, and put some Bruno Mars on.