CULTURAL LESSONS: WHY BRUNO MARS IS THE NEW MICHEAL JACKSON ?
Rob Roberts, National Post · Monday, Dec. 20, 2010
Usher spent 2009 and 2010 (and will likely spend 2011) trying to convince the world he’s the new Michael Jackson, but a few dance moves are nothing when your songs, um, suck. So turn your thoughts instead to Bruno Mars, who, it is submitted, is the new Michael Jackson — with Quincy Jones thrown in at no extra cost.
Mars arrived this year with Nothin’ on You and Billionaire, both guest shots but defined by our man: Both start with Mars’s joyful, soaring voice, and are at their best before the supposed stars of the songs even get started. If you downloaded them, he’s why.
At a time when pop music is dominated by songs for tweens or club kids, reliant on country (Taylor Swift) or camp (Lady Gaga) to provide songs for the rest of us, Mars is a Jackson-esque throwback. The man understands melody.
Let me quote Australian writer Tim Byron, who wrote the following after Mars’s Grenade hit No. 1 Down Under last week: “Grenade sounds a lot like Michael Jackson. In fact, it sounds a lot more like Michael Jackson than even the current Michael Jackson single Hold My Hand. Mars’ voice has a similar quality to Jackson’s; both have clear, high, tenors with just enough grit and trembling to convincingly sound anguished.”
Mars’s EP, It’s Better if You Don’t Understand, and his LP, Doo-Wops and Hooligans, are chock full of confection and promise. Listen to The Other Side, a Motown rave-up sung by a young man having a damn good time. Or Count on Me — what Feist would sound like had she been born a boy in Hawaii to Filipino and Puerto Rican parents. Or Just The Way You Are, just as earnest as Billy Joel but sounding nothing like Billy Joel, and I mean that in a good way.
Mars hasn’t yet shown the patience to consistently make good songs great. Some of his material peaks at being just fine. Maybe being your own Quincy Jones isn’t what makes you great — perhaps Quincy Jones makes you great.
And yet: Mars is up for seven Grammys, as a producer (as a member of the Smeezingtons team) and performer. He helped write Flo Rida’s Right Round, K’Naan’s Wavin’ Flag and Cee Lo’s F--k You. He’s Kanye, without the Auto-Tune and angst. He’s Jackson, without the scandals. Oops, scratch that: there is that Vegas drug bust, but we think Mars will beat it.
Mars is 25, a few years older than Jackson was when he dropped Off The Wall. But Mars, who was something of a childhood musical prodigy himself, shows no signs of becoming what Jackson became, and looks set to have a much different kind of career.
“I wish I knew what I was doing, ‘cause I’d be writing a hit song every minute,” Mars told the Cleveland Plain Dealer last month. “The only thing I do know is the feeling I get. The feeling I got when we wrote Just the Way You Are. The feeling I got when we wrote Nothin’ on You. The feeling I got when we wrote Billionaire. We never know if it’s going to be a hit or not. We just know if it feels good.”
Yes sir, we do.