24K Magic is so close to being exactly what I wanted it to be, but its faults greatly hinder on its success and even pure listen-ability. To say that the record’s faults, which I will get into, hinder its success is partly untrue, since the record will still sell incredibly well and will probably be on top until The Weeknd’s release, but when I say it hinders its success, I mean that 24K Magic could have been one of the greatest records of the past decade and cemented Bruno Mars in funk history. Instead, we have this.
Our story begins with a young Hawaiian Elvis impersonator named Peter Gene Hernandez. Little Peter gained a lot of attention being a cute little Elvis, but his solo career as Bruno Mars moved onto songs for the gooiest and most impressionable teen girls imaginable. Think One Direction’s “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful,” or the similar “Just the Way You Are” from Mars’ debut record. There were a bunch of Bruno Mars songs that I enjoyed though, his next record had a couple jams like “Locked Out of Heaven” and “Gorilla,” and he wrote amazing songs for other artists such as “Fuck You” by Cee-Lo Green, “Nothin’ on You” by B.o.B., and “All I Ask” by Adele. Then “Uptown Funk” happened. Think of it what you will, “Uptown Funk” is Bruno Mars’ greatest song, and that’s why it was relentlessly owning the end of 2014 into most of 2015.
“Uptown Funk” is everything that Bruno Mars is supposed to be in my mind, and it might have been the magic of Mark Ronson that made it so, but 24K Magic is not the follow-up “Uptown Funk” deserves. For me, at the time of “Uptown Funk” and the Super Bowl dance-off posse, Bruno Mars had the capacity to be this generation’s James Brown. Borrowing from Brown, Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross, Justin Timberlake, Bell Biv Devoe, and every successful pop/R&B artist of the ’80’s, 24K Magic appears as diet-“Uptown Funk,” just short of the real magic that it could have achieved.
Bruno has almost all of the James Brown persona down except for the most important part. He’s got the posse, the dance moves, the theatrics, the grooves, and the Super Bad attitude, but he forgot the most important part about James Brown: he was the symbol and soul of the Civil Rights, Black Power Movement. Songs like “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” and albums like Live at the Apollo with his band that practiced day and night to be incredibly tight brought funk to the world. James Brown wasn’t just original and powerful, but he was a musical innovator.
Bruno Mars gives being James Brown his best shot, but he doesn’t take a stance politically or try to use his massive means and capabilities to expand the boundaries of funk in 2016. Instead Bruno Mars plays it safe. The existence of a real band is pretty much dead, so that will only be experienced in his live shows, maybe, but the sheer cold digital production of the record gives everything a paper-thin quality, removing some of the soul in the process.
As well, the lack of originality on this record is unbelievable. “That’s What I Like” sounds just like “I’m a Flirt (Remix)” by R. Kelly, “Versace on the Floor” sounds like “Remember The Time” by Michael Jackson or any 80’s love ballad, and I’m pretty sure “Finesse” is actually just “Poison” by Bell Biv Devoe, like they might get sued. I wonder at what point of making this record Bruno Mars just decided to see what “This Is How We Do It” by Montell Jordan would sound like if it was recorded by A-ha, cause that’s basically what this album sounds like.
Is 24K Magic all bad? No. Some of those I mentioned above and more are actually pretty good, and besides an abundance of some of the corniest lyrics I’ve ever heard, the record isn’t all that bad; it’s just safe. Bruno is going to make a good amount of money off of this record because he’s Bruno Mars and he writes decent cheesy pop that people are going to buy no matter what, but is it worth such a throw-away of artistic creativity? When you know how great this record could have been and how much potential lies inside Bruno Mars, 24K Magic seems like a sellout.
Making derivative pop music sells records, so we know that formula works, but it’s artists who break the mold, expand a genre, take a stance, and become musical innovators that stand the test of time. Following “Uptown Funk,” 24K Magic could have been that record, but instead, we just got the diet version, which feels more like a Beyoncé Pepsi commercial than it does Lemonade. 24K Magic disappointingly proved that Bruno Mars isn’t here to be a statement, he’s just riding a fad.