Bruno Mars occupies a certain niche in the music market: an all-American sweetheart from Hawaii who makes old school beats great again. Mars has always delivered music that is not just pleasant to listen to, but also makes everybody fall in love with the person who creates it. For his third studio album 24K Magic, however, the singer has decided to challenge his image, resulting in a longplay that is full of paradoxes but lacks any surprises.
24K Magic is Mars’s first release in more than four years—a long time for a contemporary pop star on the peak of his career. Heavily influenced by Mark Ronson and their smash Grammy-winning collaboration “Uptown Funk,” Mars decided to change his image. Once a guy who made being lazy and romantic the new cool, Mars is now a shallow heartbreaker with Benjamins in his pockets and Prada on his feet. His new music reflects that. The title song, which serves as the lead single and the opening track, is an ultimate anthem of the luxury life—something that is usually prevailing in the hip-hop industry rather than in pop music.
“Wearing Cuban links/Designer minks/Inglewood’s finest shoes,” is the most innocent line in the song because after that it is all about players, pimps and other party people. It really feels as if yesterday’s heartthrob is trying hard to be as cool and edgy as possible and it does not occur to him that this may not work. Described as a “synth-heavy” funk, disco and contemporary R&B song, “24k Magic” is a feel good pre-game track. However, this lead single strongly lacks what Mars’ previous hits had—pulsing energy. “24k Magic” is too relaxed and does not make anyone want to jump to his or her feet and start dancing.
After the opening track, the album does not get any more exciting. The first three songs on the track list are definitely lively and semi-energetic party shakers, but there is nothing that Mars’ fans have not heard already. It was all there before, just this time it is more placid. A couple of songs into the album and the music gets monotonous. The listener only knows that the songs have changed when Mars’ voice starts sounding different. His voice however, is the golden gem on this album—it sounds more mature and controlled than ever. Mars hits his notes extraordinarily well.
“Versace On The Floor” is a ballad about making love that is reminiscent of Bryan Adams’ 90s movie soundtracks. Initially a song about sex, it sounds so pure and innocent that it is hard not to give in, making it an anthem of sweet seduction. With this song, Mars pens an ode to appreciation of a woman’s body. What everyone truly loves Mars for are his signature heartbreaking torch songs like “Grenade” and “When I Was Your Man.” In a world where everyone forgot what chivalry is, these beacons of true love make everything seem better. For this album, Mars decides to close the set list with a song like that. “Too Good to Say Goodbye” is Elton John’s “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” of 2016.
“I’ve made mistakes/I could have treated you better/I let you get away/There goes my happily ever after,” he sings. Sincere and moving, this is the best song from the whole longplay. However, it still has a flaw. It is at the end of an album full of Mars singing about being a player in “24k Magic,” buying women off with champagne in “That’s What I Like” and having multiple side chicks in “Calling All My Lovelies.” The biggest problem of the album and its sound is that it is the same as it has been for Mars’ entire career. Mars has radically pivoted in his lyrical themes and ideas that he explores, but not in the music itself. He has stuck to the same rhythms and beats. But unlike his previous two albums, 24K Magic really suffers from a lack of distinct sound. Simply put, there is no character in the music.
In the year where pop giants like Beyonce, Lady Gaga and even Britney Spears have released radically different stylistic music and were still able to stay true to their authenticity, Mars’ decision to hold on to the same style and not to experiment seems like a strategic mistake. Contemporary audiences are highly demanding. They constantly desire something fresh and raw. 24K Magic is neither challenging, nor novel and falls flat compared to his debut and sophomore works. In 2010, Mars was a perfect prom date that even the grumpiest father would love to have as a son-in-law.
Six years later, Mars has started messing with the wrong crowd and is now trying too hard to seem cool. His fans can hope that this is just a phase and that Mars will eventually realize that this does not feel like his true self. Artists now strive for authenticity and creative versatility. Even though this album has just come out, the world already wants to know what the “Uptown Funk” singer will do next because it will either help him boost his career to a new level or throw him into the group of singers who lost their true selves in their desire to impress.