Sunday, October 09, 2016

HEAR THIS: Fix Your Face, BRUNO's Back -- and it's a little Too Real

It's hard to believe but "Uptown Funk" was first released nearly two years ago. Let that sink in. That joyous nugget of a retro funk jam -- produced by Mark Ronson and heavily featuring vocal by Bruno Mars -- was everyone's favorite song for what felt like forever and even now hasn't really overstayed it's welcome. This past week, Bruno returned to the radio with what could arguably be labeled -- at least on your first listen -- as "Uptown Funk (the late 80's remix)" and I couldn't be happier. But the more I thought about it, the more I got into it, the more I felt there was, well, more to the story here.

Stroll with me.

As a performer, writer, and musician, Bruno Mars is gleefully rocking out in very small league of true contemporaries. Precious few can whip up co-signs like he can and maybe this is because he makes it really difficult not to groove. You could hypothetically attend a Bruno Mars concert without being a "fan" and have a blast. He's cemented himself into the culture and is respected as a true modern son of musical geniuses like Michael Jackson. With Bruno, it's about having a good time and it's definitely about the music.

His latest -- "24K Magic" (also set to be the title of his upcoming album) -- is both familiar and a fresh spin, the next step in the Bruno uptempo evolution we've come to expect. "Locked Out of Heaven" and "Uptown Funk" incorporated elements of 70's homage -- Dazz Band's "Let It Whip", The Police's "Roxanne", The Gap Band's "Oops Upside Your Head" -- while "24K Magic" strolls on to the lavish excess of the 80's, albeit through rose colored glasses produced in 2016. (It also can't be just me who hears so much Roger Troutman influence here -- aka the talk box guy in 2PAC's "California Love" -- and considering Bruno references Inglewood and employs a healthy dose of Auto Tune, I don't think I'm too far off. And yeah, this boy band fangirl listens to some 2PAC on occasion, alright? Why you mad? Fix ya face.*)

*EDIT/UPDATE*: My thanks to my friend and blogger David Minogue for the reference of Zapp's "It Doesn't Really Matter" -- the lead vocalist/talk box-er is the above mentioned Troutman himself and the song basically sounds like what "24K Magic" was trying to accomplish genre-stylistically speaking. And it's fantastic.

Certainly there are elements here that I don't like (all the ladies being used as objects is as tired as I feel most days, some of the lyrical references are utter posturing garbage) but a part of me finds them hard to hate because what if this golden character Bruno is embodying, bandying about telling you "Why You Mad? Fix Your Face?", what if that's the point here? Glide on with me and try to Keep Up!

Remember that halfway terrible, halfway unabashedly catchy Macklemore single from last year? It was clearly inspired at least by the success of "Uptown Funk" and I enjoyed it more than I care to admit to. "24K Magic" is that song's long-lost cousin, a funny-because-its-not-funny pop offering that lyrically makes us a little uncomfortable, maybe because it's a little too real.

I hate to keep harping on like a broken record but perhaps what both keeps me replaying "24K Magic" and feeling a little short-changed is it's hard for me to unsee this lyrical character as a parody of Donald Trump. Because really, who better illustrates this extravagant lifestyle in 2016, insisting you agree without question and party hardy? Keep Up!

"Don't look too hard / Might hurt ya self! / Known to give the color red the blues"

"I'm a dangerous man with some money in my pocket / Keep up! / So many pretty girls around me and they waking up the rocket / Keep up! / Why you mad? Fix ya face / Ain't my fault ya'll be jockin' / Keep up!"

"Second verse for the hustlas, gangstas, bad bitches and ya ugly ass friends / Can I preach? Can I preach? / I gotta show 'em how a pimp get it in / First, take your sip, do your dip / Spend your money like money ain't shit / We too fresh! / Got to blame in on Jesus / Hashtag BLESSED / They ain't ready for me."

It's uncanny, isn't it? I hope I didn't ruin a pretty good Bruno jam for you. While the universally embraced "Uptown" -- released back in the innocent days of 2014 -- was the arguable bee's knees for you, me, the toddler next door, the stiff white guys at the Club, and even grandparents regardless of wanting to be "hip" or not, a part of me is curious if "24K Magic" will do the same. 

The immediate reaction has been pretty unsurprising -- everyone's happy Bruno's back, making catchy dance jams that allow Millennials (and everyone else) to feel some ownership over late 80's nostalgia-inducing pop. This style has been en vogue for awhile now. What I'm waiting on is for people to give Bruno the credit he's due for subtly reading the room, gently trolling us by holding up the mirror so we can see our ridiculous selves -- in golden rope-chain necklaces while we dance our troubles away.

#BLESSED is right.

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