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The Very Best of Bruno Mars

From best cover to best temperature, our staff gives their favorite Bruno superlatives

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

On Friday, Bruno Mars released 24K Magic, his third studio album. And for a guy not terribly far removed from the start of his career, Mars has covered an impressive amount of ground: silk PJs have replaced fedoras, horns have replaced synths, and funk has replaced … well, funk. 24K has our staff in a Bruno mood — so Ringer staffers have put together a list of their favorite Bruno-related songs, videos, and ephemera. We’d fall on a grenade for you.

Best Album Cover: ‘24K Magic’

(Atlantic Records)
(Atlantic Records)

Justin Charity: I mean, obviously: the one where he’s lathered in the finest cocoa butter and sprawled in luxe crimson pajama shorts, sitting upon a golden chair, fresh off a hot round of room service, having ejected the previous evening’s guests — including the hairdresser, who restored Bruno’s perm to its rightful sheen before the morning hit, much as James Brown used to get his hair redid backstage immediately following performances, because the singing and dancing matter, yes, but so do basic appearances. Bruno’s looking good.

Best Car Sing-Along Song: “Marry You”

Juliet Litman: “Marry You,” from Bruno’s first record, now seems at odds with most of his catalog.

Compare that to “Versace on the Floor” (“I love that dress / but you won’t need it anymore”) or even “The Lazy Song” (Tomorrow, I’ll wake up / Do some P90X / Meet a really nice girl / Have some really nice sex”). It’s almost as if “Marry You” was written before some kind of libido transplant. Even if it doesn’t match the Mars bravado any more, and was covered on an early season of Glee, “Marry You” is still a fun song. How do you not bop along with the drums? Bopping to a wholesome diddy is best enjoyed alone, preferably in the car. Don’t waste time with your friends on this one, but relish in it at a red light.

Best Song(s) You Didn’t Know Bruno Mars Wrote: “All I Ask”

Rubie Edmondson: Being roughly the same age as Adele, I’ve always had a certain affinity for her age-coordinated albums. Adele: She’s just like me! Except, wildly successful and endlessly talented. So on my first listen through 25, I was skeptical. Adele and I both seem a lot happier these days. Does she still wield the power to reduce me to a blubbery mess of tears?

It took until the penultimate track, but the answer, instantly and resoundingly, was yes. “All I Ask” is Adele at her very best, aching vocals accompanied by a single piano, textbook chord progressions arranged perfectly so. And it instantly called to mind the chorus of another rainy-day standby: Bruno Mars’s acoustic recording of “Grenade.”

A quick Google search revealed that Bruno Mars co-wrote “All I Ask” with Adele. Of course he did.

That’s why I love Bruno Mars, songwriter: He’s not reinventing the pop music wheel, but he’s created his own music signature that makes artists across the spectrum sound pretty damn great. It’s like AutoTuning “Jason Derulo” at the top of every song to announce your arrival, except the “Jason Derulo” is just a baller, catchy, thoroughly Mars-ian (Martian??) melody.

The other great thing about Bruno is that once you hear his influence, you can’t unhear it. After I gushed about my love for “All I Ask,” a colleague noted that he gets even less credit for co-writing CeeLo Green’s “Fuck You.” Like “All I Ask,” “Fuck You” could easily have appeared on a Bruno Mars album. But in the hands of CeeLo, it became an iconic anthem. Let’s hope Bruno continues to be unselfish in spreading the wealth around, because as he proved a few weeks ago, he might be the only person who could give Adele a run for her money.

Best Measure of Heat: “Uptown Funk”

Amanda Dobbins: There are four credited songwriters on “Uptown Funk” — Mars, Mark Ronson, Jeff Bhasker, and Philip Lawrence — and no one, to the best of my Googling, has stepped forward to take credit for this particular line: “I’m too hot / make a dragon wanna retire, man.” It’s fine; there’s only one man who could sell them. Bruno Mars is literally (a) comparing himself to a mythical being’s fire breath (b) claiming that he could outperform said mythical being in a way that would make him want to quit the fantasy beast game, and (c) MAKING IT SOUND COOL. True performers are rare, and Bruno Mars is one of the greatest we have at the moment. Pour one out for the dragons.

Best Number of Chains: Three

Sam Schube: I’m not quite sure how to describe Bruno’s current style — lots of gold, plenty of silk, and the occasional pair of white loafers adds up to … Once And Future King Of Boca, maybe? — and I’ll suspend judgment on the dude’s taste level. He’s found a costume that works for him. And I think I know why it works. Consider this shot, from the “24K Magic” video:

(Atlantic Records)
(Atlantic Records)

Three chains in perfect harmony. A gold rope, for tradition’s sake. A large pendant, for Versace’s sake. And a small golden cross, for the lord’s sake. The sacred, the profane, and the goddamn silky all collide. Is it stylish? Sure. Maybe. But it’s beautiful, balanced, and extremely gaudy, and that’s all that matters.

The Best Lyric That Suggests Bruno Mars Really Wants to Have Sex but Maybe Doesn’t Know How Sex Works: “Meet a Nice Girl / Have Some Really Nice Sex”

Allison P. Davis: It’s clear that the song “Versace on the Floor” from 24K Magic is Bruno’s humping anthem. Like he wants people to get busy to this song so bad and he probably also wants to get busy to this song. But, while Bruno actually writes a lot of songs that should be horny, his overall sexuality is so innocuous and goofy that the effect is less “arousing” and more “I’m going to struggle to undo your bra for a while before laughing and giving up and suggesting we go play mini-golf.”

When you contrast this to other recent pop songs about sex, like “Pillowtalk” or “Side to Side” that reveal both artists have fucked, when Bruno Mars writes about sex, it’s similar to asking a small, young child to describe something they haven’t seen before or a concept they don’t fully understand. Allow me to illustrate, using perhaps the most clueless line from an early hit, “The Lazy Song”:

Us: Bruno Mars! What’s your sexual fantasy?

Bruno Mars: “Meet a really nice girl / Have some really nice sex / And she’s gonna scream out, ‘This is great’”

Us: Aw, yeah OK, buddy. That’s just fine.

Best Hooligan: Kameron Whalum

Litman: The Bruno Mars experience reached a new gear with “Locked Out of Heaven.” While the haters were shouting about how it sounded like a Sting tune, they were missing the point. We already knew Bruno could croon. Unorthodox Jukebox taught us just how deeply he could groove. Bruno 2.0 was a man who couldn’t stop moving, bolstered by his very own Pips — er, Hooligans. The backing band became a permanent fixture of his stage show, giving new life to horn instruments. The trombone, in particular, seemed cool again thanks to Kameron Whalum, who managed to step in time down the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show catwalk while still playing a very demanding instrument. That’s the type of athletic accomplishment we just don’t marvel at enough. Whalum is now essential to what Bruno does, having been upgraded to backup singer and dancer in an NBA jersey. He blends into the set piece but the performance would be lesser without him. In other words, he’s the perfect hype man.

Best Person to Interview Bruno Mars When He Was a 4-Year-Old Elvis Impersonator: Pauly Shore

Lindsay Zoladz: By now you surely know Bruno Mars’s earliest claim to fame: He was “the world’s youngest Elvis impersonator,” a local celebrity in his home state of Hawaii. His precocity earned him a few high-profile gigs, like an appearance in the 1992 comedy Honeymoon in Vegas and the documentary Viva Elvis. But the strangest thing to ever happen in Bruno’s past life as Tiny Elvis was that he was interviewed on Totally Pauly. Here is proof that this happened. What you learn from watching this clip is something you probably could have guessed, which is that Pauly Shore is exceptionally bad with children. They do not get him, because they are infinitely wise. Bruno Mars always seems happy and at ease, but I have never seen him more uncomfortable than he is in this interview, in which he is forced to sit next to a grown man in bathing suit bottoms, a leather vest, and a Barney-purple mesh shirt. I guess even child prodigies have to pay their dues.

Best Album Opener: “Grenade”

Schube: In an era of singles and streaming services, the album has fallen by the wayside. Sequencing, progression, a plan: How much do these things matter anymore? Bruno Mars knows that they don’t, really. But he’s also sensitive to the need to open his albums with a bang. So he just stuffs the jams right up front. 24K Magic’s eponymous single is that album’s first track, a blast of Soul Glo right as the needle drops. “Young Girls,” which is weird and creepy and still undeniably a hit (how confident must you be to make a song about your attraction to very young women your first promotional single??), opens Unorthodox Jukebox. But I’m going with “Grenade” here, Track 1 on Side A of Doo-Wops & Hooligans, Mars’s debut. It’s propulsive, but it’s weepy. It’s mature, but it also sounds like it’s accompanied by the choir that sang on the Lion King soundtrack. It’s an odd way to introduce yourself to the world. But golly, we’re glad to have met you, Bruno.

Best Top 40 Song That Is Secretly About How Your Mid-20s Can Be Rough: “The Lazy Song”

Alyssa Bereznak: On “24K Magic,” Bruno warns “I’m a dangerous man / Put some money in my pocket,” while dripping in gold jewelry. But before he began exclusively wearing silk shorts, he was just another Venice Beach rat fantasizing about a winning lottery ticket. Early Bruno was not something you listened to in da club, but while you were enjoying a Corona on the beach, attempting to forget you had overdrawn your bank account for the third month in the row. He embodied the lost but very chill 20-something of the early aughts: Bob Marley, but for kids who shopped at PacSun and would probably move back home after college.

And during this era of scrappy Bruno came “The Lazy Song.” A very simple, sweet tune about doing nothing. (“I’ll be loungin’ on the couch just chillin’ in my Snuggie / Click to MTV so they can teach me how to Dougie / ’Cause in my castle I’m the freakin’ man.) Because its vibe is upbeat, pretty much everyone interpreted this song as a simple ode to relaxation. But in the context of broke Bruno, it makes much more sense that he’s describing a certain kind of creeping inertia that sets in on the brink of adulthood. He doesn’t want to see anyone. He’s abandoning all societal rules regarding hygiene. Maybe he won’t even get a college degree. He just wants to put his hand in his pants, sit in his apartment, and pretend it’s a castle. Either Bruno accidentally wrote a song about adult-onset malaise, or he did it on purpose and tricked people into thinking it was fun. Either way, I’m sure there were plenty of college students who related to that song in ways they would only understand years later, as they stared their quarter-life crises in the face.