Bruno Mars doesn't want to be put in a box. Which, perhaps, is why there's a bit of everything on his aptly named sophomore effort, Unorthodox Jukebox.
In an interview with Billboard, Mars said of his genre-blurring style, "I listen to a lot of music, and I want to have the freedom and luxury to walk into a studio and say, 'Today I want to do a hip-hop, R&B, soul or rock record.'" As for record execs' critical opinions of Mars' chameleon-like musical persona, well, let's just say he doesn't much care what they think. "I've had big record label presidents look me in the face and say, 'Your music sucks, you don't know who you are, your music is all over the place, and we don't know how to market this stuff. Pick a lane and come back to us.' That was disgusting to me."
It's an in-your-face attitude that extends beyond style into content on Unorthodox Jukebox: "[The label] made me change a couple of things on [my last album, Doo-Wops & Hooligans] and I felt disgusted about that. I didn't do that on this album. If I can't be me doing it, I'm not going to have any fun. If I'm changing things around because people might think it's a hard pill to swallow—like, 'Wait a minute, this isn't the Bruno we know'—then I'm going to feel like a circus clown onstage, selling something fake."
Those quotes beg the question: Will fans find Bruno Mars' insistence on doing things his way "fun" … or "disgusting"?
After his girlfriend walks out on him, a regretful rejectee on "When I Was Your Man" ponders his narcissistic mistakes and takes responsibility for them: "Too young, too dumb to realize/That I should have bought you flowers/And held your hand/Should have gave you all my hours/When I had the chance." Those shortcomings, he admits, stemmed from his self-absorbed personality: "My pride, my ego, my needs and my selfish ways/Caused a good strong woman like you to walk out of my life."
Similarly, "If I Knew" finds Mars apologizing for how his promiscuity has emotionally impacted a relationship with an innocent woman he's fallen in love with. "Oh, oh I, I was a city boy/ … A boy who had his fun/I wouldn't have done/All the things I've done/If I knew one day you'd come." Later he adds, "Baby, I, I wish we were 17/So I could give you all the innocence/That you give to me."
That last line on "If I Knew" could also be construed as an allusion to the young woman surrendering her virtue.
The breathtakingly coarse song "Gorilla" imagines a torrid flurry of animalistic sex, using the f-word in a sexual context. Bruno admits that the conquest in question is fueled by alcohol and cocaine: "Ooh, I got a body full of liquor with a cocaine kicker/And I'm feeling like I'm 30 feet tall." Regarding his partner, he says, "You got your legs up in the sky with the devil in your eyes." And when their coupling borders on physical abuse, she likes it: "Yeah, I got a fistful of your hair/But you don't look like you're scared/You're just smiling, tell me, 'Daddy, it's yours.'" Unprintably pornographic lyrics elsewhere again feature the f-word, this time paired with "mother."
Sex is the primary subject matter on most of the other tracks too. "Young Girls" casts Mars in the role of man who's so enamored with wild women that he feels he can never have a normal relationship. "All you young, wild girls/You make a mess of me/ … I'm addicted and I don't know why." Then he laments, "Oh, I still dream of simple life/Boy meets girl, makes her his wife/But love don't exist when you live like this." (There's a lesson in there somewhere, but Bruno certainly hasn't learned it.)
Mars' No. 1 hit "Locked Out of Heaven" compares sex to salvation ("Your sex takes me to paradise/ … You can make a sinner change his ways/Open up your gates, I can't wait to see the light"). "Moonshine" fondly recalls sex the night before and looks forward to a couple's next tryst. The opening lyric in "When I Was Your Man" implies that a now broken-up couple had been cohabiting ("Same bed, but it feels just a little bit bigger now"). And the reggae-infused "Show Me" offers yet another ode to bombastic sex: "It's getting freaky in this room, room, room/Now let me hear you say you want that boom, boom, boom."
"Treasure" includes the album's other use of "m‑‑‑‑‑f‑‑‑er." "Money Make Her Smile" is about a woman's willingness to strip for cash.
"Natalie" derides a scheming, manipulative woman as a "gold-digging b‑‑ch." More darkly, the song hints that the man she conned intends to do violence to her if he ever finds her: "Little Miss Snake Eyes ruined my life/She better sleep with one eye open/Better make sure to lock her door/'Cause once I get my hands on her, I'ma oh"). Later lines about him smiling in prison imply he made good on those threats. He spits, "The good Lord bless your soul/'Cause I done already cursed your name."
In his Rolling Stone review of Unorthodox Jukebox, Jody Rosen summarizes, "On his second album, Mars sings endlessly about sex—wild, wind-swept, Wagnerian sex." The smuttiest song here, 'Gorilla,' has … a lyric that R. Kelly would kill to have written."
And you know that when someone from Rolling Stone labels a song "smutty" that you're dealing with some pretty nasty stuff indeed. We also know now why his record label made him change some of his material for his first album.