Bruno Mars first topped the charts with his No. 1 smash ” Just the Way You Are,” an infectious, soul-filled ditty about the joy of blossoming love. “Grenade,” on the other hand, ponders what happens when that flower fades and dies. Or maybe … explodes.
Mars recounts a familiar story, a story of a man who falls for a woman who proves utterly unworthy of his attentions. The warning signs were there from the beginning and seem clear in retrospect, Mars tells us. “Should’ve known you was trouble from the first kiss/Had your eyes wide open, why were they open?” But it appears his affection blinded him, at least in the beginning, to the hard truth that the woman he loved didn’t love him back. Not even a little bit.
On one level, Mars’ sad tale of unrequited love has the feel of sacrificial nobility to it. Despite the one-way nature of the relationship, Mars insists that he would have done anything for his lady, even laying down his life for her if necessary. “I’d catch a grenade for ya,” he laments, “throw my hand on a blade for ya/I’d jump in front of a train for ya/You know I’d do anything for ya.” And if those sentiments weren’t a sufficient expression of his commitment, he adds, “I would go through all this pain/Take a bullet straight through my brain/Yes, I would die for you, baby/But you won’t do the same.”
At a lower elevation, though, the gaping wounds in Mars’ bleeding heart are at least partially self-inflicted. He’s a man who just can’t bring himself to walk away even after he’s gotten a good dose of reality regarding this woman’s character. (There’s no mention of marriage here, so the assumption is that they’re still just dating.) As the song progresses, the lovelorn singer labels his romantic tormentor a “bad woman,” even a “mad woman” who would “rip the brakes out” of his car and watch his body “burn down in flames.” She’s so infernally vindictive that he jokes, “Tell the devil I said ‘hey’ when you get back to where you’re from.”
Her hellish heart notwithstanding, though, Mars still pines for her. We know this in part because in the song’s video he pulls an upright piano through various Los Angeles neighborhoods—including hostile gang territory—to prove his commitment. When he gets to her home, she’s with another man. Turning away, Mars eventually heaves the piano onto a train track where—you guessed it—he waits for the speeding locomotive. The footage flatlines just shy of his violent suicide. Instead of jumping in front of a train for her, it turns out, he tosses himself on the tracks.
Talking about these themes, Mars told idolator.com, “I can relate to [“Grenade”] so much. … It’s a heartbreaking heartbreak song, and I think everyone can relate to that. You’re so in love with this woman and you don’t understand, ‘What am I doing wrong? What am I not giving to you? I’ll go as far as putting a bullet in my brain for you, and why can’t I get that kind of love in return?'”
It’s worth answering that question with another: When does devotion edge its way into self-deluded obsession? Self-sacrificial love is noble and beautiful. But—outside of the marriage bond—does it remain so when that sacrifice is made on behalf of someone who’s proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that she’s not worth it?
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.
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