Bruno Mars, the stage name of 23-year-old Peter Hernandez, acknowledges that up until now he’s mostly been known as the “featuring” guy. He’s been featured on rapper B.o.B’s No. 1 smash “Nothin’ on You,” for instance, and also gotten guest billing on Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire” (which topped out at No. 4).
But Bruno’s sidekick shtick seems well on its way to being history. With his first solo single ruling the Hot 100, a new album looming and, unfortunately, a new police record (he was arrested Sept. 19 in Las Vegas for cocaine possession), this smooth, piano-playing R&B tenor (a little bit Adam Levine, a little bit Michael Jackson) seems intent on making a name for himself.
First up: “Just the Way You Are,” an awww-inducing ballad sure to land on many a homecoming slow-dance list. On it, Bruno tries to reassure an insecure girlfriend that she’s the most delightful woman in the world to him. “She’s so beautiful/And I tell her every day,” he sings. “When I compliment her/She won’t believe me/And it’s so, it’s so/Sad to think she don’t see what I see.” The balance of the song is saturated with similarly sweet sentiments. “When you smile,” Mars tells his girl, “The whole world stops and stares for a while/’Cause girl you’re amazing/Just the way you are.”
The track is almost as innocent as it is saccharine. Sensuality rules most R&B songs, but Mars goes no further than pondering, “Her lips, her lips/I could kiss them all day if she’d let me/Her laugh, her laugh/She hates it, but I think it’s so sexy.” The video pictures the object of his desire wearing a shoulder-baring shirt and short shorts. The singer fondly strokes her leg as the pair cuddles on a couch.
But if “Just the Way You Are” is (mostly) a refreshing throwback to bleep-free, radio-friendly tracks from days of yore, some of Mars’ “featuring” contributions hint that not all of his solo material will necessarily channel the 1950s so thoroughly. His turn on “Billionaire,” for example, included several f-words. And one of his friends recently suggested to The Village Voice that the full album, Doo-Wops & Hooligans, may reveal the “darker underbelly to Bruno Mars.”
“People have said to me, ‘You’re not a nun—why does your music sound like it should be in Toy Story?” Mars said in the same article. “I blame that on me singing to girls back in high school. Girls love it when you croon to them.”
As Mars’ career progresses, then, we’ll have to see what all this crooning leads to.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.