Bruno Mars' Music Is Derivative of Everything You've Heard Before, and That's OK

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Bruno Mars
Photo by Kai Z Feng
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Two years ago, before Donald Trump took up the mantle of managing the world's most volatile Twitter account, the president's future campaign opponent, Kanye West, thought it pertinent to apologize to Bruno Mars in fewer than 140 characters.

After saying he was sorry to Beck for crashing the Grammy stage after the L.A. rocker's album Morning Phase bested Beyoncé's self-titled visual album, West tweeted, "I also want to publicly apologize to Bruno Mars, I used to hate on him but I really respect what he does as an artist."

West's faults are well documented, but he's correct on all fronts here. The VMA should have gone to "Single Ladies" over Taylor Swift, Beyoncé deserved the Grammy over Beck's album, and it's a mistake to dismiss Bruno Mars' songs as cheesy, reductive throwbacks. Yes, most of the music the world has heard from Mars — who will be in South Florida for two shows beginning Sunday — is grounded in doo-wop homage and heavy nods to the Police, Michael Jackson, and James Brown. But if Mars could raise the dead and bring them all onstage with him, he'd be more than capable of holding his own alongside them, as he proved during his electric 2014 Super Bowl halftime show. He was so successful in that performance that two short years later, Coldplay brought him and Beyoncé, a fellow halftime show veteran, back to the world's biggest stage to liven up a pedestrian set.

Bruno Mars isn't afraid of a throwback. He leans into his old-school influences and centers them before any critic can use them to call him unoriginal. He named his debut album Doo-Wops & Hooligans, explicitly paying respect to the mid-20th-century vocal harmonic music genre that inspires his most saccharine ballads. And his latest single, "Versace on the Floor," is more than just a little reminiscent of Michael Jackson's "Human Nature." His dance moves are ripped straight from the pages of James Brown's playbook, but even the Prince of Pop admitted to borrowing from the Godfather of Soul. At the age of 4, Mars was already known as the world's youngest Elvis impersonator.

Though his artistry sometimes walks the tightrope between inspiration and imitation, it's admirable that Mars gives clear credit to the artists who shaped his sound and vision. At the very least, he saves valuable time by avoiding public Twitter feuds with the stars who inspired his work. His acknowledgment of his influences also gives younger listeners the opportunity to dig through record crates for the music of the artists he name-checks.

Avoiding Mars' music in favor of the artists and records he reclaims is no great sin, but the man is harmless. Flipping the channel with snobbish disdain when he takes the stage at the Grammys, on SNL, or at the Super Bowl is a missed opportunity to catch a performance by one of today's most captivating entertainers.

Bruno Mars. 8 p.m. Sunday, October 15, at the BB&T Center, 1 Panther Pkwy., Sunrise; 954-835-7000; thebbtcenter.com. Tickets cost $95 to $295 via ticketmaster.com. 8 p.m. Wednesday, October 18, at the American Airlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 786-777-1000; aaarena.com. Tickets are $45 to $175 via ticketmaster.com.

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