Why Bruno Mars Is the Prince of Pop and Not Adam Levine

Posted January 21, 2015 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

Don’t believe me, just watch: Bruno Mars easily eclipses Adam Levine and his Maroon 5 marching band as the next heir to MJ’s throne

In 2012, Details magazine threw a curve ball at the world when they prematurely named Adam Levine the new king of pop. The news came right after the Maroon 5 frontman cranked out the hit of a lifetime — the 2011 summer smash “Moves Like Jagger,” an uptempo ditty staged as a one-off with his game show co-host Christina Aguilera. To some, the hyperbole fell on deaf ears while others challenged the write-up, especially since Michael Jackson deserved an original successor rather than a rock-pop band frontman. Nevertheless, it was a piece of over-hype. In that moment the chiseled Levine transformed into a front cover sensation, wowing the ladies (and gay gents) with sexy poses and revealing new body ink. While the spotlight shined on his persona, the band started to lose its grip on pop radio. The harder they tried to evolve, the stranger their come-hither appeal seemed. 2012’s “One More Night” was the group’s last Number One hit, although “Daylight,” “Love Somebody” and last year’s “Maps” were all Top Ten hits. The band remains quite relevant. Levine’s starpower is also in good standing, since he remains in the hot seat as one of four celebrity judges on NBC’s The Voice. But is he still worthy of the Prince of Pop crown, eligible in taking the late Michael Jackson’s mantle?

Meet a new contender: Bruno Mars, an artist that has already amassed more party favors than Levine.

Firstly, let’s outline the obvious comparisons:





















On paper, it looks like Levine and his Maroon 5 army has the upper hand. But let’s dig under the surface for a second. Mars jumped on the recording scene in the second decade of the 2000s; Maroon 5 has been around since the turn of the century. For the younger Mars to amass such fortune and accolades in just a short period of time says something about his magnetic pull on the masses. Plus, it’s important to point out that in 2010 Mars was the opening act on some of Maroon 5’s North American dates.

Under the surface one will discover another side to the story: Mars is virtually in a league of his own. Yes, he headlined his own halftime show at a Super Bowl. But there’s more. As a producer and charitable songwriter, he has giving a handful of big records to others. According to a report by the International Federation of Phonographic Industry, “Just the Way You Are” and “Grenade” are two of the most sold singles digitally of all time, with sales of 12.5 million and 10.2 million, respectively. And with only two albums to his name, Mars has done what very few male singers have done in the 21st century. Three Top 5 singles off the first album (Doo-Wops & Hooligans), a Top 5 single off a motion picture soundtrack (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1) and three Top 5 singles off the sophomore album (Unorthodox Jukebox). Mars’s last album has produced two Number One hits; Maroon 5’s last record, V, has not produce one. Despite “Maps” and “Animals” being Top Ten hits, V hasn’t earned a single gold or platinum certification in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Mars’s domination continues to explode.

Into the first weeks of 2015’s arrival, Mark Ronson’s funky party jam “Uptown Funk” — an ode to the musical styles of Zapp, Prince and the Gap Band —swings its way to the Number One spot on the Billboard 100. On the week of January 24, the Ronson-produced effort has been on the chart for only nine weeks and it’s holding tight to number one in its second consecutive week. And of all the tunes on that week’s survey, it had the biggest gain in streams and airplay. In other words it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. The tune also features Mars as a co-songwriter and as the song’s trusty frontman. The tune can be best described as unconventional for a pop hit. Almost every song that “Uptown Funk” pays homage to never even saw the higher portions of the Billboard Hot 100, making this effort feel like a fluke. It’s unlike any of Mars’s straight-to-radio efforts. He’s play with funk before, but nothing this funky. But that’s what makes Mars so exceptional. Only someone like Michael Jackson could turn something this un-trendy into the crave of the day. “Don’t believe me, just watch,” Mars shouts out over this hybrid of ol’ skool funk. It might sound self-indulgent, but Mars — a heir of Jackson’s musicality — is showing signs of a confident torchbearer to MJ’s legacy.

While Maroon 5 continues to dance around the edges of safe pop, Mars is bending the rules of radio. His last couple of hits obviously show that he isn’t afraid to just make big leaps artistically. “Locked Out of Heaven” put the sounds of Sting and the Police back into rotation. With only piano and vocals, “When I Was Your Man” puts him on a short list of modern-day artists to sing a love ballad using sparse arrangements. As of now, Adele and John Legend are the only qualifiers. And “Treasure” was a definite throwback to Earth, Wind & Fire funk-pop.

Now with “Uptown Funk” spinning, today’s radio is highly receptive to every move by Mars. The people are responding and they are hungry for more. The song has already been certified platinum in the UK and so far has sold 2.1 million copies in the US. Whether the groove is saturated in The Police rock, Elton John balladry or unapologetic R&B funk, Mars is right there. And sitting at the top.


J MATTHEW COBB is the managing editor of HiFi Magazine. Follow him on social media on Twitter (@jmatthewcobb), Facebook and Instagram.


About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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