#SHUTUP: Stop Attacking Bruno Mars!

Posted February 10, 2018 by J Matthew Cobb in HiDef

Envious artists, loudmouth cynics and know-it-all critics need to get over their bias on Bruno Mars’s Grammy sweep and meteoric success

The day after the 80th Grammy Awards, Bruno Mars was supposed to wake up to incredible headlines and raves. Like a gold medalist crossing the finish line, the talented prince of pop should have been greeted with an endless round of fanfare.

boniver-fleetfoxes-01And he did, technically. But if he ever turned his attention towards Twitter or any other portal for knee-jerk reactions on social media, he quickly realized the honeymoon was officially over. With 25 characters or less, musicians like Bon Iver and members of alt-rock band Fleet Foxes went on the attack.

“Absolutely NO offense to Mr. Mars, but you absolutely have to be s—ting me,” wrote Iver (pictured left).

Fleet Foxes’ member Robin Pecknold (pictured right) went on Twitter to reduce the music of Mars’s 24K Magic, a disc that chronicled old-school R&B with a chart-topping crossover formula, to being “Toys R Us Gap Band.”

“Despacito got robbed last night. I love Bruno Mars like everyone else, but can “Despacito” get one Grammy. Nothing? Are you kidding me?,” Sunny Hostin, The View co-host said while on air.

And this left led Rolling Stone scribe Rob Sheffield detailing why Mars won the top prize and not the critics’ choice, Kendrick Lamar for the stone cold killer LP, DAMN.

Let’s be honest here. With all due respect for Lamar, without even seeing how the ballots tallied, Mars was the clear winner in the pack — despite the critical observation given by Rolling Stone that Mars “passed the hernia test.” And here’s why. Lamar crushed all the competition in his field, leaving Jay-Z, Migos and Tyler, the Creator and yea, Cardi B emptyhanded. Goodness, he even won Best Music Video, a category which brought in nominees from the realms of pop and rock. But when there’s too much good competition with a certain style of music, it tends to create ample space for others to break through the pack.

And as good as Childish Gambino’s album was, there was no way Donald Glover’s alter ego would compete against Lamar. Thank God for R&B categories, where he was left scrambling for leftovers (he won Best Traditional R&B Performance). But Bruno, who recorded a more R&B record, also crushed the competition in his own respected categories. Anything he was nominated for, he won. And it started to happen in the general categories. And like a meteorologist tracking the path of a hurricane, the focused observer of the night could see what was going to happening before it made landfall.

And then others were attacked

Mars wasn’t the only one read for filth online. New Artist of the Year winner Alessia Cara, 21, was criticized across the Internet beltway for being “too old” on the basis of qualification. That’s because her biggest breakout hit “Here” was originally released in 2015 and picked up steam on radio in 2016, which meant she mainly qualified for last year’s ballot. But after a little research and digging, I found out that “Here” was never nominated for a Grammy. Her first nod came with the Zedd-produced  “Stay” for 2018’s Grammys, and was followed up with her collaboration with Logic on “1-800-273-8255,” which also earned her a nomination for Song of the Year.

So dislike her all you want if you think she’s too old to be in the running; no rules were broken. You become a New Artist the first time you’re nominated for a Grammy and when you make the first set of rounds for New Artist.

Attacks also flew in the face of Ed Sheeran for winning Best Pop Song for the addictive radio smash “Shape of You,” which left some feminists and loud #MeToo and “Time’s Up” activists bitter over how a song worshipping the anatomy of a woman’s body ironically beat out emotionally charged songs like Kesha’s “Praying” during a season when important protest or emotionally wrecking ballads like Gaga’s “Million Reasons” and Pink’s “What About Us” should trump anything sexual.

Oh please — give me a break. If that is the case, then let’s revisit how Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing,” a world-beloved song that Rolling Stone, NME and the Village Voice overwhelmingly ranking it near the top on their 1982 best-of lists. Not to compare “Sexual Healing” with “That’s What I Like” or anything else off of Bruno’s 24K Magic, but Marvin’s inventive future R&B was never considered for Best Song, even for Best Pop Performance. At this time, Top 40 radio was still doing away with anything raw, funky and disco-sounding. And the top Grammy titles of ’82 and ’83 were going to AC pop like Lionel Richie’s “Truly,” Joe Cocker’s easy-breezy “Up Where We Belong” and yes, Toto’s ecliptic “Rosanna.” Song of the Year went to Willie Nelson’s “Always on My Mind.” It wasn’t until MJ broke down the disdainful barrier that separated R&B from pop after the rise and fall of disco in 1984 with Thriller, a disc that earned him Record of the Year and Album of the Year — the same titles that Mars earned, where R&B could once again flourish in the same dimension of vanilla pop.

brunomars-02I know — Bruno is no MJ. But there was no mistaken the power and mighty grip his record, 24K Magic, had on the public conscience — first with its swag-heavy title track, then with the slick and sexy urban beats of “That’s What I Like” and later with the throwback David Guetta-powered remix of “Versace on the Floor” and the Cardi B-featured “Finesse,” which left us all gagging. And while most critics laughed off 24K Magic by only calling it a fun party record and nothing else, music lovers absolutely raved on it. Even Mars’s loudest haters pointed their pinky fingers to the moon in public spaces and dance parties.

This was not Thriller, but to our generation, it gave R&B a much-needed spotlight. And all of this is coming from a kid that jumpstarted his career singing breezy Top 40 pop. Instead of celebrating his recent wins, hip-hop revelers and a throng of rock artists were left throwing stones at the dude for varied reasons. And I can put my finger on some of the protest, especially coming from among my tribe: “Bruno doesn’t identify as black,” one journalist, Jenn M. Jackson, wrote last year. And from there came this swell of agitation from the deep underground that tried to minimize Mars’s efforts as being crossover R&B, for not good enough for the streets.

Why you mad/Fix your face

First to these rock stars suddenly angry at Bruno, let me say this. Other then Lorde’s Melodrama, y’all didn’t have one single rock song in the categories of Song, Album or Record of the Year. So why are you having a pity party over Mars? Shouldn’t you be workin’ on your craft, so your genre can make the list next time. In the words of Bruno, “why you mad? Fix ya face/ain’t my fault y’all be kicking, keep up!”

I thinks you protest too much. And your true feelings are trying to show. Don’t make me recount how disco and dancey R&B edged its way into Top 40 and how your borderline racist grandfathers all went ballistic at the labels, artists and the A&R’s, climaxing with a raging hissy fit at Comiskey Park for the nations to see. I’m bound to believe that these loosey-goosey reactions I’ve been seeing on social media from some of you —sadly outbursts that wouldn’t walk past a reliable publicist — are giving off hints of déjà vu.

Also, to all artists and music creators who want to cast stones at other artists; stop! Just stop!!! Focus on your craft, make music and leave the music critiquing to the music journalists and critics. Do your job and let the critics do theirs.

Yes, the public and the Recording Academy voting body may need to voice their outcry at the 2011 dissemination of the female and male categories that deducted the total award count from 109 to 78. Before, women battled women and men battled men in their respected fields. But with women rising to the top of pop like never before and as women demanded fair pay and equal billing with their male counterparts, the shrink was bound to happen. I can understand if most of the fuss on social media was focused on that, but no — a lot of you were severely mad that a specific genre or style had a clear domination over the party. And then a chunk of you got big mad that it wasn’t your favorite that won.

This was the year when rhymthic R&B, regardless of what color the artist was, crossed the finish line stronger. It showed up inside the music of Childish Gambino and SZA and Luis Fonsi’s cross-cultural “Despacito.” It appeared throughout the hip-hop offerings of Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar and yes, Portugal. the Man’s Motown-sounding “Feel It Still.” It showed up in the blue-eyed soul of Ed Sheeran “Shape of You,” Kesha’s “Praying” and her Dap Kings-applied “Woman.”

And yes, a steady flow of authentic R&B hasn’t been in the forefront in years. It’s a sad reality, as most of the today’s content has been diluted into a sleepy formula of alt-R&B with hardly any uptempo or pop-ready adventures to bite into. And it has left white acts to come in and apply the stuff on their own music (Adele, Sam Smith), giving them an extra jump on their street cred. But Mars’s 24K Magic, even for how weak it sounds when compared with his better disc Unorthodox Jukebox, was nominated for the top-tier awards. And I have always felt, especially as a critic, that if the Academy nominates something, it deserves to take home on the prize.

My review of the disc still stands. I think it lacked the pop finesse and lyrical glow of his last adventure Unorthodox Jukebox. It lacked some of the gloss from Doo-Wop & Hooligans, also another standout. And for that, it didn’t make my Best Albums of 2017 list. Having said that, I did praise him sound wise, stating it’s a “creative step up for Mars” and “ripe with really good sample-free sounds.”

But this is a guy, whether you like him or not, that has trailblazed the arena of pop on most levels, weaved back into his main inspirations of rootsy R&B and funk, and at the relatively young age of 32, rocked out the Super Bowl halftime show on his own (2014), and even appeared again in 2016 alongside Coldplay and Beyoncé. Give him his due — Mars is a fierce talent and should not be demeaned for his Grammy nods.

He won. Now accept it.

I sometimes wonder if people who gripe the most and the loudest are mostly uninformed and don’t know how the “system” actually works. They think it’s all about a popularity contest, like most award shows. And to a certain degree, the Grammys do work like that. It’s all about who is in favor with the voting bloc of the Academy. And like the Oscars, the majority of the voting bloc tends to tilt older.

But seriously, if I could rephrase words from Bruno, y’all are out here “tripping over his finesse and it don’t make no sense.” The same set of people complaining and getting big mad about Mars’s sweep and top title victories are probably the same folk that fussed over Daft Punk. Over Beck. Over Arcade Fire. Over Taylor Swift. Over Adele. Heck, probably are the same crew fuming over Herbie Hancock’s surprise win in 2008 (yup, even beating Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black).

When Hancock won, he said a beautiful thing. He thanked the Academy for “breaking the mold” for honoring the sound made by giants. “This is a new day, that proves that the impossible can be made possible,” he said. Like Hancock, Mars honored the shoulders for which his album rested on, congratulating musical influences like Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Babyface and Teddy Riley. For that moment, Mars paid homage to a music and sound that often doesn’t get enough critical praise. We should have joined him on the chorus. Instead, we began to heckle at it all.

Always remember this one thing with the Grammys: If something deserved to be nominated, it deserves to win. So shut up with all the petty jabs. And next time when a person wins the title, clap and join the chorus.

J Matthew Cobb is the managing editor of HiFi Magazine.
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J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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