Bruno Mars's Fever Dream Made the Funkiest Album of 2016
Photo by Kai Z. Feng/Courtesy of Atlantic Records
Last Friday, Hawaii’s greatest export not named Barack Obama released his new album. That export is Bruno Mars. Bruno Mars makes music strictly for movement. If he created a song whose sole purpose was not to move your body, then he did not make a song. That song would be buried and rendered useless. Bruno Mars has absolutely zero time for useless things.
24K Magic, Mars’s new album, is effectively his Thriller. Like Thriller, it has nine songs. Like Thriller, Mars sits proudly with one leg bent and one leg straightened out on the cover. Its biggest single may be the title song; it also contains seven other songs that may possibly be singles. Know what the ratio for absolute great Thriller songs is? Exactly 77 percent. The worst of Thriller contains “The Girl Is Mine." The “all right but not great” part of Thriller contains “Baby Be Mine." 24K Magic has only one “all right but not totally great” part to it in “Straight Up And Down." Even that may be a bit of a stretch.
Bruno Mars’s new LP, had it been released anywhere from 1988 to 2016, would be considered a jam. Had it been released earlier this year, it would be seriously considered for Album of the Year. It's a perfect album if you were a person who loved the synthesized style of 1980s R&B or even the ’90s New Jack Swing tip. But how? Why did Bruno Mars not only reach deep into his mind to attempt to bring back Versace shirts and Tommy Hilfiger? There’s a totally sound and logical explanation for it.
Bruno Mars got a Ghost Hunters-style visiting from three key figures in R&B’s grand history to do it.
HOW BRUNO MARS MADE 24K MAGIC
Bruno Mars, Pop Superstar, Possible Hawaiian Punch Man
The Ghost of James Brown, Godfather of Soul
The “Spirit” of Bobby Brown, King of R&B Circa 1989
Teddy Riley, Producer, Made “No Diggity”
— INT: LOS ANGELES STUDIO —
Bruno Mars sits alone. The Hooligans are long gone. It is post Super Bowl and the glow of making Chris Martin look ridiculous for telling both Mars and Beyoncé that they were Martin’s “support” has worn off. He needs to make an album. He’s due. Suddenly, with no one else in the room, not even The Hooligans, Mars begins seeing a vision, of a man in a loud red suit with one of the greatest conks of all time.
BRUNO: James Brown?
JAMES BROWN: MACEO!
BRUNO: I’m not Maceo…or am I?
JAMES: You ain’t Maceo. Maceo wouldn’t back-talk me. You back-talkin’ the Godfather of Soul, boy?
BRUNO: N-no sir. Although I may be high as hell thinking you’re in front of me right now.
JAMES: High? Boy, I know high. I invented high. The funk is rooted in the high! You saw that movie where they had Black Panther/Jackie Robinson/Thurgood Marshall play me?
BRUNO: His name is Chadwick Boseman. And since when is he playing Thurgood Marshall?
JAMES: Look, boy, we done gone over this. You see how he had that funk? That edge? You need that funk. And none of that “Uptown” mess you got ripping off my nephew Trinidad.
BRUNO: But you guys aren’t ev — okay, help me with the funk then.
JAMES: All right, you see that record where you talking about straightening out your problems? And you want that fire horn section and bop out of my bag?
JAMES: That’s the one! Here, take this herringbone chain.
Despite being The Godfather of Soul, James Brown is also a sentient being. Because James Brown. Also because Bruno Mars’s lyrics for 24K Magic are mostly about partying and fun puns about a woman’s insane body measurements. Brown shifts his feet, yelps with his traditional ad-lib and Mars records the sound.
BRUNO: That’s it. Make a song in the vein of James Brown...because all things funk come back to James Brown.
JAMES: You got it, boy. Now go fetch my car.
BRUNO [Looks around]: You didn’t drive here, Mr. Godfather of Soul. As a matter of fact, you appeared in a metaphysical sort of way. All you did was show up out of thin air. I mean, honestly, that’s a little crazy because you didn’t use a door or —
Bruno tries to explain the science behind James Brown's magically showing up in the room, but Brown is long gone. Mars has been rambling for a solid seven minutes before looking up and realizing that the Godfather of Soul is now the Godfather of Getting Ghost.
BRUNO: Oh, crap.
Mars sulks again in the studio. The album is now one-third done. “24K Magic” feels a little bit like Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” in his delivery, complete with the shiny gloss of a Zapp record. “Chunky” builds from a minor stab of The Whatanuts’ “Help Is On the Way,” and even Montell Jordan’s “Get It On Tonight." Now with “Perm,” Mars is solid. But not complete. He leans back and falls asleep again.
When he stirs up, he sees a figure with a Gumby haircut and minor designs. The figure has an Adidas tracksuit on that’s open at the jacket, showcasing two blinding gold chains. Mars’s jaw drops.
BRUNO: B-Bobby Brown!
BOBBY: The King of R&B.
Bobby Brown is responsible for the most famous solo album by any member of New Edition. He is also partly responsible for one of the more famous couples ever, Bobby and Whitney. But Bruno’s imagination of Bobby Brown isn’t actually Bobby Brown. It’s Keith Stanfield from Atlanta as Bobby Brown.
BOBBY: What’s up?
BRUNO: Um, I’m working on this album, right? James Brown was in here. Did you see James Brown leave?
BOBBY: N-nah, man. You sure you’re not tripping? Here, take this bag.
Brown passes him a small bag with white powder in it.
BRUNO: Oh no. No, no no.
BRUNO: I’m not getting locked up for possession of cocaine again! Wait, is this the same bag from the 1989 Video Music Awards?
BOBBY: No. It is not the same bag from the 1989 Video Music Awards. That was a vial. Second, you immediately assumed it was cocaine and didn’t even try to see if it even was. Rude. Third, you imagine 1989 Bobby Brown to be a talented drug abuser. If either you or me had to save someone purely off the power of their nose, do you think you would win? We’re just part of this game called life, man. Know how I managed to kill it with Don’t Be Cruel? I had the most simp writer of all time in Babyface & L.A Reid —
Bobby looks at Bruno and Bruno has effectively tuned him out, still boggled over the small bag of white powder.
BOBBY: [Claps] Hey!
BRUNO: W-what? Oh, sorry.
BOBBY: Did you treat Chris Martin like this? I swear to God if you treated that Coldplay motherfu-
BRUNO: Oh, nah nah nah man, no! I mean, kind of but because that was on order of Beyoncé and nobody tunes out Beyoncé. Have you visited her before?
BOBBY: Maybe. That’s not why I’m here, though. I’m here to help you out. You got a third of this album finished, right? What you got so far?
Bruno pans over to the three complete songs and cues up “Perm." Bobby Keith Stanfield Brown’s feet start shifting and dancing. He hits the Roger Rabbit and smiles bright.
BOBBY: Oh, you got it! Who you get that from?
BRUNO: James Brown! He was just here, you know?
BOBBY: You said that. I told you I didn’t see him. But I’ma help you out with this. You need a little late-’80s sex appeal on this joint.
BRUNO: I got sex appeal, baby.
Brown looks Bruno Mars up and down and scoffs.
BOBBY: I don’t think sex appeal comes in the shape of a tiny Hawaiian Punch Man.
BRUNO: Hey man, not cool.
Mars balls up a fist but knows better. He’s gonna end up telling this story later to a reporter. Nobody is going to believe he almost swung on his imagined version of Bobby Brown. He unfurls his fist and sighs.
BRUNO: How are you gonna help with my sex appeal on this album?
BOBBY: Oh, it’s simple. Gotta get a little glide, a little fun. Breeze, y’know? Now, look at the bag I handed you earlier.
Bruno looks down and the bag isn’t white anymore. Or even a bag. Somehow Bobby Brown’s mystical bag has transformed into a small totem of Prince.
BRUNO: [Perplexed] Did this bag just turn into a statue?
BOBBY: Can you name a man who executed spins in heels and could walk in the room and steal your girlfriend? And her girlfriends? And your mama’s girlfriends? No. The Totem of Prince will give you your sex appeal for this album. So it shall be written. So it is done.
Mars nods. Brown reaches into his tracksuit and finds a blunt and a lighter. He lights the blunt and takes a drag. Mars attempts to reach for the blunt but again, common sense defeats him. How in the hell is he going to smoke with a literal spirit? Brown smirks.
BOBBY: Now I’m leaving. I got the Something In Common 2016 Tour to hit.
Brown does the dance routine from “Every Little Step” and fades away. Mars looks at the Prince totem, then notices smoke rising from the floor. Bobby Brown left his blunt.
BOBBY: Oh, forgot that.
Correction, Bobby Brown didn’t forget his blunt. Mars sits the totem of Prince next to herringbone chain from James Brown. He records some more, crafting his sexiest song to date in “Versace On the Floor." “That’s What I Like” directs its lineage to Mint Condition of “Pretty Brown Eyes” fame, and Mars still sounds a bit like a modern Bobby on it. Six songs down. Three to go. He wants to complete his Thriller, but the late recording session has him drained. He falls asleep again. When he stirs, he is greeted by the visages of three men, all looking exactly like an album cover from 1987.
BRUNO: Oh my God, Teddy Riley?
Teddy Riley is a record producer from Virginia. He is the architect of New Jack Swing and took it to become the defining genre of early-’90s R&B. Though he was never great as a lead artist, he was spectacular in groups: See Blackstreet and Guy. His crowning achievement is producing Michael Jackson’s final “that’s Michael Jackson!” album, Dangerous. He also may or may not have handed out an ass-whipping via a Guitar Hero controller.
TEDDY RILEY: Yup, yup!
BRUNO: Look, I’m making this album. And I was already approached by the spirit of James Brown and the sp...I mean, actual Bobby Brown earlier. He tried to offer me a little co- that doesn’t matter. Why are you here?
TEDDY: We’re here to help you with this 24K Magic.
Bruno stops for a moment and ponders what the third wise man could have to offer. Would it be harmonies? Would it be any of Aaron Hall’s vocal runs that R. Kelly ended up stealing along with his look and pretty much most of his solo career?
BRUNO: Great! Wait, w— what were you offering? And why haven’t Aaron or Damion said anything?
TEDDY: Aaron’s still believing if he says anything, people will think he’s R. Kelly.
BRUNO: But he’s not.
TEDDY: We know that. He knows that. He’s just afraid if he says anything other than “jam," it’ll rip a hole in the space-time continuum. Watch. Aaron, say, “Thank you, Bruno.”
Aaron Hall meekly tries to say T, but his lips still curl into a J and he hangs his head in shame.
BRUNO: Oh wow.
TEDDY: Exactly. Now, you’ve already gotten Zapp on this album. You’ve already gotten a little Mint Condition. I saw Bobby and James leave earlier. We gotta complete the circuit. You need a little bit of us on the back third. So, we shall gift you...the melody for “Calling All My Lovelies” and the bass line from “Teddy’s Jam” on “Finesse."
BRUNO: And Aaron won’t sing?
TEDDY: We’re giving you the bass line. Him singing would be too much. I’ve already warned you. Now, take these gifts — ’cause you’ve already gotten your Michael Jackson moment ready to close.
BRUNO: Wait — what, Michael?
Riley pans to a small pocket of sand, glowing. Mars marvels at it before Riley digs and tosses the sand on the ground. It crackles and becomes static and funnels out into a tornado, similar to Michael’s spin in "Remember the Time." It then disappears, leaving a little twinkle of a star before fully breaking up in the air.
TEDDY: That’s from my MJ stash. It’s how Quincy Jones has remained alive for all these years. I’ve had to keep it away from Chris Brown because people still compare him to Michael.
BRUNO: What about The Week-
TEDDY: Say that name and I take back everything. EVERYTHING.
Mars gulps and complies. He willingly takes on the bass line and the melody, plus the MJ sand that transforms into “Too Good To Say Goodbye." The album is finalized, a nine-track LP built around the influences of many an R&B fan past and present. For a while, all seems calm. The album will meet universal acclaim. The tour will be announced. People will be enamored of the very notion that Bruno Mars is amazingly talented. He may be perfect.
Until the Estate of Marvin Gaye hears one whiff of the album and circles around their lawyers like the Legion of Doom.
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