Fans of music and football alike were recently surprised to learn that Bruno Mars was asked to put together this year’s Super Bowl halftime show. This was a bit odd, because, well… he just did it! Only two years ago, Mars performed with the Red Hot Chili Peppers as the intermission entertainment during the Seahawks’ systemic dismantling of the Broncos. There are so many acts, young and old, who the NFL could have gone to, why would they possibly be looking to Mars again so soon?
Perhaps it’s because he’s one of the few true showmen in pop these days.
Ever since Mars emerged in 2010, he’s felt a bit like a relic — a pop star from the ’50s or early ’60s transported into the 2010s. A Frankie Avalon amid a world of Taylor Swifts and Katy Perrys. Now, whether this makes his music any better than anyone else’s is up to each individual to decide, but what seems undeniable is the passion he puts into every performance. When you watch Taylor Swift or Nicki Minaj or Miley Cyrus perform at an awards show, you get the feeling the main features of the performance are supposed to be the costumes, the backup dancers, and the backdrop. In other words, everything except the actual singing. Mars is the exception to the rule. When he performs, the song – and his voice – are the stars of the show.
The most jarring example of this juxtaposition was probably the 2013 VMAs. As you may recall, this was the year Miley twerked on Robin Thicke while dressed in a costume that appeared to be a nod to the furry community, symptomatic of how a modern pop performance is supposed to work. Later that night, Mars performed “Gorilla” against a surprisingly sparse backdrop. Sure, there were lasers flying around, like you might expect at any rock show, but there was no gimmick other than “here’s a person with an amazing voice singing a song.” Did that make the song’s message of “makin’ love like gorillas” any deeper? No, but it was nice to see someone put the song first for a change.