By Roberto Mucciacciaro
It’s no secret that chart-topping star Bruno Mars wears his influences on his sleeve. He initially stayed off of Twitter because Prince wasn’t on the service, and his appearance on last weekend’s episode of “Saturday Night Live” saw him dressed in his finest Sam Cooke wear. His latest bit of channeling the past comes from his new single “Grenade,” which finds Mars singing an awful lot like Michael Jackson, the late, great King of Pop. And as a YouTube search revealed, this is hardly the first time Mars’ name was associated with Jackson, as Mars has covered both Jackson’s “Dirty Diana” and “Billie Jean” in recent live settings.
The cover of “Dirty Diana” is especially compelling. Though Mars seems to have mastered Jackson’s legendary mix of sweetness and savagery, there is one thing that Bruno is definitely missing: The dance moves. Jackson dazzled his audience with his signature struts, pops and clicks. While Bruno may have great control over his guitar (another nod to Prince, a former Jackson rival), he doesn’t do much dancing.
But vocally speaking, it’s a fairly convincing rendition. Jackson’s original is one of his more intense, pointed vocal performances, constantly in danger of flying completely off the rails and wandering into shouting territory. The chorus has an almost metal quality, with a classic shout-along chorus that recalls Led Zeppelin and a wailing guitar behind it. Mars taps into the soul of the song and infuses it with a little more punch, erring more on the side of bluster over grace. It totally works, though anybody attempting to cover Jackson will always be unfairly compared to the King of Pop. Mars acquits himself well, but Jackson’s original remains a stunning piece of pop.