Valentine’s Day has got us head over heels for music…
David Sheffieck: This is no “Versace on the Floor”, but it’s a better “24K Magic” than that song was, relentlessly upbeat and winningly so. Bruno Mars is more interesting and more fun the stranger he gets, and while “That’s What I Like” starts out conventional enough it picks up layers as it goes. The emphasis given to “I would never make a promise that I can’t keep,” the way the chorus takes things down a notch, the keytar he seems determined to bring back all by himself: this is the sound of an artist picking the pockets of his influences with no shame, and yet ending up with a song that sounds almost entirely his own. At this point Mars is inhabiting a world completely removed from that of his contemporaries, and reaping the benefits.
Maxwell Cavaseno: Mars is a weird figure in pop, in so much that he knows how to be grave and overwrought one day, buffoonish and playful the next. He can do novelty like few others, but has a vocabulary that makes most pop songwriter type figures look comparatively slight. After his Ronsonized Morris Day act somehow transitioned into an obsession with R&B, its been surprising to note that Mars is actually toning down the “wink-wink, ironic ukulele” tendencies. Yes, “That’s What I Like” is playful and preening, sounding like a union between Jodeci and (yes) The Time’s “Cool,” but you never get the feeling that he’s trying to play the clown for cheap laughs. The only downside is that his usual clownings are what ensure radio success, his schmaltz here not the kind of basic-cable-sitcom-goofing that he’s mined to great effect, and thereby feels too obvious.
Thomas Inskeep: Yeah, Bruno can be ridiculous — cf. “strawberry champagne on ice,” “wake up with no jammies” (he actually sings that), etc. — but when he’s having this much fun, so much fun you can hear it on the record, and doing it against a cocky late-’80s/early-’90s Bobby Brown take on poppy R&B, I am utterly incapable of resistance. Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds may only have a writing credit on one track on 24K Magic, but his version of end-of-the-’80s R&B is all over the album, baked into its DNA. The more I listen to the album, the more I hear it, and the happier I am. And while in the context of its parent album, “That’s What I Like” is a middle-of-the-album cut, standing on its own as a single, it sparkles like a fistful of glitter.
Ryo Miyauchi: Bruno Mars smothers in “That’s What I Like” as if he never wrote “Just the Way You Are” before. This new sleazy, 24k Magic-era playboy constantly got to qualify his tender side with a reminder of his lifestyle, lavish and materialistic as his bubbly-soaked beat. He tries to play off his softer tastes — strawberry champagne and silk sheets, among others — as if it so happens what she likes, he likes too. I’d roll my eyes if it was any other dude, but this is Bruno, a man who says “jammies” with a straight face. Especially during this new cycle, the charade for him isn’t acting sensitive but tough. And it’s intriguing to see what he writes to express sensitivity while still heavy in character.
Will Adams: Bruno Mars’ embrace of all things gaudy is endearing, especially on stage, though after this single the novelty might begin to wear off. At least we get to see how it works in this charming slow-jam template. There’s a devil on my shoulder whispering that this could very well be the same protagonist from “The Lazy Song” and “Billionaire” five years later and without the ukulele, but I prefer to think of nicer things.
Claire Biddles: One of my favourite things to do is imagine what pop stars’ houses are like, and what they’d be like to go out with. I reckon most boy pop stars are exaggerating in their songs, which is fine — who wouldn’t want an elevated version of reality in their pop? — but I reckon Bruno Mars is EXACTLY as cheesy and excessive in real life as he describes in his songs. He’s DEFINITELY got a condo in Manhattan and silk sheets and lobster tails available for dinner, probably served directly to your bedside by on call cater waiters. I also don’t think he’s showing off to make himself look good, I think he genuinely does want to make a gal feel good — corniness is for sure an essential part of the Bruno Mars brand, but earnestness is MORE important — he wants to give you all this and swears that’s he’s into it too, and he IS. Like the magnums of strawberry champagne he’s offering, the excess of treats and pleasure would lose its sweetness after a while, but it’s an absolute DELIGHT for a little while.