How Bruno Mars Took Four Years Off Without Losing Any Career Momentum
In November 2012, when Bruno Mars released sophomore LP Unorthodox Jukebox, he was very possibly the biggest male pop star in the world. His 2010 debut album Doo-Wops and Hooligans had spun off three top-five hits on the Billboard Hot 100 -- including the chart-topping ballads "Just the Way You Are" and "Grenade" -- on its way to eventually being certified five-times platinum. In 2011, his Twilight Saga: Breaking Down soundtrack contribution "It Will Rain," combined with featured appearances on singles by Bad Meets Evil, Lil Wayne and Snoop Dogg & Wiz Khalifa, kept his voice a fixture on the airwaves. And Unorthodox Jukebox itself was a smash, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, and spawning another pair of Hot 100 slayers in first two singles "Locked Out of Heaven" and "When I Was Your Man."
Then, for a long time, nothing happened. OK, not nothing: Mars continued to spin singles off Unorthodox Jukebox all the way through 2013, albeit to somewhat diminishing returns -- "Young Girls," the last of the album's five top 40 hits, peaked at No. 32 in March of 2014. He made a couple of featured appearances (including one mildly noteworthy vocal turn we'll talk more about later) but was generally nowhere near as regular a guest star as he was in between LPs 1 and 2. He performed an unreleased song on the season 2 finale of CW dramedy Jane the Virgin but didn't commercially release a single new song of his own for nearly the entirety of President Obama's second administration.
Earlier this week, Mars announced that on Friday, he would release "24k Magic," his first new lead track in almost four years. The enthusiastic, if not overwhelming, response to Mars' tease underlines the singer-songwriter's unusual place in the contemporary music realm: the rare superstar essentially able to come and go as he pleases. When Frank Ocean takes four years in between albums, he's a recluse. When Usher takes four years in between albums, he's a musical nomad. When Bruno Mars takes four years between albums, he's.... wow, has it really been four years already? Huh, didn't feel that long. It's an enviable territory to occupy for a public figure whose star is still only rivaled among male solo artists by a handful of dudes north of the border.
Much of Mars' ability to avoid the narratives traditionally associated with album cycles (and the dramatic pauses in between them) can be attributed to his relative lack of a career arc to begin with. Though he spent a number of years behind the scenes in the music industry, writing and producing on chart-busters like Flo Rida's "Right Round" and CeeLo Green's "F--- You" with his Smeezingtons collective, the first time the public ever heard of him was likely as the hook man on B.o.B's breakout hit "Nothin' on You," which hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 -- making Mars a star, before he even had his own Wikipedia page. From there, it's been a run of virtually uninterrupted prosperity for the man born Peter Gene Hernandez: No flops, no major controversies, no obvious industry drama inside or outside the studio. Despite his omnipresence on the radio, Mars never really felt overexposed, because his presence was always kept to his songs; otherwise, he more or less kept out of the headlines.
Of course, if you're going to have a career layover that lasts until the next Leap Year, it's never a bad idea to make at least one or two high-profile appearances to keep yourself in the public memory. In November of 2014 -- virtually the exact halfway point between Unorthodox Jukebox and "24k Magic" -- Bruno's DJ bro Mark Ronson dropped "Uptown Funk!," a Gap Band-updating spell of wedding-band sorcery featuring Mars on lead vocals, which wasted little time becoming one of the biggest hits in pop history. "Funk" spent 14 weeks on top of the Hot 100, becoming so ubiquitous that it still felt like a contemporary hit when Mars and his crew showed up to perform it at the 2016 Super Bowl halftime show, as Mars and Beyonce held a mini-dance-off. A one-off collaboration that may not even appear on Mars' next album -- or perhaps tacked on as a "Hotline Bling"-like addendum -- "Uptown Funk!" expertly showcased Bruno's casual pop supremacy, that whenever he wanted to, he could fit the music-listening world in the pocket of his pink blazer.
Can he do it again with "24k Magic"? Even without hearing the song, and even after a mostly dormant last four years, you'd be foolish not to bet on it -- simply because there's no track record of Bruno Mars ever doing anything else. Though other artists this decade may have notched bigger sales weeks, performed more high-profile gigs, and stood closer to the epicenter of the cultural moment, no one has had a more consistent, unflinching run of easily quantified mega-success as grown-up Little Elvis. And if he disappears for another decade immediately after Friday's debut, smart money will still be on him returning back on top in 2026.
Plus, Video Flashback: Bruno Mars Performs 'Grenade,' Live at Billboard