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.