“Praising the Radio Song,” Part I
Bruno Mars, “It Will Rain”
“If you ever leave me baby/leave some morphine at my door/Cause it would take a whole lot of medication/to realize what we used to have we don’t have it anymore,” is a melodramatic line, but strip it down to a falsetto and an acoustic guitar and I swear it’s not too far from something Elliott Smith would sing. (I say that as a fan.) This is where “buying into” pop comes in. I don’t know if I’d ever give the song a chance if I had never heard it on a freeway; but the elements of the song are undeniable, from its brooding, booming beat (the drums are insane), to Mars’ go-for-broke delivery. It’s a subtle, complex emotion writ large—the fear of losing someone and being possessive with this fear, with just a hint of martyrdom (“So keep in mind all the sacrifices I’m making/to keep you by my side and keep you from walking out the door”)—and because it’s so shameless it has power. His voice has a naked vulnerability that is unexpectedly moving.
I’m a sucker for any song about love that deals with the periphery of a relationship, like a parent’s acceptance. “I’ll never be your mother’s favorite/Your daddy can’t even look me in the eye/If I was in their shoes I’d be doing the same thing/Saying ‘there goes my little girl walking with that troublesome guy,’” were the lines to break me one day. You don’t get the feeling Mars (or the narrator of the song/Edward Cullen/whoever) is necessarily a bad guy, or even the archetypal “bad boy.” It’s more like her parents know he’s possessive and maybe even emotionally disturbed, but of course, “they’re just afraid of something they can’t understand.” Love really makes you crazy and makes you appear crazy to outsiders-looking-in, no matter how well-intentioned they may be. Nothing on the radio approaches this level of pathos, certainly not anything so tasteful as Adele’s heartbreak.
I used to think if a different person sang this song in the same manner it’d be more accepted, but I’ve never landed on who that person would be. It seems to come down to the idea of pop as a place where subversiveness is snuck in, so who else but a hugely popular singer placing a song on the soundtrack for a massively popular movie could be appropriate for the job? It’s the most wrenching love song on the charts.
Click through for Matthew’s whole piece because it is worth reading, but in a rare moment of caring about how many words I spew on your dashboard, I shortened it.
Bruno Mars is a great racially ambiguous looking fellow (despite his silly Elvis hair). He can sing my god can he sing. None of that changes my distain for Mars’ songwriting, which is smug, full of itself, over-dramatic, and all of these qualities can be in “simple” love songs.
“It Will Rain” hits on all of the checkpoints. I can be over dramatic in regards to relationships with people, and depending on the day I can make one too many emotional connections to a TV show or movie, but the opening line “If you leave me baby, please leave some morphine at my door” looses me immediately. I am fine with raising the stakes to try and better convey emotions, but with Mars he takes base emotions I could relate to, and pushes them into a cartoonish realm. These overly wrought metaphors (this song’s endless rain) are accompanied by the stadium filling production with Mars too-tortured singing. There is a good song somewhere in this mess of overblown emotions, but it is needs to be taken away from Mars. To remove his signature touches, but more importantly to rescue the song from its end of the world terms Mars uses.