In case you missed it, Grammy winner Bruno Mars was the topic of discussion on the popular web series The Grapevine. The show features a panel of Black millennials having spirited conversations on everything that ranges from colorism to politics to pop culture.
A recent episode focused on Bruno Mars and whether he is a “culture vulture.” The two-part episode is over an hour long, but there were a variety of opinions. Some went so far as to compare him to Miley Cyrus while others said he is a person of color so there is no comparison. However, the episode has gotten attention for even having the conversation, which some have claimed is far-fetched.
See a brief clip below — before you watch, the commentator says, “Bruno Mars has an album of the year Grammy and Prince never won an album of the year Grammy.” She is right, but Prince lost his album of the year Grammy in 1985 to Lionel Richie, another Black artist. Just saying…
You can watch the full debate here.
Is this a moot point considering the innovators of the New Jack Swing era have completely praised Bruno and even worked with him? These are legends, they clearly have nothing to lose and if they believed Bruno was a culture vulture, like Elvis Presley, they would surely say it. Before the discussion even started on The Grapevine, legendary producer Jimmy Jam, who Bruno Mars is often accused of stealing from, praised him over two years ago.
In addition, Jimmy posted a link to a Billboard article, which blasts the cultural appropriation accusations.
Stereo Williams wrote for Billboard, “When you ignore how much an artist has said about his influences; how much said artist clearly loves and reveres both what he does and who inspired him to do it; when that artist has composed/produced for black artists and made sure to introduce non-black audiences to his faves by shouting out Teddy Riley, Babyface (who spoke enthusiastically with Billboard about Mars, post-Grammys), and Jam & Lewis during his Grammys acceptance speech; you’re manufacturing a villain for your own agenda.”
Babyface is another great example, considered one of Bruno’s major influences, he said earlier this year, “I’m very proud of him and his accomplishments. I had the opportunity to go into the studio and work with and write with him, and I had so much respect for his work ethic ’cause it was very close to how I did it, and how I do it. I think he’s genius in his approach and one of the best entertainers we’ve had in a very, very long time.”
In November of 2016, Teddy Riley, another person Mars is accused of “robbing,” praised Bruno to theGrio. When asked if he was okay with Bruno’s New Jack Swing sound, “I’m great with it. It keeps the legacy going. All I do is pass it down. They want it, I’ll give it to them.”
Furthermore, on Bruno’s identity, his father is Puerto Rican and Jewish and his mother is Filipino and Spanish. After he was accused of changing his name to hide his roots, he told Latina magazine, “I’d love to clear [this] up in Latina magazine. I never once said I changed my last name to hide the fact that I’m Puerto Rican. Why would I f*cking say that? Who are you fooling? And why would anyone say that? That’s so insulting to me, to my family. That’s ridiculous. My last name is Hernandez. My father’s name is Pedrito Hernandez, and he’s a Puerto Rican pimp. There’s no denying that.”
While a passionate conversation among Black folks is always encouraged, hopefully Bruno’s critics can also take criticism outside of the people who critiqued them on the panel. If the creators of this sound have said that Bruno is not a culture vulture, then maybe the argument is misguided. If we believe in our legends being respected, then respect the history of those who lived it. Teddy Riley, Babyface and Jimmy Jam know more about an era of music that was created before some people who are complaining were even born. The debate over Bruno Mars could be a product of outrage culture, which sometimes results in quick reactions with little to no background information.