12/23/2014 11:56 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Bruno Mars: The Downest Dude on the Planet


Mars gets both his sound and his style from early funk/soul/blues artists

The curlers convinced me. Bruno Mars has to be the downest dude on the planet right now.

"Uptown Funk," a soul celebration co-written by Mars, is suddenly blasting in the background of every movie trailer and sports event I see on TV. His Saturday Night Live performance of same was one of the best I've seen on SNL not just recently, but...ever.

But the gold curlers he wore on the season finale of The Voice -- which will be remembered far longer than the winner as many critics noted -- sealed the deal for me. It was as much a cultural statement as a fashion one. Which many critics didn't get.

Neither did many viewers. People Magazine site comments the next day ranged from "He looks like an idiot" and "I don't get it Bruno." Though a couple fought back with "He should be People's Sexiest Man Alive! Wow!" and "As for the curlers, ingenious."

I don't think lots of people truly appreciate Mars. Yes, he's a cutie pie with a talent for hot hooks. I mean, he truly is "Smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy," just one of the many lines in "Uptown Funk," that make fans love and laugh with him.

But he also has a deep knowledge of and undying love for the sounds and styles of Old School funk. Those curlers were no surprise to those of us who remember the "conked" hair sported by black musicians like James Brown, Little Richard and Muddy Waters, pictured with Mars above.

So when a Mars fan on YouTube asked about the "crazy thing he does with his feet," not long before the James Brown bio pic Get On Up hit the big screen, I felt a bit sad. Knowing exactly what he's doing and why he does it electrifies that moment.

When I saw Mars live, that moment and many more took me back to the big R & B stage shows of my youth. He also reminds me of the veteran musicians on Dave Grohl's Sonic Highways who urged young music lovers to go back to the "roots" of the music, not just as an intellectual exercise but as a way of deepening their listening experiences, no matter what genres or eras they prefer.

You don't have to know the history of funk to feel it. But knowing where he gets all that funky stuff -- and those crazy legs -- makes it a whole lot funkier. And more fun.

And Mars is fun. You can see he's having the time of his life and wants you to feel the same. But the funk beneath the fun is no joke.

A famous Zap Comix cartoon says if you don't know what "diddy wah diddy" means, "don't mess with it." Mars probably knows that and much more. And can mess with it all he wants.

Photo credits: Mars, author screenshot. Waters, Fanshare