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The Globe and Mail

Bruno Mars oozes cynicism, but Janelle Monae dazzles

  • Hooligans in Wondaland
  • Bruno Mars and Janelle Monae
  • At Rogers Arena
  • In Vancouver on Friday

Okay, I admit it: I have a bit of a soft spot for Bruno Mars's easy breezy, sand-in-your-toes, reggae-infused pop. On a grey Vancouver day, with dishes in the sink, Mars's soft and sweet crooning can lift a gal's spirit.

Heck, who doesn't want a guy telling them they would take a grenade for them from time to time?

But, as I discovered Friday night, I really can't stomach Bruno in the flesh. He turned out to be a shameless hussy of a heartthrob, twitching his crotch in slow motion and pawing his hyperventilating fans with a self-satisfied stream of carefully constructed aural sex.

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Yes, he can sing and dance, and his band - including a most welcome horn section - is tight. The retro rock 'n' roll references give upbeat numbers like Runaway an undeniably appealing swing. But it was downright painful watching him turn Our First Time into a mass dry hump, and pause The Lazy Song to repeat the "have some nice sex" line over and over.

It all seemed so obvious and pedestrian; so cynical and exploitative. A cover of the old Motown hit Money (That's What I Want) never felt so apt. This was not art, but commerce, baby.

Not so the prodigiously talented co-headliner Janelle Monae. Bundle together James Brown, Prince and the best of Michael Jackson, throw in a pinch of Grace Jones, a dash of classic sci-fi, a twist of Gene Kelly and you'll get an idea of how extraordinary this young woman is.

No easy listening here: Monae's critically acclaimed debut album The ArchAndroid is a hugely ambitious concept affair, at once symphonic and down-and-dirty funkalicious.

On stage, she proved herself equally miraculous, an unabashedly theatrical musical polyglot able to pull off covers of songs as diverse as Charlie Chaplin's Smile and the Jackson 5's I Want You Back, before plunging into the toe-tapping frenzy of her own Cold War or Tightrope.

Dressed in her signature tuxedo pants and white shirt, her hair primped into a mile-high pompadour, Monae was perhaps just too original for a crowd that had turned out to hear Mars sing Beautiful Girls and mean it just for them.

You could feel the collective quizzical shrug as she zombie-walked and hissed her way through Come Alive, or stood at an easel painting a naked female form while singing Mushrooms & Roses, a song she dedicated to the freedom to love.

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But let's hope this mismatched Hooligans lineup won't faze her, because she was worth the ticket price alone.

As Bruno would say: Girl you're amazing, just the way you are.

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