Review: Bruno Mars brings in the New Year in Abu Dhabi with finesse

It was a rollicking show, but Mars still has some way to go to establish his own brand of artistry

Bruno Mars kept it fun and slick at the du Arena in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, December 31, 2019. Courtesy: Flash Entertainment
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Out of all the pop stars performing in the UAE on New Year’s Eve, it was Bruno Mars who had the most to celebrate.

Over the space of the decade, the singer has emerged from a talented but little-known songwriter to  a multiple Grammy Award winner and one of the biggest names in pop music.

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The 34-year-old deserves it, too, as the key theme of the Bruno Mars story is the importance of hard work.

Born in Hawaii to Filipino and Puerto Rican parents, Mars worked the stage since the age of 4 as a performer in the family band. With his teens spent on the island gigging as a dancer, singer and Elvis Presley impersonator, Mars eventually channelled that creative energy into his songwriting and penned hits for the likes of Adam Levine, Travis McCoy and Sean Kingston.

After achieving sufficient industry clout, Mars launched his solo career with his debut album, 2010's Doo-Wops & Hooligans, and the hits and awards followed.

All of these various career strands came together, for better and worse, yesterday as part of Mars’s anticipated New Year’s Eve show in Abu Dhabi’s du Arena.

For such an occasion, Mars is the ideal choice. He has the charm and joyful anthems required to bookend the decade in the style. However, for an artist who made a name either writing for others or channelling legends for his own music, it was tough to discern an artistry that Mars can call his own.

His debut Abu Dhabi gig moved with the polish and slickness of a Las Vegas residency show. Supported  by his exceptionally talented backing group, The Hooligans (they sing, play and do the two-step well), Mars and crew – who were all dressed in casual jerseys – rolled through a fast-paced, 80-minute set that heavily relied on his Grammy Award-winning 2016 album 24K Magic.

Mars played many of his most recognisable tracks during the show. Courtesy Flash Entertainment.

The title track kicked off proceedings with the dazzle of a show tune, paired with plenty of synchronised dancing firecrackers.

It set the scene for a show steeped in 1990s nostalgia, with smooth RnB jams like Finesse and Chunky recalling that era's greats such as New Edition and Jodeci. Most of the time it worked due to Mars's superb showmanship.

At other times, however, he fell into the trap of being overshadowed by his heroes. This is particularly the case in the syrupy ballads Marry You and It Will Rain, where it all felt like A-grade Michael Jackson karaoke.

Nonetheless, the show reached its conclusion with the New Year's Eve countdown. For the moment, Mars chose to ring in the new decade with an epic 10-minute version of the pop ballad Just the Way You Are.

While Mars didn’t explain the reasoning behind his choice of song, fans would understand why it was an apt choice. After all, it was the debut hit single that kickstarted his road to stardom 10 years ago.

Now that he has arrived at the pop summit, let’s hope the next decade allows Mars to step out of the shadows of his heroes to finally call his own tune.