In The Ones of the ’10s, I’m reviewing every single that hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the 2010s and working my way up into the present.
Bruno Mars- “Just The Way You Are”
HIT #1: October 2, 2010
STAYED AT #1: 4 weeks
It doesn’t take a whole lot to express the feeling of love through song. Love is a feeling that presents lots of different ways to write about it to express our emotions. Sometimes artists go the more poetic route in expressing their love and devotion to someone. Other times artists will express their love in the most basic idea of the feeling. Even in its most basic and generic form, a love song can be very powerful. Many famous love songs don’t say a lot and sometimes that’s all it needs to be effective. Being in love is a powerful and emotional feeling so any kind of song that captures that feeling will immediately resonate. That’s how we get to “Just The Way You Are.”
By the time “Just The Way You Are” hit, Bruno had already begun establishing himself after breaking out with his feature on B.o.B’s #1 “Nothin’ On You” and Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire” which peaked at #5 (It’s an 8.). Amid this success, Mars’ label, Atlantic, wanted him and his production trio The Smeezingtons to get right to work on a debut album. They didn’t get much time to work on it. Initially getting six months, the deadline for the album was cut to just a month.
Through all of that pressure came Doo-Wops & Hooligans, the album which fully proved Bruno Mars as a pop star in his own right. The album launched three Top 10 singles, two of them hitting #1. The album capitalized on the romantic image he gave on “Nothin’ On You” and the carefree wild side he showed off on “Billionaire.” Mars himself stated the album’s title came from how his album would appeal to both men and women with Doo-Wops being for women and Hooligans being for men.
“Just The Way You Are” came from Mars, his partners in the Smeezingtons, as well as fellow songwriters/producers Needlz and Khalil Walton. Mars wasn’t originally planned to record the song. Former Gnarls Barkley singer Cee-Lo Green was in mind at first for “Just The Way You Are” but rejected it. He would record another song written by Mars and the Smeezingtons, “Fuck You,” giving him his biggest charting solo hit (“Fuck You” peaked at #2 in 2011. It’s a 10! As a member of Gnarls Barkley, Cee-Lo Green also peaked at #2 with 2006’s “Crazy.” It’s also a 10!). Speaking to Billboard magazine, “I personally think “Just the Way You Are” was better for Mars, like “Fuck You” was better for me. I don’t think he could have sung that song.” After Green rejected the song, Lupe Fiasco was also in mind but Mars eventually decided to record it for himself (Lupe Fiasco’s highest-charting single, 2011’s “The Show Goes On,” peaked at #9. It’s a 9.).
“Just The Way You Are” is in a way capitalizing on the success of “Nothin’ On You.” It has the same bright piano and synth melody with Bruno singing in a sensitive romantic tone. Cee-Lo Green is right in how only Mars could have sung “Just The Way You Are.” His sensitive romantic tone is needed to make this song work. To give him credit, he does his best to sell the song in his delivery. A classically written love song such as “Just The Way You Are” stands out a lot from the blaring electropop dominating pop music in 2010. It’s got a chorus that stays with you the moment you hear it. Has a throwback feel but sounds modern enough. It works in establishing Bruno Mars and sets the template for what we would see from him later on.
“Just The Way You Are” is on paper a simple love song. Bruno compliments his girl on features such as her hair, eyes, lips, and her laugh all while saying she doesn’t have to change for him to love her, “If perfect’s what you’re searching for then just stay the same.” All of this is centered on a chorus with lyrics that feel like they were pulled from Hallmark cards, “When I see your face/There’s not a thing that I would change, And when you smile/The whole world stops and stares for a while.”
So “Just The Way You Are” is a pretty basic love song. Mars himself knows this. In interviews he’s given about the song, Mars talks about being inspired by doo-wop and songs such as Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful” and Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight,” which as he puts it, “songs that go straight to the point. You know, there’s no mind-boggling lyrics or twists in the story – they just come directly from the heart. And to me ‘Just The Way You Are’ is one of those songs. There’s nothing mind-blowing about it. I’m just telling a woman she looks beautiful the way she IS – and, let’s be honest, what woman doesn’t wanna hear those lyrics?!”
While “Just The Way You Are” is a competently written song, it doesn’t have much excitement. The song just sits there never really hitting you as hard as it should. While I get the song’s not trying to say anything more than it is, the sappy execution just doesn’t do it for me. Not to mention, the more exciting music Bruno has become known for in recent years makes his early stuff seem weak in comparison.
I don’t doubt that Bruno Mars means what he’s singing about in “Just The Way You Are” and he clearly knows his way around a good melody. And he’s right, what woman doesn’t want to hear her man say how beautiful she is and that she doesn’t have to change for him. The song hitting #1 is further proof of that. Clearly, there’s an audience for this type of music. That audience isn’t me.
Despite that, “Just The Way You Are” did its job in establishing Bruno Mars as one of the biggest pop stars of the ’10s. He’ll be back in this column soon.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s “Just The Way You Are” being covered in 2012’s Pitch Perfect
(Anna Kendrick’s highest-charting single, 2013’s “Cups (Pitch Perfect’s “When I’m Gone”),” peaked at #6. It’s a 6.)
BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s one-time chart-topper Johnny Mathis covering “Just The Way You Are” on his 2017 album Johnny Mathis Sings The Great New American Songbook
THE 10S OF THE ‘10S: Usher and Pitbull’s apocalyptic dance jam, “DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love,” peaked at #4 behind “Just The Way You Are.” It’s an 8.
(Pitbull will eventually appear in this column)