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- “Grenade”
HIT #1: January 8, 2011
STAYED AT #1: 4 weeks
“You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips” That’s Bill Medley on the Righteous Brothers’ 1965 #1 classic “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.” With that opening line, Medley sings about a love that’s lost its passion and throughout alongside singing partner Bobby Hatfield sing about desperately wanting to save what’s left of their relationship with a somber delivery backed by Phil Spector’s legendary Wall of Sound production.
46 years later on his #1 hit “Grenade,” Bruno Mars sings, “Should’ve known you was trouble from the first kiss/Had your eyes wide open/Why were they open.” Like the Righteous Brothers, Mars is also singing about a relationship that has lost its passion and is trying to do everything he can to save it. A big difference from the Righteous Brothers song is that on “Grenade” Mars sings about a girl who clearly never gave a shit about him but still tries to save their relationship by stating how in love he is and how he would even die for her. Melodramatic much.
“Grenade” came about when Mars was with his friend, producer Benny Blanco, listening to songs Blanco had produced which included a song Blanco had produced for a new band (Benny Blanco’s biggest hit as a lead artist, 2018’s “Eastside” with Khalid & Halsey, peaked at #9. It’s a 6.) The band hadn’t been signed and hadn’t released any material at that point but Mars immediately related to the song’s message of heartbreak and wanted to use the song for his own heartbreak song to the point where he got in touch with the member of the band for his song.
As with all of Mars’ songs, “Grenade” was another collaborative effort written by him and his partners in The Smeezingtons as well as fellow songwriters Brody Brown, Claude Kelly, Andrew Wyatt. The song took a while to be written taking two months to come up with the line “but you won’t do the same.” Ari Levine, one of Mars’ writing and producing partners in The Smeezingtons, had been going through a bad relationship with Mars and crew coming up with extreme phrases to describe his feelings that as Claude Kelly described, “We started throwing out really extreme examples: “You jump out of a plane” or “a shark would eat you,” and then it became funny. We started writing the list down and it became this long list of things: I’d jump out in front of a train, throw my hand on a blade, get hit by a bus, all kinds of stuff. And we started to realize this was actually kind of catchy. So we took someone’s pain and turned into a pretty good record.”
Mars himself stated “Grenade” was inspired by his own personal heartbreak over a girl he loved but didn’t love him back and being frustrated by it, “You’re so in love with this woman and you don’t understand, ‘What am I doing wrong? What am I not giving to you? I’ll go as far as putting a bullet in my brain for you, and why can’t I get that kind of love in return?” He stated the song as being therapeutic though admitting to acting a bit like a drama queen which explains a lot. So what we hear on “Grenade” is a guy contemplating his feelings on a failed relationship in real-time.
Initially, “Grenade” was recorded much differently than from what we all know it as. It was originally envisioned and recorded as a faster, guitar-driven pastiche of ‘60s surf rock and power pop with a much happier tone. That all changed when Mars and his team started performing the song to label people with the song sounding terrible during rehearsals. Mars then decided to perform a slower, stripped-down version with guitar and piano which went over well with the label to the point that Mars and The Smeezingtons to re-record “Grenade” with only two days left till Mars’ album, Doo-Wops & Hooligans, was due to be completed with the vocals and arrangement all being re-done. Bruno and Levine played the keyboards while Brody Brown played bass with everything else coming from Levine with various synthesizers, software, and an Akai MPC.
Lyrically, “Grenade” is some deeply melodramatic relationship shit. Mars sings about a girl he loves even though by his accounts she’s done him no good which he suspects from how she had her eyes open during their first kiss. She ignores him, beats him till he’s numb, possibly cheats. Mars laments on the pre-chorus on giving his girl all his love to which she easily disregards, “Gave you all I had and you tossed it in the trash.” But he still wants this relationship to last and declares his devotion by using various extreme hyperboles stating he would sacrifice his life for this girl. On the bridge, Mars calls out his girl as a liar when she says she loves him and would rather watch him burn.
If there’s one saving grace of “Grenade” it’s the performance. Bruno Mars delivers the song with conviction conveying the heartbreak he’s feeling hitting all the big notes effectively. When you listen to the song, you can buy Mars feeling heartbroken over a relationship and that he would do anything to save it. He does everything he can to make it convincing. Even with that, it’s not enough to disguise how stupid the premise is. Even if his girl did show him love, what kind of sane guy would willingly put their own lives in danger just to show how much he loves her. And when you sing about how much your girl never loved you in the first place, it only makes you look more stupid and melodramatic. Drama queen indeed. Yes, I understand the conflicting emotions these situations bring but you eventually have to move on.
Musically, “Grenade” is once again another fine example of The Smeezingtons at work. Slowing down and stripping down the original production fits the song better giving the lyrics more weight than they deserve to be. They base the song on a twinkling piano riff before piling on the drums and synths driving the emotion and on the bridge ramp up more in intensity. This is clearly the work of professionals. Not enough though to make the song better.
After “Grenade,” Doo-Wops & Hooligans netted one more Top 10 single, the appropriately titled “The Lazy Song” which peaked at #4 later in 2011 (It’s a 3.). After that, Mars would land in the Top 10 two more times in 2011 first with his feature on Bad Meets Evil’s #4 peaking “Lighters” (It’s a 3.) and the #3 peaking “It Will Rain” from Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1 (It’s a 6.). Bruno Mars will be back in this column eventually and by the next time we talk about him, he’ll finally discover his true greatness: emulating older artists and styles.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s Chris Daughtry performing “Grenade” on a 2019 episode of FOX’s The Masked Singer
(As a member of Daughtry, Chris Daughtry peaked at #4 with 2006’s “It’s Not Over.” It’s a 5. Judge Robin Thicke will eventually appear in this column.)