In Los Angeles, the celebratory mood surrounding the Grammys doesn’t wait for the official ceremony on Sunday. On Friday night, music-industry parties were in full swing – and few were more anticipated than Bruno Mars’ bash at intimate L.A. club Bardot in the heart of Hollywood.
Mars is 2011’s Grammy hero: with seven nominations between him and his producing crew the Smeezingtons—second only to Eminem—the breakthrough pop sensation had a lot to be happy about. Mars’ jubilant mood was clear from the minute he and his trademark fedora hit a makeshift stage on Bardot’s opulent, Moroccan-themed patio a few minutes after midnight. “Words cannot express what I’m feeling, so I’m going to do it in song,” he exclaimed to a rammed, sweaty crowd of around 200 – which included fellow musicians Patrick Stump, Kings of Leon, Janelle Monae, Monica, Brandy, Far East Movement, the Zac Brown Band and Ray Jay – before busting into a surprisingly passionate rendition of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.”
That wasn’t the only bizarre selection of Mars’ set, which tapped deep into his cover-band roots. He followed up the Titanic mega-ballad with Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” (doing a very credible Robert Plant to boot), The Outfield’s ‘80s fromage classic “Your Love” and Bobby Brown’s “Every Little Step.” A take on Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison” with Mars’ fellow Smeezington Philip Lawrence taking lead vocals received the evening’s biggest crowd sing-along.
After “ABC,” Mars noted, “There’s a lot of special guests in the audience,” and pretty soon the affair assumed the vibe of a platinum-plated open mic night. First Monica unexpectedly took the microphone for her 1995 hit “Before You Walk Out Of My Life”; next, a statuesque and very blonde Keri Hilson arrived onstage for a smoldering duet with Mars on his current smash, “Grenade.”
Within moments, the performance seemed like you were watching the radio as Far East Movement joined Hilson and Mars for their Smeezingtons-penned hit “Rocketeer,” then tore up the dancefloor with “Like A G6.” Mars and co. followed that with a bizarrely perfect mash-up of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with “Billie Jean” and “Seven Nation Army.”
Mars slowed the groove for a jazzy, virtuoso take on his hit ballad “Just The Way You Are,” but only momentarily. Energy levels resumed when K’naan came out for his World Cup anthem “Wavin’ Flag,” which segued into a steamy bump-and-grind climax merging Ginuwine’s “Pony” (sung with promising newcomer Wynter Gordon) and Prince’s “Kiss.”
After the performance, Mars mingled among the well-wishers, clearly having a moment. “I feel amazing, man – how fun was this?,” he exclaimed to Rolling Stone just minutes after stepping off stage. “This is all I need – some friends and some guitars, and I’m happy!” When asked if he had any expectations for the awards to come on Sunday, he emphatically shook his head “no,” adding, “I just hope I have a voice!”