Doo Wops and Hooligans is a fun but confusing album, which feels like it should really be two albums. Or maybe like an album written by two different people. Or maybe half the songs are for the guys and half are for the girls, and Bruno Mars should have chosen one of the other…
The album opens with Grenade, a pledge of reckless devotion (“I’d catch a grenade for you/throw my hand on a blade for you”) to someone he knows doesn’t feel the same (“If my body was on fire/ ooh you’d watch me burn down in flames“). And half the songs on the album continue in a similar vein. Just The Way You Are sold 766,000 copies in the UK in 2010, and it’s not difficult to imagine why. It speaks directly to the Bridget Jones generation, where unconditional acceptance is precious but hard to come by. He sounds like the perfect boyfriend, doesn’t he? And Our First Time, while not exactly subtle, paints Bruno as a gentle and considerate lover, completely different from those boys who are just out for what they can get. Later on, Count on Me reassures a friend that, whatever happens, he’ll be there.
But alongside these are songs like The Lazy Song (another massive hit), where Bruno basically declares his intention to please himself, doing nothing all day. Tomorrow he plans to achieve a lot, but don’t disturb him today. And in Runaway Baby he warns a woman he’s interested in to run away, because he’s guaranteed to leave her or cheat on her, shamelessly telling her, “when I play, I never stay.”
Probably the saddest song on the album is Marry You, which featured in Glee as a not-massively-appropriate wedding entrance dance. The song is a suggestion from a guy to his girlfriend that they beat their boredom by getting married. They’ve got some money, so why not get drunk and then get married? “It’s a beautiful night, we’re looking for something dumb to do/ hey baby, I think I wanna marry you.” After all, it’s only marriage. “If we wake up and we wanna break up that’s cool… It was fun girl.” Would you really want to marry this guy…?
By the end of the album, you start to doubt the promises of Count on Me; what if you disturb him on his lazy day, or if he’s found someone better to entertain him? You get the impression the girl in Somewhere in Brooklyn probably had a lucky escape…
For me, the two sides made it a weird album. Neither side seemed very honest or heartfelt; how could the same guy sing Just The Way You Are and Runaway Baby? But although I found it confusing and unsatisfying, I wonder if that’s because that’s how we feel about relationships in general – confused and unsatisfied, because there are always to sides at play. On the one hand, we want to be wanted. We want someone who’d catch a grenade for us, and who accepts us unconditionally. We want someone we can count on. But at the same time, we’re selfish. Caring about other people is hard work, and it’s tiring, and sometimes we wish we could take a whole day to focus on ourselves. We like the benefits of relationships with the freedom to run away, and without the commitment and investment that is usually expected. Marry You seems to represent the best of both worlds, doesn’t it? There’s the romance and gesture of commitment, but with the understanding that it’s just a laugh and they can break it off if they feel like it.
Relationships are where we see the best and the worst of other people, and of ourselves. It’s in relationships that we can be our most selfish and our most self-giving. It’s in relationships that we see most clearly what it means to be made in the image of a perfect, loving, self-giving God who embodies relationship at the heart of his being. But it’s also in relationships that the effects of the fall are most painfully obvious. We’ve become curved in on ourselves, making ourselves our ultimate priority, and we use and manipulate each other for our own ends. The problem isn’t with other people, the problem’s ours.
Against this back drop, we see God reaching out to bring people back into relationship to him, in the person of Jesus Christ. It’s hard to listen to Doo Wops and Hooligans, with its dubious promises and shameless selfishness, without wishing that there was someone better, someone more dependable, someone more accepting.
Jesus is that guy. Jesus pursues and marries his bride, the church, but there will be no second thoughts and no break up. And Jesus caught the grenade. He didn’t throw himself on a blade, but he allowed himself to be nailed to a cross for people who wouldn’t care if he was on fire. He really does offer the acceptance you long for, just the way you are. And that will change everything for you, and for the way you love other people.
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”
(1 John 3v16)