Live preview: Bruno Mars

The pop idol turns soul screamer.

Elvis Presley noticed early on that girls went crazy at the sight of his jiggling leg, so he kept on jiggling it and bought roomier pants. Michael Jackson, one presumes, found similar success with his crotch grab. Bruno Mars has styled himself after both entertainers since back when he was a chubby kid doing Elvis impressions in Hawaii. But Mars's signature girl-snaring move is subtler: He tells girls what he thinks they want to hear.

Mars's megahit "Just the Way You Are" works like a well-executed rom-com, the singer supplying the perfect, breezy answer to the dreaded question, "Does this make me look [insert adjective]?" Likewise, his video for "Grenade" has the toothsome, radiantly healthy singer vowing to catch a grenade and lie in front of a train for the object of his affections. In terms of getting girls to buy the records and leave marriage proposals under his YouTube videos, it's a smart tactic ("I'll definitely catch a grenade for you!" writes one eager fan). It's just a shame his arrangements are so blandly agreeable—an opinion you could never level at Elvis or MJ.

Infinitely preferable is Mars in old-school soul mode, as first witnessed at this year's Grammy Awards, wherein the outlandishly quiffed singer fronted a doo-wop ensemble with B.o.B. (whose "Nothin' on You" Mars cowrote) and Janelle Mone (who coheadlines with Mars on this tour). Sure, it's not exactly original, but no amount of focus groups can design a real soul scream like Mars has. And there's nothing quite like that to make a crowd pay attention.

Bruno Mars also plays at New Meadowlands Stadium Sun 1.

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