Bruno Mars “Grenade” Song Analysis
I’m a big fan of Bruno Mars and believe he embodies what’s best about the music of today. While I don’t usually care much about who is performing during halftime at the Superbowl (I find it a distraction from the game), I must admit that I’m looking forward to Bruno this year. Here’s an excerpt from my new Deconstructed Hits: Modern Pop & Hip Hop book, that breaks down Bruno’s big hit “Grenade” into it’s essential elements.
““Grenade” was the breakout single from Bruno Mars from his debut album Do-Wops & Hooligans, which went on to become a huge worldwide hit. Not only did the song hit #1 in 15 countries, but it also charted Top 10 in eleven others while selling seven million units. The album also went on to sell over 4 million copies, going #1 in six countries and Top 10 in thirteen others. “Grenade” was nominated for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and the Pop Solo Performance Grammys, losing all of them to British singer Adele.
The song took several months to write, then was recorded with a different, more guitar-based arrangement that was 15 bpm faster. After hearing Mars perform the song live at the slower speed, the record label asked for a recording of the slowed-down version, which became the hit we’re familiar with.
If you were going to write a straight down the middle pop song, this is the way to do it. The song is unusual in that it begins right with the verse with no intro, but other than that it’s formula all the way, not that there’s anything wrong with that if it works (it does here). Basically the song looks like this:
verse | chorus | 2 bar interlude | verse | chorus | bridge | 2 bar interlude | verse (outro)
The good thing about “Grenade” is that it has a great melody, which is something that’s sometimes sorely lacking in much of popular music. The lyrics are finely crafted and tell the age-old tale of unrequited love. They sing better than they read, but they’re still put together well.
The BPM of the song is 108.
Just as the form of the song follows a formula, so does the arrangement. It develops from the sparse first verse to the big chorus, then drops to a less sparse second verse, and finally peaks at the bridge. The tension is released by the stripped-down last outro verse, which is very unusual since most outros retain the big sound, and the tension, to the end.
There’s an organ that plays just underneath everything that acts as the Pad and glues the track together, which is a pretty common use for the instrument. What’s interesting is that the arpeggiated electric piano line in the verse acts as the Rhythm element, but during the chorus the rhythm switches to the double time feel of the drums.
The song starts with a synth build and the goes right into a verse with the lead vocal in the center, arpeggiated electric piano sound on the right channel and the organ on the left. Half-way through the verse the three part background harmonies enter along with bass drum, plus a very low in the mix tom and percussion, which propels the track forward.
In the chorus the piano is lowered in the mix and a new synth pad enters, as the drums now play a tom figure, but no snare drum. The three part background vocals behind the lead vocal act as both a fill element in the beginning of the chorus and as an additional pad element in the second half.
In the second verse, the drums continue to play the tom feel but a snare also enters. There’s also a higher piano that plays effects fills, and percussion that plays fills as well. Three part harmony is added to the lead vocal to emphasize the lyrics.
In the bridge a new higher synth pad enters, then goes to the beginning of the intro without the vocal, which resolves to the V chord and back to the chorus. The outchorus has the lead vocal adding ad libs to add tension. The outro is similar to the intro, only with the verse drum feel and added percussion. The song then ends on a vocal ad lib with a repeated echo effect.
Arrangement Elements The Foundation – Bass and drums.
The Pad – Organ
The Rhythm – Arpeggiated electric piano line in the verse, the double time feel of the drums in the chorus and outro, percussion
The Lead – Lead vocal
The Fills – Background vocals and the occasional percussion sound effect.
This is a very well made record in that it’s not too compressed and the ambience is layered in a pleasing, ear-candy kind of way. The vocal has a medium-long reverb decay on it in the beginning, but then a timed and repeated quarter note delay is added during various times during the song. The other instruments have their own short ambiences that make them seem more in-your-face, except for the percussion effect that has a long reverb with a very long, timed pre-delay.
Make no mistake about it, Bruno Mars is a star. He’s got the chops and his vocal shows considerable passion that effectively sells the song. That said, this is a very well produced song from a number of standpoints.
First of all the song has effective dynamics, breathing in the right spaces, from the less intense verses to the big sounding choruses, then the drums play a tom pattern to add motion to the song rather than the snare, although a small sounding snare (which actually fits the song perfectly) enters in the second verse. Using the drums in this way is not only unusual, but really interesting as well.
The add to all this the use of fills to keep the listener engaged on a subliminal level. You’ll find percussion, vocals, piano and synthesizers all sharing that duty. Finally, the background vocals, which are now becoming a Bruno Mars trademark, are also well-executed and add to both the motion and the tension of the song as well. This song was a huge international hit and the the production is a big reason why.”
You can read more from the Deconstructed Hits book series as well as my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.