Bruno Mars may be the PT Cruiser of contemporary pop, but if he is, at least he’s a deluxe model. The man sports every optional bell and whistle one could ask for from a musical performer. He sings gorgeously and dances with impeccable and practiced ease. He co-produces his own songs. As the video for the remix of his latest 24K Magic single “Finesse” proves, he can even direct. And, as the video’s content suggests (it’s a direct tribute to the dance performances from the much-beloved ensemble sketch comedy In Living Color), Bruno Mars can do just about anything except innovate. Whether it’s funk, disco, pop, rock, or R&B — revivals are his specialty: He’s exceptionally good at channeling the physical energy of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s through his own voice and body. He’s not new, but he’s pretty fresh regardless.
Cardi B does a lot of things that Bruno Mars doesn’t: She’s novel, raps all the time, and is extremely fashionable (as opposed to just being popular). The stripper turned social-media icon turned reality-television star turned Billboard chart-topper has worn a lot of hats, and they all seem to fit her as if no one else had worn them before. While Mars seems permanently backlit by the glowing outlines of pop’s deceased Jedi Masters, Cardi channels nothing so much as her own resplendent ego. Their musical brands could hardly be more different: It’s hard to imagine any common ground between eternal, selfless sunshine and the iciest, most prideful contempt.
Yet Cardi’s motions and vocals end up fitting the “Finesse” remix video perfectly; by switching gears and foregrounding the playful, even goofy demeanor typical of her social-media presence, she seamlessly merges into the early-’90s aesthetic lovingly re-created by Mars, big on color and vertical stripes and relaxed in form and texture. Bodak Cardi would have clashed with the peppy New Jack Swing of “Finesse”; Snapchat Cardi, on the other hand, matches Mars’s mood so thoroughly that the original song now comes off as incomplete, which is pretty much the textbook definition of a great remix.
When, dressed in jean shorts and a retro jacket of something like a dozen hues, she pouts and smirks and splashes paint on the camera, Cardi’s presence feels timeless; when she takes over half the bridge from Mars to ask, rhetorically, “Don’t it feel so good to be us?” it feels as if she’s doing a favor for everyone — New Yorkers especially. Created by the Manhattan-native Wayans Brothers, In Living Color drew much of its creativity and verve from the city’s black and brown population, showcasing, like Cardi herself, a streetwise sensibility in multiple cultural fields.
Along with the acting of the Wayans themselves and musical performances from Yonkers’ Mary J. Blige and Long Island’s Public Enemy, the distinctive choreography of the show’s dancers-in-residence (the Fly Girls) was supervised by Bushwick boricua Rosie Perez; Jennifer Lopez, the most famous Fly Girl graduate, was also Puerto Rican. Like Lopez, whose Bronx Caribbean Hispanic background she shares, Cardi’s successfully graduated from dancing to music. (Mars himself has his own ILC forebear in former Fly Girl and current Dancing With the Stars judge Carrie Ann Inaba, a fellow Hawaiian and mixed-race Asian.) Historically and temperamentally, Cardi couldn’t be a better fit for a restoration of a show on which she might well have starred, whether as joker, dancer, or musical act. Had it lasted, that is: Unlike most of the cultural forces resurrected by Mars, In Living Color died before its time, its creative fire extinguished by interference from risk-averse Fox network executives.
One can wonder, in an era of rampant and hugely profitable remakes of nostalgic material, what keeps some enterprising network from reviving the spirit, if not the name, of In Living Color. Why not toss a dozen of the funniest people on Vine and Snapchat together in a pool of broadcast money and see what comes out? In a better world, that’s what the “Finesse” remix would lead to. Still, even in a world that’s less than ideal, the remix has done plenty. It’s given a glimpse of a warm artist at his coolest, and shown off a cold artist at her warmest. On a similar note, the song is great for raising listeners’ body temperature. It’s something sure to come in handy during winter storms like the one presently descending on New York. All digs at his neoclassic tendencies aside, it’s clear that Bruno Mars, with Cardi near him, feels right on time today: To quote the In Living Color theme song, he’s “never too late and never too soon.”