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Bruno Mars’ Grammys Tribute to Prince Wasn’t the Real Thing, But It’s as Close as We Can Get

In the nearly 10 months since Prince left this world far too early, tributes from music’s best haven’t ever really stopped, but they were perhaps supposed to hit their peak Sunday, when Bruno Mars took the stage to honor His Royal Badness at the first Grammys ceremony since his death.

In the time between Prince’s death and Sunday night, I’ve seen everyone from D'Angelo to Demi Lovato honor Prince with covers. I’ve seen the Hamilton cast dance to “Let’s Go Crazy” on their Broadway stage. I’ve seen Jennifer Hudson and the cast of The Color Purple musical tear through “Purple Rain” like they were in church. Then came tonight, and Bruno Mars, and as happy as I was to watch, I was reminded of one very true, very sad fact.

There will never be another Prince.

Bruno Mars is a fantastic performer, and like Prince, he’s a multi-instrumental musical prodigy who’s great at making the sounds of the past feel present again. If anyone was going to crush a tribute to Prince on a stage that big, it was gonna be him. He had a great lead-in thanks to Prince’s old friends The Time, who rocked “Jungle Love” and “Hallelujah,” complete with Morris Day’s old freshening up in the mirror gag. Then the stage darkened, the Love Symbol appeared overhead, and Prince’s own voice rang out: *“Dearly beloved…we are gathered here today to get through this thing called Life.”

Under the glow of Prince’s talisman, Mars took the stage, wearing a purple sequined jacket and armed with one of the legend’s trademark Cloud guitars. With his band in top form, he tore through “Let’s Go Crazy,” fiery solos and all (how many of you out there knew Bruno can shred like that?). He doesn’t have Prince’s vocal range (who does?) or his flair for guitar improvisation, but that aside, Mars turned in a brilliant performance. He did everything right. Wore the right color, picked the right song, played the right guitar and even gave a pelvic thrust or two for good measure. It was great.

And yet…

Bruno Mars, for all his gifts and his knack for musical impersonation, only succeeded in using his own greatness to remind us that Prince isn’t here, and that we should be damn grateful that he ever was here at all. Which, when you think about it, may have been the point.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to listen to Around the World in a Day.

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