Bruno Mars locks Rihanna out of number one

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There's an old-fashioned superstar showdown at the top of the Hot 100 this week. Rihanna's "Diamonds" has been holding onto the top slot for the past few weeks, with Ke$ha's "Die Young" close behind it, but this week Bruno Mars's "Locked Out of Heaven," which has been on the charts for the past ten weeks, took the number-one position, with Rihanna at number two and Ke$ha at number three. "Diamonds" and "Heaven" will likely be duking it out for a while, although "Die Young" might be out of the competition: its radio spins are plummeting in the wake of the Newtown shootings, which, listening through it again, seems somewhat understandable.

My favorite in this fight is "Heaven." "Diamonds" is dull and listless, the kind of medium-tempo quasi-inspirational cut that would be filler on a stronger Rihanna album. It shouldn't be a single, and if it was anyone else's name on it the song wouldn't be doing anywhere near as well.

On the other hand I'm a big Bruno Mars fan, a fact that I have taken a lot of flak for in the past and will probably continue to take in the future. I don't really careā€”he writes big, crowd-pleasing hits with enough retro flourishes to evoke the Spector/Motown era of wide-eyed teen pop, and enough of a modern sensibility to keep it all from being cloying, and if you can't find pleasure in a song as convivial and abundantly joyful as Cee-Lo's "Fuck You," which Mars cowrote, I don't know what to tell you.

"Locked Out of Heaven" pushes Mars's window of retro fascination up by a couple of decades, trading in the vaguely girl-group-redolent sounds for essentially a sampler-fortified imitation of the Police, but with a little less faux-reggae and a lot less Sting. If I had to wager I'd say that most of the song's success is thanks to the chorus, which goes for huge uplift in a similar way as his previous breakthrough, "Just the Way You Are." I'm personally more partial to the verses, which have all of the nervy energy of an early Police cut without everything I hate about the Police (i.e., Sting).

Interestingly enough, Unapologetic, the Rihanna album that "Diamonds" came from, also includes a sprawling, seven-minute-long ballad that sounds quite a bit like the Police in "Message in a Bottle" mode. It might be a mere coincidence but I'm inclined to think not.

Miles Raymer writes about what's on the charts on Tuesday.

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