Bruno Mars

Unorthodox Jukebox |

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POP

When Bruno Mars hosted Saturday Night Live in October, he did a dead-on impersonation of Michael Jackson in one of his skits. Now on his second album, the chapeaued crooner sounds like he's making his MJ move with a major moonwalk forward from 2010's Doo-Wops & Hooligans. The result may not quite be his Thriller, but it's so good that now we know he's capable of making that. In the tradition of Jackson's blockbuster, Mars succeeds at effortlessly switching musical hats on Unorthodox Jukebox, from reggae (the Police-esque hit "Locked Out of Heaven") and retro R&B (the soul-baring ballad "If I Knew") to roller-skating jams (the absolutely sparkling "Treasure"). On the latter Mars seems to be channeling the King of Pop without simply mimicking him. More of those moments come on tracks like "When I Was Your Man," a heartfelt confessional that, with Mars singing better and digging deeper than ever, feels like it could be his "She's Out of My Life." Barring a couple of songs-and, a bit disappointingly, there are only 10 over just 35 minutes-this is about as close to pop perfection as Mars could get.

Green Day

¡Tre! |

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ROCK

Another month, another Green Day album. The third installment in the trilogy that began in September finds the trio still producing at a high level. The biggest drawback is that, now that we've come to the end, you discover that there is no real thread or point to the whole trilogy. No matter: Although some impact is lost, ¡Tre! (a nod to drummer Tre Cool) is another potent blast of punk-pop, with surprisingly little filler creeping into the mix. Highlights include "Brutal Love," a lilting slow dance, and "Dirty Rotten Bastards," a return to rock-opera land.

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INSIDE THE GRAMMY NOMINATIONS!

With six artists leading with six nominations apiece for this year's Grammys, there's no one who will be rolling in the sweep like Adele. If you had to pick the top contender, it would be Fun, which impressively scored in each of the Big Four categories (Album/Record/Song of the Year and Best New Artist), but they're hardly a lock to win any of them. It wasn't a great year for women: The leading lady is probably Kelly Clarkson, up for three awards-including Record of the Year, the first such nod for an American Idol alum. But I'm happiest about the Album of the Year recognition for neo-soul sensation Frank Ocean. If his Channel Orange takes the prize Feb. 10, then the best album really will have won.

BIG BOI

Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors

Don't hold your breath for an OutKast reunion: Big Boi is doing funktastically fine without Andre 3000, playing well with others like Ludacris, Kid Cudi and Kelly Rowland (the Princely "Mama Told Me").

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PALOMA FAITH

Fall to Grace

If you're missing Adele-or, for that matter, Amy Winehouse-check out the U.S. debut from another soulful British chanteuse who's a torchy throwback. It's not 21 or Back to Black, but really, what is?

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CHRIS MANN

Roads

As the third season of The Voice ends, Mann, fourth in season 2, displays some potential to give Team Christina the show's first recording success by Josh-Grobanizing tunes like "My Way."

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ROB THOMAS

I know it's sacrilege to say anything bad about Paul McCartney, but "Wonderful Christmastime" drives me crazy.

CHORD OVERSTREET

"Let It Snow." They would sing, "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow," and it never snowed where I'm from, so it was frustrating.

ROSE McGOWAN

I hate "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." You hear it a hundred times before Christmas, so you're already done.

EUGENE LEVY

"The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)." It's like fingernails on a chalkboard. But it's still festive-if you're a rodent.

MATTHEW MORRISON

"All I Want for Christmas Is You." You hear that a lot, but it's such a great song, I'm always like, "Okay, I can forgive it." Thank you, Mariah.

1D TAKES MANHATTAN!

Believe it or not, One Direction actually opened for Big Time Rush-yes, Big Time Rush-at Radio City Music Hall when they first played New York City in March. Eight months-and two No. 1 albums-later, the British boy band graduated to arena headliners in Manhattan with a sold-out concert at Madison Square Garden. Instead of acting like the major pop phenoms that they are, though, they still managed to come across like the lads next door. From their relatively understated outfits to their lack of any slick dance moves, they were charmingly dorky, barely keeping the beat as they bounced around the minimal stage. The playful looseness of it all was downright endearing. But when Ed Sheeran shared Harry Styles's mic on "Little Things"-a Take Me Home ballad that Sheeran cowrote-they scored some cool cred anyway.