Named and cosigned by funk legend Bootsy Collins, Silk Sonic was the band, and its entire being was just as the name suggested: an homage to the era of ’70s funk and soul.
In late February, pop star Bruno Mars and R&B artist Anderson .Paak caught the world’s full attention with the announcement of their upcoming collaborative album, followed shortly after by the project’s lead single, “Leave the Door Open.” Lyrically witty with vocals that can melt the brain, the song was met with high praise, making the upcoming album one of 2021’s most highly anticipated projects, along with the likes of Kanye’s “Donda” and Drake’s “Certified Lover Boy.”
Silk Sonic continued to feed the people with an amazing performance at the Grammys, followed by months of silence (for listeners to recover, of course) before overwhelming them once more with the release of “Skate” and “Smokin Out the Window.” Although they didn’t perform quite as well as the lead single (in their defense, it’s an incredibly hard act to follow), the songs and their accompanying videos solidified the sonic and visual aesthetic of the band. Silk Sonic was to be like a theatrical showing of a world protected by the laws of fantasy, where Mars and .Paak could come together, nail a first take in a recording studio, and perform on stage perfectly — all whilst emanating a charisma that attracts all. And all those attracted were not met with disappointment in the slightest; just when the hopes for the highly anticipated project were beginning to die down, “An Evening with Silk Sonic” was released, a fantasy fully realized.
But for those left unamused, this luscious fantasy named Silk Sonic is nothing more than a throwback. It’s become a name that comes with a warning label: boundary-pushing music nowhere to be found, watch out for a lack of inventiveness! These days, it seems as though innovation has become the criteria for good music. Rather than questioning the quality of the music, many have instead judged and dismissed the authenticity of Silk Sonic as a whole.
And I cannot blame these critics’ hesitation towards embracing the duo: parodies and tribute bands never get the best rep when discussing musicianship. Such words get tossed around as insults when describing artists who bite others’ styles. But by dismissing Silk Sonic in this manner, you completely ignore the music that resulted from the project. What makes rehashing an old sound uninteresting is (usually) not the music itself — if you imitate great music, you’ll get similar results — but rather its inauthenticity. It’s that desire to cringe when watching somebody try to be someone they aren’t. Silk Sonic, however, does not fall victim to this. It’s certainly an homage, but injected into it is the charisma and vocal talent of .Paak and Bruno, a colorful interpretation of the genre that brings each song to greater heights. They are not trying to be what they aren’t — this music is truly and authentically them. The charisma they exude comes off so effortlessly, as if they were born to play this role, just at the wrong time. They are simply the sole exception.
It also surely helps to understand their solo careers. From homeless to Grammy Award winner, Anderson .Paak made a name for himself with his distinct blend of soul, funk, and hip-hop. Meanwhile, Bruno Mars was a global pop sensation who, a few years prior to Silk Sonic, had just begun to transition into R&B and funk with his “24k Magic” album. So, their career trajectories met at this intersection of hip-hop, pop, and R&B, providing a natural setting for the duo to let their personalities shine, blending with one another to create a chemistry that has never been so apparent in any collaboration project before it.
This is exactly why it works: Silk Sonic manages to bring nostalgia for a beloved era of music, whilst perfectly balancing a carefree self-awareness of its parody with serious artistry. In a world desperate for an escape, Silk Sonic delivered. And at the end of the day, isn’t that all that matters?