A Night at the Garden, by Jade Stewart

It was a little past eight. Alexis stood on top of the arena’s stairs, taking in the view. Fuchsia and blue lights flashed across her face, the music boomed, and nearly every seat was filled. Energy buzzed throughout her body. This was the effect of Madison Square Garden.

She and her best friend sat down and watched the opening act. Dua Lipa did a great job hyping the audience with her 45-minute set, which ended with the super-catchy “New Rules.” Alexis sang the one line in the chorus that she knew while her friend tapped her foot. Once Lipa and her band finished, the stage crew went to work while 90s and early 2000s R &B and Hip-Hop music played overhead.

Although Alexis was excited to see Bruno Mars, her mind was pre-occupied with other thoughts. Work and deadlines. Novels to analyze, peers’ work to critique, internships to apply for, and jobs to research. Alexis was stressed, and it was only a month into the semester. She barely had time for herself during the week, but tonight, she was going to have fun.

The first time Alexis ever saw Mars perform was in Birmingham, Alabama during his Moonshine Jungle Tour in 2014. Being in an arena was 1,000 times better than watching a short performance on TV. Alexis’ heart was pounding a mile a minute. His performance was worth every dollar. Mars reminded Alexis of Michael Jackson, one of her all-time favorite artists as a kid and whose songs compelled her to sing if she ever heard them in public. Jackson had a unique voice, impeccable dance moves, and was a perfectionist– qualities Mars also possessed. Alexis admired the equal effort that Mars put into singing and performing. Unlike other modern artists, he didn’t rely on lip-syncing. Bruno Mars may have been a new school artist, but both Jackson and Mars embodied hard work and could bring people of all ages together with their music. Alexis was thankful that she didn’t have to wait too long to see Mars again and was in one of the greatest cities to enjoy the concert. And this time, her best friend was here to enjoy the experience with her.

Her best friend was the one who introduced Alexis to Bruno Mars when they were juniors in high school. Alexis listened to his songs via YouTube, and before she knew it, Alexis was buying his songs from the iTunes store. Like Jackson, Mars’ down-to-earth lyrics and his vulnerable and raw voice pulled her in like a magnet. She had been a fan, or a Hooligan, ever since.

While waiting for Mars to appear, some people either went to the restroom or to buy alcohol. Alexis noticed that some of them were wearing Mars’ merch, like the tour t-shirt or Daisy Dukes with “Chunky,” one of Mars’ songs, written on the back. She was surprised no one had dressed up like him.

“Enjoying yourself?” Alexis said.

“Yeah. I’m so excited to see Bruno!” her friend exclaimed.

Alexis smiled, “Me too!”

All of a sudden, a curtain dropped in front of the stage. The audience went ballistic! Alexis was getting flashbacks from the Moonshine Jungle Tour—the jungle-themed curtain had been replaced with a sleek, black curtain with crown inside a wreath, reminiscent of the Cadillac emblem. The same crest appeared on the jumbotron screens that were on each side of the stage—a new symbol for a new tour. They stood from their seats, but Mars didn’t appear. False alarm. Alexis was a little disappointed that his set wasn’t starting on time.

“When is he gonna come out?” Alexis whined.

“I don’t know,” her friend said. 

They were both feeling impatient. Time passed, they both checked the time on their phones and groaned for the second half of the show to start. 9:15 p.m., the lights dimmed, and the overhead music stopped. They immediately jumped up from their seats.

A voice disguised with a talk-box, a device that made a human voice sound robotic, took over the speakers. The words that blasted over the speakers appeared on the jumbotron screens. The designs on the screen reminded Alexis of the intro from the TV show Martin. He’s really pushing the 90s aesthetic this tour, Alexis thought. When the voice asked, “Are you ready?” Alexis screamed, “Yes! I’ve been ready since the last tour!” The moment the first note of “Finesse” started to play, she was transported through a portal into a reality filled with (24K) magic.

Mars and his band were dressed in monochrome baseball jerseys and shorts; he was in red, bold and in charge. His bandmate/partner-in-crime, Philip Lawrence hyped the crowd even more, welcoming everybody to the tour and asking if we were ready to party. Then Mars started to sing. Alexis’ adrenaline levels were as high as the Empire State Building, and her stress waned. She shouted as if this was her first time attending a Bruno Mars concert. Her friend wasn’t as obnoxiously loud, but she still cheered and clapped her hands to the beat.

The lights changed colors, synced to the rhythm, the pyrotechnics were thrilling, and Mars’ dancing was “smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy”. Mars and his band were flawless and energetic, just like that night in June three years ago. Alexis laughed, danced, and shout-sang every lyric. She was on her feet the entire time. The roaring of the crowd filled the arena. It was like a party with 20,000 of Alexis’ closest acquaintances.

When Alexis returned to her hotel room, she could still hear the screams echoing in her ears. She was sweaty, hungry, and a little fatigued. A piece of confetti fell out of her hair, and she chuckled. For those hours, the only thing on her mind was to have fun. For those two hours, she didn’t care about her workload or the real-world craziness that was happening outside the Garden. Mars had once said in an interview with BET that he wanted his listeners to experience “pure joy.” Mission accomplished.

Favorites of the night: “Finesse,” “24K Magic,” “Perm,” “Calling All My Lovelies,” “Treasure,” “Locked Out of Heaven,” and “Uptown Funk.” “Runaway Baby” will forever be my ultimate favorite song and performance.

Jade is a native of Irondale, Alabama. She is a fiction writer in her second year of the Writing Program at Columbia.

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