The first single from Uptown Special
, this exuberant track features vocals and co-writing credits by Bruno Mars and was produced by Jeff Bhasker (Kanye West, Drake, Alicia Keys). The same trio previously collaborated on Mars' hit tune "Locked Out of Heaven
The song originated from a lick that Mars and his band were playing on tour. "When we hit on that opening line - 'This s--t, that ice cold. Michelle Pfeiffer, that white gold' - we knew that we had the seed of this really exciting idea," Ronson told Billboard magazine. "I pushed myself much more than I have on anything else in the past."
The song took over a half a year to complete as Ronson spent a lot of time traveling across the States as he tried to pin Mars down. "It was six or seven months of chasing Bruno around on tour," he said.
The pressure got to Ronson as he struggled to lay down his guitar part before producer Jeff Bhasker left at the end of the day for another project. "The plan was for me to record my guitar part by lunch. Lunchtime comes around and I still haven't nailed the part," he recalled to Billboard. "We go out and in the stress of finishing this song I fainted in the restaurant. I threw up three times. Jeff had to carry me back to the studio." In the end, they got it - on take 82."
Mars and Ronson create a monster party vibe in this song, starting with the title: "Uptown" implies high class (as Prince
or Billy Joel
could tell you), while "funk" is the rhythm and release. The lyrics are way over-the-top, with Mars explaining that he's so hot he's forcing dragons into retirement. It's clever, fun and outrageous, but also meticulously constructed with a mix of rhyming patterns. For instance:
"Stop wait a minute
Fill my cup put some liquor in it
"Minute" and "liquor-in-it" aren't typical rhymes, but you can get away with it if you have the funk on your side.
"Ride to Harlem, Hollywood, Jackson Mississippi
If we show up we gonna show out
Smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy
In this case, "Mississippi" and "Skippy" sandwich (get it?) a line that doesn't rhyme with any others. In that line, however, "show" is repeated twice, creating an inline rhyme.
The lyrics all sound like they're improvised after a few libations, but every syllable has a place in the rhythm.
The Vance Joy song "Riptide
" was on the charts when "Uptown Funk" was released. Both tracks mention Michelle Pfeiffer, which is a little odd considering the actress hadn't been in any blockbuster movies in a while.
The reference in this song relates to her role in the movie Scarface
, as Mars is channeling the Tony Montana drug kingpin character (the "white gold" is cocaine); Vance Joy mentioned her ("closest thing to Michelle Pfeiffer that you've ever seen") because he was infatuated with the actress when he was younger.
During Michelle Pfeiffer's appearance on BBC's The Graham Norton Show
on November 3, 2017, the actress was asked about the reference. She replied:
"I was incredibly flattered. It was very cool. It was a little embarrassing at times. You know, carpool with the kids and the song comes on and my son's like… [imitates him shrinking back into his seat]. Or I'm in exercise class, and the song comes on and [sighs with exasperation]. But yeah, I love the song."
Mars and Ronson performed this song for the first time when they were musical guests on the November 22, 2014 episode of Saturday Night Live.
Most funk-inflected songs with heavy swagger appeal strictly to a male audience, but this one is far more inclusive, with Mars making numerous overtures to the ladies:
This one for them hood girls
Them good girls
Girls hit your hallelujah
The girls are clearly welcome at this party and appreciated.
This was Mark Ronson's first entry on the Hot 100 as an artist. His first credit as a writer on a chart hit was Christina Aguilera's 2006 #19-peaking ballad "Hurt
The song's music video was filmed by frequent Bruno Mars' director Cameron Duddy. The clip stars Ronson, Mars and the Hawaiian singer's backing band, The Hooligans. It was shot in various cities where Mars was touring as well as the 20th Century Fox New York street backlot in Los Angeles.
Ronson explained to Radio.com
why the visual was shot in the Big Apple. "There's a lot of 'uptowns' all across America," he said. "Obviously and famously in New York, but there's also New Orleans, Oakland and Minneapolis. But Bruno has family from the Bronx and I grew up on 90th and Riverside [the Upper West Side]. I guess that's why we choose that uptown. It was the one that was in our heads when we were writing the song."
This was the first US chart-topper to include the word "funk" in the title. However, a song with variations of both "funk" and "town" had reached the summit before: Lipps Inc. reached #1 on the Hot 100 with "Funkytown
" in 1980. A previous chart-topper containing the "funky" adjective variant was Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music
" in 1976.
A gospel influence in this song comes when Mars says, "Girls hit your hallelujah," which is followed by a background "Whoooo." This call-and-response makes the song far more club-friendly, specifically to the ladies in the crowd he's addressing. The "hallelujah" brings in a spiritual element as well.
Fans of BBC's 1980s children's wildlife show, The Really Wild Show
pointed out the song sounds suspiciously similar to the program's theme tune
. Even its presenter, Michaela Strachan, agrees, telling The Daily Mail
's Sebastian Shakespeare: "It hadn't occurred to me that it sounded like the theme tune until I listened to it again. Maybe that's why I like it so much."
The line "gotta kiss myself I'm so pretty" is something that boxing champ Larry Holmes said in an interview where he started talking about how much he loves himself - he then proceeded to kiss his own arms to make his point. Before Holmes, Muhammad Ali often boasted, "I'm so pretty."
Note that after Bruno Mars says the line, he makes a kissing sound to punctuate it.
This was Mark Ronson's first UK #1 in the Britain. Back in 2007, he'd had a couple of near-misses with "Stop Me
" and "Valerie
," which both stalled at #2.
UK X Factor
finalist Fleur East performed the song
during the show's December 6, 2014 semifinal. She received unanimous praise from the judges and the singer's mentor Simon Cowell said the performance was one of the top three in X Factor's
history. As a result of her cover topping the iTunes chart, the UK release date of Mark Ronson's original recording was brought forward by a month.
At 17 seconds, the intro runs longer than most hit songs of the time, as the trend was to quickly get into the chorus or first verse. This intro sets the stage for the rest of the song, introducing the hooky "doh doh doh" vocal and the clapping drum sound (made with a Linn drum machine) that show up throughout the song. Before the intro ends, various other key instruments in the song appear: bass, snare drums, cheery guitar, horns and a swishy synth effect.
Mars also lets out a howl before going into his verse, indicating the wild, unpredictable nature of what's to come.
Mark Ronson was walking down a London street when he got a text from his manager saying this was the new #1 single in the States. "I called Bruno, we talked for a minute, and I said, 'I'm going to let out a primal scream right now, if that's OK,'" he recalled to Billboard magazine. "I cupped the phone to protect his golden ears, and that's what I did."
Trinidad James and Devon Gallaspy were both included on the song's credits. This was because of its use of the "don't believe me, just watch" chant, from James' 2012 hit "All Gold Everything
The writers of The Gap Band's 1979 anthem "Oops Up Side Your Head" (band members and brothers Charles, Robert and Ronnie Wilson, keyboardist Rudolph Taylor, and record producer Lonnie Simmons) were later added to the songwriting credits in the wake of a claim put forth by publisher Minder Music.
An early version of this song was deemed so bad it ended up in the virtual trash can on Mars' Mac. According to Rolling Stone, this version had Mars shouting, "Burn this motherf--ker down." He told the magazine: "We spent months on that chorus. Then one day it was like, 'Maybe we don't have a chorus.'"
This won for Best Male Video at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards.
The song was the best-selling single of 2015 in both the US and UK.
Ronson and Mars performed this song at the halftime show of the 2016 Super Bowl, which was headlined by Coldplay. Mars and his crew did some Hammer-dancing to the song before yielding to Beyoncé, who did a new song, "Formation
." A West Side Story
-style dance-off between team Mars and team Bey followed before Chris Martin joined them to close out "Uptown Funk."
This won Grammy Awards for Record Of The Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance at the 2016 ceremony.
The 1980s Minneapolis funk group Collage sued Ronson and Mars for alleged copyright infringement, claiming elements of "Uptown Funk" are "deliberately and clearly copied" from their 1983 single "Young Girls
." The suit, on behalf of living Collage band member Larry White and the estates of two deceased members Grady Wilkins and Lee Peters, sought unspecified damages.
Ronson and Mars also landed in hot water over the song's similarities to Zapp's 1980 electro-funk hit "More Bounce To The Ounce
." Lastrada Entertainment, owners of the Zapp tune, cited the "three-note introductory talk-box melody 'doubled' on guitar' and 'talk-box vocalization of the word 'doh,'" as examples of musical thievery. The company sought damages and a permanent injunction to prevent Ronson from performing the song in concert. The case was settled in 2018 but the terms are unknown.
This spent the most time, 21 weeks, in the Hot 100's top three of any song. The record was previously held by Santana's "Smooth
" with 19 weeks.
Veteran soul singer Angie Stone accused Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars of copying her old group The Sequence's 1979 tune "Funk You Up
." Stone and the other Sequence members filed legal papers in late 2017 asking for a jury trial and unspecified amount of money from Mars and Ronson.
Speaking to The Sun
, Stone said:
"As far as I'm concerned the song belongs to us. We have been robbed, railroaded, overlooked and completely disrespected. Everyone got paid but my group.
The truth of the matter is no one on that suit deserves it more than The Sequence because those lyrics are ours - 'Funk You Up was ours.' We branded it in 1979. Their record was not recorded before ours and I think it is because we are women on the ballot and we are getting railroaded. The truth is we have been trying to sue them long before the record became Record of the Year [at the Grammys]."
This song almost funked up the relationship between Ronson and Mars, who had their differences over the track. "We were fighting," Mars told the Wall Street Journal
. "I was on tour and Mark would send me something and I'd be like, 'Are you out of your mind?' And I'd send him something back and he'd be like, 'No, my version is better.' We were both fighting for the greater good of the song.
You press play and it went, 'This here's that ice-cold...' and it was like, 'Oh, what's about to happen?!' But then 'Oh, man, that's what you got? Nah, never mind, turn it off.' And that kept happening for months.
Finally the solution was that we just needed to dance - to say, 'Don't believe me, just watch,' and that's it. Don't try to write a hook. You don't need more; that already said everything. But it took us a while to feel that, because the way we were doing it was so unorthodox, piece by piece. When we finally got together and picked up the instruments, we got to feel it. That's when the superpower comes in."
In the Kidz Bop version, the line, "Fill my cup, put some liquor in it," is replaced with "Fill my cup, put some water in it."