Has 2015’s biggest hit already been claimed? Uptown Funk’s popularity is growing by the minute; but its creation wasn’t quite as seamless as the louche funk of its sound
If the bookies, iTunes charts, 20m YouTube views and popular blog Popjustice are to be believed, Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ single Uptown Funk could be the most bombastic Christmas No 1 hit since Mr Blobby released his seminal 1993 masterpiece, Mr Blobby. Hysteria surrounding the track, lifted from the British producer’s forthcoming 2015 album Uptown Special, has accelerated since it was covered on 6 December’s X Factor. Thanks to a performance from semi-finalist Fleur East – 2 mins 52 secs of gold-laminate choreographed majesty – the release date was brought forward by five weeks. Uptown Funk has become the first ever overnight karaoke classic.
Although it can take months for a song to truly peak – Pharrell’s Happy being a previous example of a sleeper phenomenon – there are already signs that Uptown Funk is feted for ubiquity. As well as its current position at No 1 in the UK iTunes chart (not to mention Fleur’s cover right behind at No 2 - which is not eligible for charts), Uptown Funk is currently No 2 in Australia, No 3 in France and No 4 in Canada. It’s also picking up radio play globally, and according to US Soundscan, the single is likely to be pushing total sales of over 480,000.
So how did this happen? Here’s a few of the components that have triggered its rise.
Alongside Ronson and Mars, the song’s credits include Phil Lawrence, who often writes with Mars under the collaborative name the Smeezingtons (Cee-Lo’s Fuck You, Bruno Mars’ BoB), and Jeff Bhasker, a Grammy award-winning writer also known as Billy Kraven and UGLY, who is responsible for songs by Kanye West, Jay Z, Ed Sheeran, Eminem, Alicia Keys, Taylor Swift and every other major mainstream artist of the last decade. Described by Ronson as “a full-on combustible groove workout with elastic bass and indomitable spirit” it channels classic 80s funk, rap and soul, from Prince to Cameo, to the Gap Band, Earth, Wind & Fire, Chaka Khan and the Sugarhill Gang, plus a little New Edition. While it’s imbued with loucheness, its creation wasn’t nearly as slick: it apparently took seven months to write and 82 takes before they hit pop gold. At one point Ronson – overwhelmed with anxiety – vomited. “There was all of this pressure because Bhasker was leaving at the end of the day,” Ronson told Billboard. “The plan was for me to record my guitar part by lunch. Lunchtime came around and I still hadn’t nailed the part. We go out and in the stress of finishing the song I fainted in the restaurant. I threw up three times. Jeff had to carry me back to the studio.”
Co-directed by Mars and Cameron Duddy (Grouplove, Rixton, One Republic and Mars’ Gorilla) the video was launched on YouTube on 19 November and subsequently racked up viewers in the millions. Thanks to its super-slick, Jackson-like group choreography, glossy production and retro styling, it is an excellent accompaniment to the song – and is probably ripe for a Saturday Night Live parody. When you’ve spent the majority of 2014 watching one man stand relatively still, occasionally with an acoustic guitar, the return of jazz-hand showmanship is very much welcome.
After Fleur’s performance on 6 December, Lily Allen, never afraid of rocking the boat, was concerned there was jiggery-pokery at play with the contestant’s reportedly “last-minute” choice of song. Ronson’s record label, Columbia, is part of Sony Music along with Simon Cowell’s label Syco – a fact that prompted Allen to tweet: “It is an amazing song and Fleur did it justice but it’s still a great example of music industry corruption. #uptown funk”. Since then, a spokesperson for the show has contested Allen’s claims, stating: “The X Factor has an experienced music team who work closely with the judges, contestants and the show’s production team to chose songs that suit a contestant’s style, the theme for any given week and which we think the audience at home will enjoy.” Whether or not we are simply puppets in Cowell’s evil Christmas nativity play, it was better than hearing a below-par rendition of All I Want For Christmas for the 10,000 time.
The song’s been on Spotify for less than a week, and has notched up 12,432,870 streams globally. Obviously, this is mostly down to the song’s craftmanship and possibly an influx of Shazams during X Factor, but never underestimate the influence of Cara Delevingne’s social media accounts; she is, after all, the woman responsible for the boom in onesies and bushy brows. Shot during this year’s Thanksgiving celebrations, her three Instagram videos feature Kurt Russell and Kate Hudson dancing in time to the track, and have upwards of 250k likes to date. Whatever happened to the days of a good game of Boggle and a passive-aggressive conversation about the remote control?
Part of the frenzy surrounding the single could be a reactionary response to the more mournful music released in 2014. Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith are two of the biggest selling artists of the year – and while their work has merit, it’s much more engaging to hear something that dazzles with attitude. You only have to look at the meteoric success of Happy – released in 2013 but still the biggest single of 2014 – to realise the universal appeal of joy and energy over hackneyed emotion.
This article was written by Harriet Gibsone, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 9th December 2014 14.14 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010