This is hands down the most electrifying live performance of a song on a TV show I’ve seen in years. It’s not everyday you can get everyone in a radio newsroom united behind one computer to watch a five minute video from start to finish. But this is Uptown Funk!
Last Thursday about ten of us gathered around a screen to watch this absurdly cool performance of Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk on Ellen for what should be the biggest hit of 2015. I’d intended just to show the video to my co-host on The Two Tim Wilson, but as soon as the room heard the opening notes everything changed. What Blurred Lines was to 2013, what Happy was to 2014, Uptown Funk will be to 2015.
Is it a coincidence all three of these mammoth, broad-appeal recent hits hark back to the soul, funk and R&B of the late 70s, early 80s? Who knows, but so much of Uptown Funk’s charm is that it is a clear homage to classic 20th century acts like the Commodores, the Jacksons, the Brothers Johnson, the Temptations, the Gap Band, Parliament and most directly, Prince.
As a producer Ronson knows his old-school R&B as well as anyone and this has been clear for years – just listen to tracks of his like the Amy Winehouse sung Valerie. And as for Bruno Mars, performances like this – not at the Grammys, not at a hallowed turf like the Apollo or Madison Square Gardens, but at what could be the dead atmosphere of a daytime talk-show – prove he possesses a once in a generation-like level of talent and charisma. Ellen and her producers deserve big credit too.
Mars stands with his dancers amongst the audience for the first half of the song, the small crowd in full participatory mood evoking Harlem’s Apollo Theatre, itself recalling the call and response of gospel music and black churches. Only the audience say “hot damn!” instead of “amen!”
The synchronized dances moves also echo the most suave of the Motown groups, meaning that all told Uptown Funk has more attitude, more swagger, more humour and more class (no f-bombs in a modern R&B hit!?) than anything Justin Timberlake, Chris Brown, Beyonce, Nicki Minaj, Usher or Rihanna have recently done. This is the best of modern R&B and if it sounds a lot like the best of old R&B then that’s not a bad thing at all.