Why Is 'Uptown Funk' So Catchy? We Asked An Expert
Additional reporting by Christina Garibaldi
The #1 song in the country is slower than normal and lacks a chorus altogether -- not your usual fare when it comes to hit jams. Still, those two elements are precisely why Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson's "Uptown Funk!" is currently sitting pretty at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, according to the experts.
"It's a slightly slower tempo than you would normally get in contemporary pop," Joe Bennett, Professor of Popular Music and Dean of School of Music & Performing Arts at Bath Spa University, told MTV News. "Most contemporary pop right now is an average of more than 120 beats per minute -- and it's 115, so it tends to stick out. Musically, it makes it sound a little bit cooler than everything else that's going on at the moment. It's not as frantic -- it's a lot more laid-back."
Despite not being a frenetic, high-paced dance song -- like most chart-topping tracks -- Bennett said "Uptown Funk!" has its place on the dance floor; it's a song for a certain point in the evening when grooving usurps moving.
And that impression makes sense. According to Ronson, the song was born in the mellowest of ways. "It kind of started out of a jam," he said. "I think it was something that Bruno used to jam around at soundcheck at his gigs." He and Mars then worked on the track while the "Gorilla" singer was on tour -- recording across the globe. Ronson called it one of the trickiest tracks of his career.
"We kept trying to write a chorus -- but nothing ever felt quite right," he told MTV News.
In the end, though, it was the absence of a traditional chorus that made the song stand out to Bennett -- and likely, subconsciously, all the fans that made the jam #1. "The big release, the most exciting bit of the song, is the brass riff -- which really has hardly any vocals in it at all," Bennett said. "It's a real sort of exhortation to dance at that point in the track because all this tension had been built up."
In some ways, the track's structural simplicity is also a draw. Bennett points out that, in addition to being built on one one of the most "basic and visceral" scales in music, "Uptown Funk!" is "basically a two-chord groove between the chords of D_minor_7 and G7" -- a groove that Ronson asserts is what glued the whole track together.
That simplicity, however -- Bennett added -- belies a kind of unique dynamism. "The song has lots of points of tension and release," he said. "For example, the whole section of 'Uptown Funk, don't give it to ya/ Uptown Funk, don't give it to ya' that culminates in 'Don't believe me, just watch' is actually an extra four bars longer than what you would expect. So it holds you, while the tension builds and builds and builds dynamically."
Tension. Tempo. Groove. When you look at the bones of this track, it has everything. As Bennett said, "Ronson has sort of cherry-picked all the best bits of the early '80s era groove-based funk and applied it in a contemporary setting."
The experience of just hearing it, however, as it kicks up in the club? Well, Ronson put it best: "It just sounds like a good time."
Don't believe me? Just listen.