The Irony Of Mark Ronson And Bruno Mars’ UpTown Funk Grammy Win
Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars certainly came out as the big winners for UpTown Funk during this year’s Grammy Awards huh?
If you weren’t aware, the global smash hit, which according to Wikipedia spent 14-weeks at number one on the US Billboard Hot 100, seven weeks at number one on the UK Singles Chart and also topped the charts in Australia, Canada, France, Ireland and New Zealand, took home Grammys for Record of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.
Of course, this news comes as no surprise to anyone with ears. In short: the damn song is everywhere. It can be heard in gyms, in grocery and department stores and during little kids dance recitals all across America.
It’s catchy. It’s hip. It’s fun. And more importantly, it sounds vaguely familiar to a bunch of songs we’ve all heard – and liked – before.
And during their acceptance speech for Record of the Year, Ronson and Mars made sure to give a super dope shout out to many of those familiar sounds. In particular, Ronson said:
“Um, I just want to thank, um, these guys [pauses to point to a group of men behind him] for being some of the greatest musicians, producers and arrangers around. And I see George Clinton, the man who has done more for the word ‘funk’ than we could ever hope to dream of in our entire lives. So I want to thank James Brown, George Clinton, [Jimmy] Jam & [Terry] Lewis, Prince, The Meters, Earth, Wind & Fire of course…”
Ronson then invited Mars to the mic, who concluded the shout outs by extending a special thanks to the fans for helping to make the song the classic smash hit it is today. Ironically, who wasn’t thanked, or even mentioned by name, was Charlie Wilson and the rest of the members of The Gap Band.
As reported last year by Billboard Magazine Wilson and his band mates were added on as the single’s co-writers after the group’s publishing company filed a claim on their behalf, alleging that Ronson and Mars had infringed on the band’s 1979 hit song, “I Don’t Believe You Want To Get Up And Dance (Oops, Up Side Your Head).”
More specifically Billboard reported:
“Sources tell Billboard that the claim, which Minder filed into YouTube’s content management system sometime in February, put the song’s ownership splits at more than 100 percent. In those situations, YouTube stops paying publishers and moves the proceeds into an escrow account. The settlement, which sources say gives 17 percent to the “Oops” writers, frees up those monies, albeit with different songwriter shares going forward.”
It should be noted that, originally, UpTown Funk had four writers including Ronson, Mars, Phillip Martin Lawrence and Jeffrey Bhasker. But later, both Trinidad James, also known by his government of Nicholas Williams, and Devon Gallaspy were added on as co-writers for a “for a sampling interpolation” of their hit single “All Gold Everything.” As previously reported by Billboard, while the additions came without either a threat of lawsuit or prompting, their additions also coincided with last year’s win by the estate of Marvin Gaye against Robin Thicke over allegations of copyright infringement on another Grammy nominated song Blurred Lines.
Anyway, with the addition of The Gap Band, UpTown Funk’s total writing credits jumped up to eleven individual artists.
Of course, there are many folks who have pointed out that the song’s construction might take its inspiration from more than just 11 artists.
As Billboard writer Sean Ross noted in the piece entitled, “From Sugarhill Gang to Trinidad James, a Look at the Influences of Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars’ ‘Uptown Funk:”
“Part of the excitement of Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk,” the just-released kickoff single from the DJ/producer’s Uptown Special is catching the allusions to one early ’80s funk/R&B classic after another. Even on Ronson’s own Facebook page fans cite “Cameo horns, the Time [keyboards], and ‘Party Train’ [by the Gap Band] drums.”
There’s an irony here. Because “Uptown Funk” is effectively a new Bruno Mars single as well, it received instant airplay at top 40 radio, including the “world premiere” treatment from some iHeart Media stations. By comparison, many of the early ‘80s classics referenced were released during the worst period of a “disco backlash” that effectively kept all types of black music, not just disco, off of top 40 for three years, beginning in fall 1979.”
That includes the Gap Band, which has never won a single Grammy award (they were nominated once in the Best Instrumental category in 1983 for “Where Are We Going?”) and didn’t actually see any parts of the top 100 Billboard pop charts until they were already four albums in. This, in spite of producing classic cuts like “Dropped the Bomb on Me,” “Early in the Morning,” “Outstanding,” and “Burn Rubber on Me” as well as being number one at backyard BBQs all across Black (and some non-Black) America.
Let that one sink in for a few seconds.
This is no shade to Mars and Ronson because I kinda like UpTown Funk, and I’m not going to lie, Macklemore and his White guilt anthem got me feeling somewhat sorry for the white boys and girls all over the world whose only real crime in all of this is wanting to make music like their heroes – oh, and not paying folks. But still nothing irks my soul more than the blatant disrespect and erasure of Black folks’ contributions to American culture. And, honestly, if Ronson and Mars really wanted to show their appreciation, they would have had The Gap Band, as well as The Time, EWF and all the other groups mentioned, up on stage with them accepting the awards and performing along side of them – instead of giving shout-outs and accepting the award on their behalves. We wonder what uncle Charlie thinks about all this.