Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars "Uptown Funk"
Songs That Defined the Decade

Songs That Defined the Decade: Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars' 'Uptown Funk'

“Every time a PD would come over to hear it, they’d just have this giant ear-to-ear grin on their face when it was over."

Billboard is celebrating the 2010s with essays on the 100 songs that we feel most define the decade that was -- the songs that both shaped and reflected the music and culture of the period -- with help telling their stories from some of the artists, behind-the-scenes collaborators and industry insiders involved.

After Mark Ronson collaborated with pop star Bruno Mars on the latter's sophomore album Unorthodox Jukebox in 2012, the superproducer recruited Mars for his own LP, 2015’s Uptown Special. Little did they know, a simple jam session would turn into one of the decade’s defining pop hits, “Uptown Funk.”

The boogieing, horn-dripped smash arrived in November 2014, which felt like finishing a marathon for the team of Ronson, Mars, Jeff Bhasker and Philip Lawrence. They’d spent about six months piecing the song together from, as Ronson recalls, a “straight-ahead funk disco groove” that Mars began playing during their initial four-hour jam earlier that year. With Mars in the middle of his Moonshine Jungle Tour, there were times when it seemed “Uptown Funk” wouldn’t ever reach the finish line -- partially because of logistics, but also because they were so conscious of how it initially came together.

“The way [‘Uptown Funk’] felt that first night was so exciting, anything else that made it through the filter to get into that song had to feel as good as the jam that we had the first night,” Ronson says. “It came from such a place of pure joy, it got us all get so excited every time that we’d listen to it that the song itself was this snowball of exciting inspiration.”

And that feeling is exactly what came through in the finished product: Four and a half minutes of pure fun, with hooks galore and memorable lines like “This hit, that ice cold/ Michelle Pfeiffer that white gold.” Though its length didn’t always sit well with radio programmers, Ronson knew he had a hit on his hands based on their reactions. “Every time a PD would come over to hear it, they’d just have this giant ear-to-ear grin on their face when it was over,” Ronson remembers. “So I was like, ‘They’re always just f--king happy, let’s just roll with it.”

It didn’t take long for that happiness to spread, either. Within three weeks of the song’s Nov. 10, 2014 release, Ronson and Mars unveiled the retro, street-dancing “Uptown Funk” video -- which Ronson asserts “put the song on steroids” (and now has more than 3.7 billion YouTube views) -- and brought it to life on Saturday Night Live just days later. Then a week after that, a celebrity Thanksgiving dance challenge sparked on the Internet, with Kate Hudson and the Duck Dynasty crew sharing videos that encapsulated the joyous feeling that “Uptown Funk” ignites. 

By mid-December, the track was top five on the Billboard Hot 100. It hit No. 1 on the January 17, 2015-dated chart and stayed at the top for 14 weeks -- at that time, the longest-running Hot 100 No. 1 of the 2010s. And even though it was bested by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito” in 2017, then by Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus’ record-setting “Old Town Road (Remix)” in 2019, “Uptown Funk” officially reigns as Billboard's No. 1 Hot 100 hit of the decade.

Part of the reason “Uptown Funk” worked so well was the suddenly classic-leaning Top 40 scene to which it arrived, including other contemporary hits with upbeat, throwback production like Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” Magic!’s “Rude” and Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance.” All of these out-of-time pop smashes helped fill the void between the early 2010s’ EDM boom and hip-hop’s streaming takeover that occurred later in the decade, hitting the sweet spot of wholehearted, four-quadrant radio pop.

“Uptown Funk” also reminded the world of Mars’ star power, as he scored one of the year’s (and the decade’s) biggest hits with a song that was technically not even his. But amid the success of “Funk,” Mars and Ronson both found themselves in hot water with several artists who claimed the song ripped off theirs: Collage’s “Young Girls,” The Sequence’s “Funk You Up,” The Gap Band’s "Oops Up Side Your Head” and Zapp’s “More Bounce to the Ounce.” The Gap Band’s Charlie Wilson, Robert Wilson, Ronnie Wilson, Rudy Taylor and Lonnie Simmons have since been added as co-writers on the track; the Collage and Zapp lawsuits were dropped in 2018.

The “Uptown Funk” drama was further proof that performing pop with obvious reference points is much trickier territory to navigate nowadays, particularly in the wake of the “Blurred Lines” lawsuit that was also closed in 2018 with a $5 million settlement. But regardless of the legal trouble, Ronson still views “Uptown Funk” in a positive light, mostly because of what resulted from a genuinely fun studio session.

“We [weren’t] thinking about anything except making something that turned all of us on,” Ronson says of the “Uptown Funk” creation process. “There’s a level of TLC, musicianship, blood, sweat and tears that went into this stuff that it would be kind of impossible to try and replicate, because it’s not like a thing where you can just plug in and rip this off, like people do to Diplo all the time … It’s just so unique. That’s what makes it special.”

Songs That Defined The Decade