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Uptown Funk – Why So Popular?

Posted: Tue Apr 07, 2015 11:30 am
by rogerwimmer
Doc: “Uptown Funk” is an amazingly popular song. Any thoughts as to what it is about the song that makes it so popular? Thanks in advance. - James

James: I have received dozens of emails asking about “Uptown Funk” and finally decided to include something in the column after I received your simple question.

The comments I have received about the song are all positive and people say they like everything about the song including the lyrics, vocals, uptempo beat, horns, and the overall “fun” nature of the song. Most people say they can listen to the song over and over and not get tired of it, and this is also true for the variety of “Uptown Funk” videos. During the past few months, I have been in stores where “Uptown Funk” was played on the store’s audio system. In every case, store employees and customers immediately recognize the song and begin doing dancing around in the aisles. It’s very funny.

During my research career, I have conducted hundreds of music tests and tested thousands of songs and can’t remember another song that appears to be so universally popular. My guess is that “Uptown Funk” receives high ratings, maybe some of the highest ever since music testing started in the early 1980s. I wasn’t sure because I no longer conduct music tests, so I checked with one of the leading music test researchers in the country and found that my guesses are close. I was told that the song tests “at the top of the scale” with virtually all demographics (age, sex, ethnic background, and format preference).

In my non-music expertise opinion, “Uptown Funk” is popular because it provides so many things that people like to hear, and the videos show so many things that people like to see. But since I’m not a music expert, I thought it would be valuable to find out what a real music expert says about the song.

Whenever I have a question about music, I go to one of my long-time friends, Dr. Ted Hatmaker, Professor of Music at Northern Illinois University. Dr. Hatmaker is a music theorist and one of the leading music experts in the country. He knows music from every angle and I have learned many things from him over the years. I sent Dr. Hatmaker your simple question: Why is “Uptown Funk” so popular? I asked him not to get too technical because space is limited on this column. Here is what he said:

The question of why this song is so popular is complex. It would help to know the demographics of this popularity. I suspect that the popularity reaches across all demographic groups: Bruno Mars and to a lesser extent, Mark Ronson, have significant followings among the under-40s. The song “Uptown Funk” recalls music of the 70s and 80s Funk bands, and fans of that music, as well as others who, while not fans back then, have since reconciled with it, represent a large group of older listeners.

The song likely bridges all ethnic groups. While some groups may be attracted to the familiar Funk groove, complete with 70s style brass, other groups surely find an appealing music that might give them “street cred.” The song’s popularity is also due to promotion by DJs, Shazam, and others in the business, and to flock mentality (those who like the song because others do).

The song itself has much to draw listeners. The lyrics are fun, fast, and hip without being offensive, not so much for the purist, but for the wider mainstream audience. The Funk groove is infectious, and the interplay between the beats and the syncopated vocal rhythms is intoxicating. The call-and-response between the lead singer and the backing vocalists rivals that of a gospel preacher. The song’s beat makes people want to dance, even for those of us who can’t. The performance is very clean and tight, and the production values are of the high quality one has come to expect from anything Bruno Mars is involved in.

These features are certainly enough to make a song a hit. However, one other characteristic the song possesses takes it to another level. The song is divided into three verse-refrain sections and a coda. What is special about this song is that over the course of each section, the intensity rises to a peak that it reached with the words “hey, hey, hey, oh!” It achieves this by starting with just voice and percussive back beats, gradually the keyboards and guitar come in (“I’m too hot”), dropping out to leave the voices (“Girls hit your Hallelujah”), then initiating a crescendo as the band and brass enter (“Don’t believe me, just watch,”) before the peak. Thus, each section comprises a surge that comes to an end, and is then followed by an abrupt return to the relative simplicity of the voice and back beat. It is this gradual rise in intensity through each section that contributes to the song’s power and (no doubt) its popularity.

Uptown Funk calls up numerous attractive features of previous songs from the 70s and 80s, but what is unique, as far as I can tell, is this buildup of force that generates a frenzy among its listeners and makes one able to listen to it repeatedly.

That’s Dr. Hatmaker’s response and I’m sure he could easily write several more pages. My guess is that “Uptown Funk” is going to be the song of the year and is going to have staying power for many years to come. The main reason for this, quite simply, is that the song is fun to listen to and the videos are fun to watch. As one friend said, “The song is just a very catchy tune.” Now it’s time to hear/see the song again, so click here.

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Re: Uptown Funk – Why So Popular?

Posted: Thu Apr 09, 2015 6:40 am
by rogerwimmer
Doc: My Dad is in his mid-60s and I showed him the “Uptown Funk” (Saturday Night Live) video you have a link for in your answer. I think I made a mistake. When he saw it, he immediately started dancing around (our whole family started laughing) and then he started to try to mimic the movements of the backup singers and Bruno Mars, especially at about 4:00 in the video. He has now watched the video about 100 times and tries to follow Bruno Mars' “walking behavior” at the four-minute mark. We can’t stop laughing. Oh, and he even found a hat in his closet that is similar to the one Bruno Mars wears in the video. I fear I have turned my Dad into a Senior Citizen dancing machine (or something). Thought you would like to know. - DM

DM: That’s great! I’m laughing while I’m typing this. Tell your Dad to keep practicing. Hey, maybe he can do the “walk” when he hears the song in a store or other public location. I’m sure you, and everyone else around him, would enjoy that. Tell him to bring his hat.