Mark Ronson's hubris and my problem with almost-singing men
I generally try to preface my musical opinions by stressing just how wrong I almost certainly am about everything. That's not (I don't think) a self-consciously naive pose; nor am I trying to take a perverse sense of pride in being musically contrarian. Objectively, I think I don't have very good taste in music, and I don't know enough about how music works, or where various musical influences come from, to really make a case for or against anything.
Once Nicole tried to explain who Nick Cave was to me. This was almost immediately after she tried to explain Nick Drake to me; I am a tabula rasa when it comes to musical English Nicholai. (This was several months after she learned the only Joni Mitchell song I have ever heard is the Neil Diamond cover of "Both Sides Now" from a Neil Diamond cover album my ex-girlfriend who works at Capitol Records once mailed me.) "You've heard Nick Drake," she insisted. "No, I haven't," I said. "Never heard him a day in my life."
"Yes, you have, Mallory," Nicole said. "If you've ever seen a car commercial, you've heard a Nick Drake song." She sent me a link to Pink Moon, and after about six seconds I said, "Oh, that's Nick Drake? Sure, I know this song. They play it all the time in car commercials." So now I know who Nick Drake is, and Nick Cave too. Nicole sent me the link to a fabulous GQ profile about him, and I quite liked it, and decided that I liked Nick Cave; that whatever the strange and wiltering world might fling my way, that I could decidedly count myself in the camp of people who On Nick Cave's Side. Then Nicole sent me a link to his song "Into My Arms," and as I listened to it we texted.
NICOLE: if Nick Cave wrote that song for me I would be fine if he then pushed me under a bus
MALLORY: this song is great but I think it would sound better if he tried to sing well
I don't understand it when male singers don't sing well
like, they literally do not try to sing all the way with their whole throats, that bullshit Rex Harrison singy-talky nonsense
this is a song, you should sing it
NICOLE: he is POST-PUNK, Mallory
MALLORY: I DON'T KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS
I THINK EVERYONE SHOULD TRY TO "SOUND" OR "LOOK" GOOD IF THEY ARE DOING ART
AND I PRETEND TO UNDERSTAND WHY SAYING "MY TODDLER COULD DRAW THAT" IS A PROVINCIAL AND DUMB RESPONSE TO MODERN ART BUT I GENUINELY DON'T UNDERSTAND WHY IT'S WRONG on some level I know that I am wrong, I don't think of myself as some emperor's-new-clothes type of radical truth-teller and that there is more to art than just "carry this sustained note" or "be only Caravaggio" but it doesn't feel wrong and that's hard to reconcile and honestly I would like this song better if it sounded the same in every way except for Whitney Houston sang it
NICOLE: you are in luck because EVERYONE has covered this song
MALLORY: good because I think this song would sound better to me if someone tried to sing it
I don't want to watch a table read when I go see a movie, and I don't want to listen to a man almost sing a song
NICOLE: make sure the people know I tried and also that I love Nick Cave's voice and also his general deal
Then we talked about, I think, Harry Styles for a while.
There is, however, one musical point upon which both Nicole and I are but two minds with but a single thought, and that is this: Mark Ronson has no business listing Bruno Mars as the featured artist on "Uptown Funk," a song that was very popular three years ago and that I am still angry about now. Mark Ronson, you wrote "Uptown Funk" and that is more than many of us can say about ourselves, and I want to maintain an appropriately humble spirit as someone who has never written "Uptown Funk" even a little.
But like, my man, what part of the performance of "Uptown Funk" do you think is exclusively beholden to the Mark Ronson vibe? You can't, Mark Ronson! Everything good and pure in spirit about "Uptown Funk" came from the pure determination and will to entertain of one Bruno Mars! The entirety of the square footage of the person of Bruno Mars is dedicated to showmanship. He is five feet, five inches' worth of enthusiasm and workhardism and Target commercials and shoulder shimmies and circa-2005 Los Angeles lesbian fashion. He is the Bob Hope of music and I love him with the full ferocity of my hungry heart. Bruno Mars would never try to mumble-talk his way through a song. Rewatch the video for "Uptown Funk," and remove Mark Ronson from the equation; you lose nothing. Remove Bruno Mars, and you are left with a jangling pile of cymbals and cheap sunglasses and emptiness.
I would have let you get away with "Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars feat. Mark Ronson;" you did co-write the track and play, I think, some of its guitars. Had you confined yourself merely to a songwriting/producing credit, I would have been silent, even as you insisted on being in the music video. But "Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars" is not the truth. Prince wrote "Manic Monday," but he still let the Bangles sing it, you know?
I think Mark Ronson got sued a bunch by various 1980s-era funk bands alleging that "Uptown Funk" was a ripoff of their earlier work. This is probably true, and part of the reason I loved "Uptown Funk" so much was because I have listened to very little 1980s-era funk bands, and my stupid contextless brain latched onto an obvious pastiche saying, "This is a novel and thrilling sound that has never happened to me before, let us love it with our entirety." And it's also true that "Uptown Funk" is 'more' Mark Ronson's than anyone else's, because if he was never born it would never have been written. Also the song was released on Ronson's album, so Bruno Mars was, quite literally, only featured therein. See? I can already tell I'm wrong again.
But in your heart, you know I'm right. If "Uptown Funk" doesn't truly belong to Bruno Mars, then nothing has ever really belonged to anyone, anywhere, ever.