Glorifying cocaine dealers in the entertainment industry
By Greg Waldock, Staff Writer
Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ smash hit Uptown Funk grooved its way into our hearts last year, with its smooth funk and slick ’70s veneer. Versions of it were sung in schools by teachers, in churches by the clergy, in shady car lots by shady car salesmen. It became so ubiquitous across so many groups, people forgot—or never realized—the song is far from innocent. It’s entirely about selling coke, and it’s not even vaguely veiled.
The first two lines in the song are straight-up cocaine references. “This hit, that ice cold/Michelle Pfeifer, that white gold.” Michelle Pfeifer is another name for coke, a reference to the actress’ role in Scarface. With opening lines as obviously drug-related as these, it’s pretty amazing how much mainstream popularity the song had, outside of radio. The song goes further: “Ride to Harlem, Hollywood, Jackson, Mississippi.” Ronson and Mars are singing about going to the biggest cocaine centers of America in the ’70s and slinging it, making massive amounts of money in the process.
Cocaine had a very interesting role in the ’70s. This was the time when it started to become the drug of choice in the growing music and film industries, and it was also when the foundations of the modern war on drugs would be laid. Cocaine dealers who sold in California or New York had, and have, a very different reputation from ordinary drug dealers. A certain style and pizzazz, accurately shown in the song and music video, was expected from people who sold coke to movie stars and massive pop artists. The persona was portrayed often in the film and television of the era, usually examining the darker implications of having a drug trade so sustained by professional industries.
The entire song is a glorification of that drug trade and its dealers’ personalities. Ronson’s “character” is smooth, slick, attractive, and happy, revelling in the riches and women the coke brings. While the music video emphasized the historical ’70s feel given off by the groove, the lyrics themselves make no indication of the period. Though it’s probably not what Ronson and Mars intended, the song can easily come off as an endorsement of the drug trade today, and all the associated problems.
To the song’s credit, however, the groove is solid. A strong bassline backed up with energetic vocals makes for a great song with a very upbeat and funky tune. And to its further credit, getting average white parents across America to tap their feet and sing about selling cocaine in the streets of Harlem is an impressive feat.