Unless you've been living under a rock at the bottom of the most remote ocean trench, you've heard "Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars, probably at least four times a day. It's a great song, where Ronson shows off his unique ability to spin together vintage soul and funk influences in a way that somehow sounds sleek, fresh, and modern.
That's good and fine; if you've known and loved Mark Ronson as long as I have, it's to be expected at this point. It's the music video I'm most interested in. In the video, Mark Ronson does the unthinkable: he actually looks cool.
I should back-track a bit. It's not new for producers to appear in music videos--in fact, it's pretty common. But invariably, producer cameos end up looking goofy as hell--I hesitate to use the phrase "out of place" because they deserve to be there as much as anyone, but if the shoe fits, right?
Being a producer must, at times, feel like thankless, faceless work--imagine for a minute that you've spent countless hours honing your craft, and countless more hours shaping a beat that someone then takes and raps or sings over. Rappers gain infinitely more public exposure than their counterparts behind the 1's and 2's--this is natural and to be expected. One negative consequence of this, though, is that sometimes seeing producers in videos is hilariously painful.
Let's take a trip to the old school for a second, with Eric B. and Rakim's "Don't Sweat The Technique:"
Eric B. is one of rap's most legendary producers, and "Don't Sweat The Technique" is one of rap's most legendary beats. Even if you don't recognize the name of the song, there's a one-hunnda emoji percent chance you recognize the upright bass and saxophone. Despite this, Eric B. never really seems comfortable in his own video. Surrounded by a menagerie of women who are gorgeous in that way that only women in the early 90's have ever been, Eric B. has a look on his face throughout the whole video like, "why am I even here?" The most awkward moment is when Rakim is holding a quill at a desk (because the 90s, I guess) and Eric B. is standing there flipping pages in a book.
For a more recent example, let's look at Eminem's "Berzerk:"
If you know rap, you'll immediately recognize Rick Rubin's iconic beard. Rubin is arguably the most important figure in the history of hip-hop, responsible for bringing a ridiculous number of legends to the mainstream. Rap fans recognize and love that. But I can only imagine the generation of youngbloods who are just discovering the annals of rap history, who aren't familiar with Rubin's legacy, who are thinking "who's this random hobo Em paid to try to look cool?"
In a decidely unorthodox example, let's consider Die Antwoord's "Evil Boy," produced by Diplo. Just note, if you're the kind of person who reads Earhole at work, this is super not safe for that. I'm not sure it's safe to watch at home by yourself--c'est la Die Antwoord.
Although Diplo probably doesn't even crack the top 20 most bizarre things in this video, his appearance in this is borderline-unprecedented goober level--admittedly, in a totally self-aware way. Regardless, I'll pay good money to whomever makes a gif out of him at the 1:17 mark.
He wasn't wrong when he started latching onto this "random white dude be everywhere" thing.
In my opinion, easily the most egregious example of this is Scott Storch in the video for "Make It Rain" by Fat Joe and Lil Wayne. Watch closely at the 3:19 mark, and again at the very end of the video, when Joe is shouting him out.
Scott Storch--who's responsible for 90% of the music you heard on the radio in the early 2000s--is still one of the less visible producers in the article. His aviators are iconic, but other than that, he looks like a completely typical white guy, which is why his out-of-the-blue appearance in this video feels like such a non sequitur. Maybe he just didn't do enough cocaine that day, but he just looks wrong in the video.
So let's bring it back to Ronsoliño (I am so sorry) for a minute. Take a look at the "Uptown Funk" video:
There are so many moments where Mark Ronson looks awesome in this--the opening scream, bobbing his head on the hood of a moving lowrider, reading the paper while getting his shoe shined. Bruno Mars is still the star of this video, but Ronson has enough (warranted) cool asides that it feels like he's an equal participant.
I hope none of this has sounded like I'm disparaging anyone--Eric B., Rick Rubin, Diplo, and Scott Storch are all rightfully-acclaimed, unreasonably talented individuals. The point that I'm trying to make is that it's unfair to producers that, being shoehorned into goofy sidekick roles, they'll never look half as dope as the person saying the words.
"Uptown Funk," in addition to birthing an incredible Action Bronson remix, might very well be a harbinger for a new age, where producers are given a sense of purpose and agency in appearing in the videos for songs that they helmed.
I hope it is, because producers deserve it.