Why We Need "Hey Ya!"
OutKasts single "Hey Ya!" came out four months ago. Since then its been overplayed by the radio, MTV has chosen it as one of the lucky few videos to get airtime, commercials are now using it, and basically its become one of those songs that you cant help but hear even if you avoid radio, MTV, and commercials like I do. So why am I not sick of it yet? And more, why do I actually crave it?
Its not just me, first of all. I havent talked to many people who dont like it. I tell my friends things like, "If I were a music critic, I would say that this song is infectious. I would say its irresistible."
Occasionally, popularity (even craze) and quality cross pathsyou know, like The Beatles. Its only appropriate, then, that the video for "Hey Ya!" is a take on the Beatles Ed Sullivan appearance. Except that The Beatles werent wearing green jockey uniforms and didnt have a drummer named "Dookie." (Oh yes, the video is great too. Theres some dancing kids that are completely precious. But I digress.)
Im not sure how calculatedly perfect the song is. It may have sprang magically from Andre 3000 one day (though probably not, since he and his partner Big Boi seem to have been doing lots of nice stuff since 1994), but it has some of the same electricity and energy as a Phil Spector track or a Ramones song. Its as if Dre said, "Look, weve got about four minutes here. Lets not waste any time like most people who write songs do." This song is anything but lazy. It gives us what we want in moments and stays with us all day.
1, 2, 3, and were into the song: no dicking around. No dud verses where we have to say "Whats this boring crap?" or "You gotta wait for the chorus for it to get good." Weve got bounce, weve got drums, weve got handclaps, weve got poppy acoustic guitars strumming on what everyone supposed might be a rap or at least R&B recording but were wrong.
But when we do get to the chorus, the candy is squeezed even brighter. Just in case you werent giddy with delight yet, theres that little run-up on the plinky keyboard. The words to the chorus? Simply "Hey ya." There was that dork once who tried to show how trite Phil Spector records were by reading the lyrics aloud without the music and I suppose some old farts might try that for this song: "Oh wow. A song that says Hey ya. How profound." But besides the fact that poetry and music (especially pop music) are completely different things (no matter how much your hipster English teacher who lets you read Springsteen in poetry class might argue otherwise), these lyrics actually are good. "Thank God for Mom and Dad for sticking together, cause we dont know how" (italics mine, to demonstrate absolute sadness, hopelessness, respect, admiration, disappointment, wonder, and other feelings I could list for days about that line). "We get together, but separates always better. If what they say is Nothing is forever, then what makes love the exception?"
Bleak, but now weve earned our party. Its very Prince, actually. Andre says, "Yall dont want to hear me. You just want to dance." He knows, so he sings "hey ya" and lets us know he doesnt want to meet our daddy ("just want you in my Caddy") and doesnt want to meet our momma ("just want to make you come-a"), then lets us know hes "just being honest." Yes, we need this kind of honesty.
All of this would have been enough for a song. We could have hey yad all the way to a fade-out and been perfectly happy, but OutKast keeps throwing in quirky little sounds, stopping and starting the song for effect, and at this point talks to the fellas, asking whats cooler than cool ("ice cold"), creating even more lyrical hooks for us, more things to cling to. He says "all right" fifteen times as part of some sort of superfreaky fit he's having. Take that! "Heres what Im going to do. Im going to say all right fifteen times in a row and its going to drive people deliciously insane. Okay?"
But now were ready for Dre to talk to the ladies, and he warns them that were about to hear a good old-fashioned break down: just drums and a little funk bass. Perhaps youll be forced to dance at this point if you havent been already. At any rate, this is what he wants you to do (fellas will probably join in too, though they arent specifically invited). Oh, and before we hear the line of lines, Andre throws in just for good measure the wonderful "I wanna see yall on your baddest behavior. Lend me some sugarI am your neighbor!"
The line of lines? "Shake it like a Polaroid picture." It doesnt matter that shaking Polaroids doesnt actually make them develop any faster. One day there will be a "Shake it like an 8 Ball" (another thing you dont actually have to shakejust turn over) rip-off, and that will be fine, but everyone needs to remember the day you first heard this piece of genius.
Have we forgotten that the song was originally about the hopelessness of relationships and love? Yes we have or we havent, and thats why the song is now so heartbreakingly good, against that backdrop, even though it might appear to be just another dance-around-why-dont-ya song if heard from outside a club (though even then I suspect it would make people hearing it for the first time run inside to see what its all about).
The multiple Andres in the music video illustrate the ways this song can make us feel: from the almost-sad persistence of the drummer to the smartness and deliberateness of the keyboardist to the contented lip-bite smile of the guitarist to the all-out finger-wigglin happiness of the backup singers. Ultimately this song is about joy. No matter what happens there is the possibility of joy, and this song demonstrates it.
I just asked myself if Im being too serious about this. I dont think I am. I think pop and joy and happiness are important for us to have, and I am very glad someone is doing something about it.
Copyright © 26 Jan
You may email Rusty W. Spell.
Watch the video at MTV.com.