This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #411: Hey Ya by Outkast.
***Just saying….this song might not be about quite what you think it is about. Read on and learn why. But, you have been warned.
“Hey Ya” by Outkast is one of the more popular songs that gets played in our home. All three girls enjoy the chorus and the call-and-response portion toward the end where the men all answer the question of “What’s cooler than cool?”…..”Ice Cold!” and then, the ladies all have their turn to “shake it like a polaroid picture”. Alright! Alright! Alright! Our home is not alone in holding this song in high regard. “Hey Ya” became a #1 hit for Outkast and helped the duo sell millions of copies of the song. However, “Hey Ya” is one of those songs in which there is far more going on than meets the eye. In all of these 500 songs I am profiling, “Hey Ya” is, in fact, highly unusual in many ways, as you shall soon see.
First of all, “Outkast” was actually a duo comprised of singers/rappers, Andre 3000 and Big Boi. Both of these men had a successful partnership but, by the time they released, “Hey Ya”, they had become estranged. “Hey Ya” comes from a double-album entitled, “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below”. One side of this double-album…”Speakerboxx”, was written and performed entirely by Andre 3000. “The Love Below” was written and performed entirely by Big Boi. When the group was invited to perform on Saturday Night Live, each man sang one of their songs alone. There would be no further collaborations between the two men ever again, even though they toured and performed as “Outkast” for a while longer.
Secondly, the subject matter of “Hey Ya” is about the concept of relationships and whether or not they are meant to last. Obviously, shades of the relationship between Andre 3000 and Big Boi help colour the lyrics of the song. But, as well, Andre 3000 speaks about the relationships between men and women, too and whether or not “Love is the exception”, as his sings so evocatively. So, as much as this is a fun song to bop to, “Hey Ya” is really a song that questions the concept of “happily ever after” when it comes to relationships.
Finally, one of the aspects of this song that gives it such wide appeal is the party atmosphere it presents. The song sounds like dozens of people are there, all dancing and singing along. In reality, Andre 3000 did all of the musical roles himself and is the only male voice present on the entire song! It may seem like many men are there but, what happened was that Andre 3000 recorded various versions of himself singing each line and playing each instrument; the end result being a wall of sound that makes it seem like a party is going on when, in fact, he is all alone. The female “voices” are all just one person, too. There was a female production assistant there who recorded the female parts in the same way that Andre 3000 recorded the male parts. Sometimes, things are just not how they seem to be…..which is the point that Andre 3000 was trying to make with “Hey Ya”.
“Hey Ya” remains a very popular tune and will continue to be so in our house, too, no doubt. But, it stands as one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted songs in modern music history. How you choose to view it, going forward, is entirely up to you. For now, I will simply air the official video (which is a take-off on the Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show) and you can watch it all unfold with somewhat wiser eyes. Enjoy…sort of.
The link to the music video of Hey Ya by Outkast can be found here.
There is a website dedicated to Outkast. It can be accessed by clicking on the link here.
Thanks to KEXP for helping to inspire the writing of this post. A link to their website can be found here.