OUTKAST – “Hey Ya”

I’m guessing you might have heard “Hey Ya” so I’ll skip the introductions. What “Hey Ya” does is re-introduce funk to nerdiness, to spazziness; and in particular to a specific kind of stiff-necked, clever, uptight, indie, white nerdiness. This is part of why some people adore it; other people loathe it; and is surely why the Internet got onto it so quick too. The initial choppy strum and nasal vox are pure Frank Black; the acoustic and trombone (or synth-bone) mesh is They Might Be Giants; the stuttery jerky vocal tics (“I- I- I’m – just being honest”; “What makes – what makes – what makes”) are David Byrne; the whole thing has reminded at least some people of the Flaming Lips (!), though to be fair in that case it’s the best Flaming Lips song by a light year. And the video gives you a clue, too – Andre’s in there playing the loverman-in-beret, but he’s playing the jumper-wearing preppy guy, too: Outkast reimagined as Brit Invasion pop-show squares.

That’s why “Hey Ya!” is ‘innovative’ I suppose; also why it’s a ‘novelty’ (there is no point in separating these terms). But the other part of its success is that even with these nerd-genes it still makes me dance – that trombone may be goofy as fuck but it’s also a delight as sound and as groove. It’s a sign of the track’s effectiveness as a party tune that it’s one of those songs I refuse to get any emotional kick from – I just tune out the lyrics, except as catchphrases.

I can see why people hate it. There’s a degree of smarm in the delivery, dramatically boosted if you sit through the whole Love Below album: it took seeing the video, bright and snappy amidst hours of dreary Polish hip-hop, to make me like it again. I’m also sympathetic to the idea that if “Hey Ya” is the start of something then it’s the start of something lame: I’m no more looking forward to everybody doing a wacky guitar track than I am to checking out the Darkness clone bands. But that doesn’t stop me liking The Darkness and it shouldn’t stop me liking “Hey Ya”. Besides, my hunch is this single is a one-off, a freak – it’s not hard to imagine people being able to rip it off, but it’s difficult to guess who would, lacking Dre’s career trajectory. That’s the main reason I don’t buy it as the most important single of the year; my ears can confirm it’s not the best either.