Monday, October 19, 2009

8. Outkast "Hey Ya!" (2003)

One morning in late-September of 2003, I woke to my television on and tuned to MTV. (I must have been watching Real World/Road Rules Challenge the night before, the only reason to watch MTV at the time.) I turned over and saw Outkast's Andre 3000 in eight incarnations, joyfully paying homage to the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. I listened in my semi-stupor, and as I turned over to fall back asleep I thought, God, I love this song. Only later did I realize I had never heard it before.

Such is the brilliance of "Hey Ya!," a song whose instant likability belies a remarkable level of complexity and virtuosity. The song has been so ubiquitous, that its novelty is easily taken for granted. Its meter unexpectedly shifts between 4/4 and 2/4, giving it an odd, syncopated beat. The tempo, a brisk 160 BPM, never feels rushed, thanks to its bass line. Andre's vocal spans a range of over an octave and a half, from its half-spoken verse to its giddy height at the chorus. Its lyric is responsible for adding idioms like "shake it like a Polaroid picture" into the vernacular. All told, no small feat for one single.

It's no secret that "Hey Ya!" was solely the work of Andre 3000, with no input from his Outkast collaborator Big Boi (who concurrently released the competent, but no way comparable, single, "The Way You Move"). Andre has admitted rock music inspired "Hey Ya!." No surprise. The song is stripped of any vestige of hip hop, and is closer to the funk-inspired rock of Prince, than Outkast's previous (however eclectic) style.

Repetition may have diminished its immediacy, but "Hey Ya!" remains a mini-masterpiece, and the defining instant classic of the decade.

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