Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” Lyrics Meaning
Truth be told, it was Outkast that put the ATL on the map. In other words, they were the first rap outfit from Atlanta, Georgia to receive nationwide coverage, i.e. make it onto Ralph McDaniels’ Video Music Box back in the 1990s.
This is despite the fact that listeners would be hard-pressed to actually make out what the homeys are saying in their verses. Indeed unintelligible lyrics are a common factor amongst Outkast tracks, going back to the days of Ms. Jackson (2000), Rosa Parks (1999) and even Jazzy Belle (1996).
And so it is with “Hey Ya!” – so much so that some listeners were startled upon learning what Andre is actually singing about in its entirety. This track is thoroughly jumpin’, and so too is its award-winning music video. But underneath all of the excitement, there’s actually some serious stuff going on here.
And the above is not to imply that actually reading the lyrics of “Hey Ya” on paper makes it easy, relatively speaking, to understand. And in a way, it is actually two narratives in one. The second half of the track is entirely a boogie tune, inspiring all of the ladies in the house in particular to “shake it”. So if a listener hastily concludes that this is a dance song, well, they would be at least halfway correct.
Lyrics touch on a troubled Romantic Relationship
The first part of the song is actually centered on a troubled romance the singer is in. The way the vocalist presents the situation is that he’s not happy in this relationship, and neither is his partner.
Yes, there may in fact be some love between the two of them, but it isn’t such feelings that are perpetuating their association. Rather, the sentiment being put forth is more along the lines of the two of them remaining together simply in the name of not having to face singlehood.
So it’s like they’re afraid to be alone, which is why they remain in this less-than-ideal relationship. But what Andre ultimately attributes the matter to is a reality like a lack of genuine commitment on the part of modern-day man and woman. Simply put, people like his parents may have stayed together because – as society, culture or what have you would dictate – they are supposed to. But in contrast, let’s say that people nowadays are not that deep into adhering to such an ideology if they aren’t truly happy.
Chorus of “Hey Ya!”
Furthermore, the vocalist goes on to illustrate in the chorus that it was never his intent to fall in too deeply with this lady in the first place. Or stated more plainly, he perceived her more along the lines of a f–k friend.
So the aforementioned lack of commitment can also be attributed to an increased societal acceptance of promiscuity and casual sex, acts that weren’t as acceptable back in the day as they are now.
But of course just sleeping with someone puts you at risk of falling in love with said individual. And that would logically be the reason the act is referred to as making love in the first place. And it appears that’s what happened to Andre 3000, that he has found himself attached to someone who initially and ideally in his mind is more akin to a booty call.
And as far as the aforementioned part of the narrative goes, the song ends on a cliffhanger. The vocalist never goes as far as to judge himself nor his partner, nor does he reveal if they actually stay together or not.
But if anything, the implication would be that they have remained a couple, despite feeling less than fulfilled in this romance. And that would also seemingly be why, at the conclusion of the second verse, he decides to break out in a dance and encourages the audience to do the same, as an anti-depressive measure.
So the implication would be that he’s not the only one caught up in such a situation and requiring some good old fashioned boogying as a remedy.
So judging “Hey Ya” just by its surface presentation can prove misleading as far as its entire message is concerned. Being a true fan of acts like Outkast requires reading their lyrics on paper as opposed to just relying on choruses or eye-catching theatrics, both of which Andre 3000 and Big Boi are masters at.
But at the end of the day, the thesis sentiment of this song, as implied by its title, is in fact to dance. But again, as presented Andre isn’t doing so just for dancing’s sake but rather to ease the anxiety of feeling trapped in a relationship.
The Creation and Release of “Hey Ya!”
Outkast is a hip-hop duo consisting of rappers Andre 3000 and Big Boi. But even though “Hey Ya!” is officially listed as an Outkast song, the latter does not participate vocally. In fact it would appear that Big Boi was not involved in the creation of this song in any capacity, which is sort of a shame considering that it ranks amongst the band’s biggest hits.
This track was written exclusively by Andre 3000. As put forth earlier Outkast specializes in rap, and “Hey Ya!” is definitely not a rap song or even really hip-hop for that matter.
So when he presented it to L.A. Reid, who at the time was CEO of Arista Records, Reid, a respected vet in game, admitted that ‘he didn’t understand this song’. But still he was ‘excited’ by it and agreed to have it issued as the first single from Speakerboxxx / The Love Below, i.e. Outkast’s fifth standard LP. It was subsequently released as such on 9 September 2003.
And to note, none of the other singles from the album performed as well as this one.
This track is a product of the aforementioned Arista Records as well as LaFace Records, i.e. the ATL-based label that L.A. Reid co-founded alongside Babyface.
Andre 3000 also acted as the producer of this track, officially accomplishing that goal alongside one DJ Cutmaster Smiff. Dre was in fact musically inspired by some of the pop bands of yesteryear. Some of these bands include The Smiths and the Ramones as well as a more recent musical phenomenon, The Hives.
Accomplishments of “Hey Ya!”
“Hey Ya!” charted in over 20 countries, topping the following very important singles charts:
- UK R&B Chart
- Billboard Hot 100
Furthermore, it replicated this accomplishment on a couple of other US-based Billboard listings (the Mainstream Top 40 and Rhythmic charts). Additionally it achieved multi-platinum status in the UK and Australia. In the latter case, it was certified octuple-platinum. Also, it achieved platinum certification stateside and in a handful of other countries.
All things considered, “Hey Ya!” is actually Outkast’s greatest hit. The duo’s track Ms. Jackson, which came out in 2000, fared sorta comparably, even better in some regards, as far as chart showing and commercial performance goes. But “Hey Ya!” managed to win more industry awards. This includes a 2004 Grammy for Best Urban/Alternative Performance.
And that same year it also took home six trophies via MTV. It also won a BET Award (Video of the Year) and a Soul Train Music Award (Best Video of the Year).
“Hey Ya” appears in Rolling Stone’s list of the “Top 100 Songs of the Century“. As of 2021, it appears at the 4th place on the aforementioned list.
In relation to the chart success of “Hey Ya”, below are the countries where it achieved a top-10 hit status:
- Australia (#1)
- Austria (#4)
- Belgium (#10)
- Canada (#1)
- Croatia (#2)
- Czech Republic (#1)
- Denmark (#2)
- Finland (#10)
- France (#7)
- Germany (#6)
- Iceland (#2)
- Italy (#3)
- New Zealand (#2)
- Norway (#1)
- Scotland (#6)
- Sweden (#1)
- Switzerland (#9)
- United Kingdom (#3)
- United States (#1)
Official Music Video
As implied above, the music video to this track is quite unforgettable, featuring Andre not only acting as the lead singer but also all of the backup instrumentalists. Its setting was inspired by the days of old. It was most notably inspired by an event known as the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, which transpired on 9 February 1964.
And the director of the clip is someone who was heavily active in the hip-hop/R&B community in that regard during the aughts named Bryan Barber. And the clip also features a cameo from Andre’s bandmate at the time, Big Boi.
Actor Ryan Phillippe also makes an appearance on the video. Back then he was wed to actress Reese Witherspoon, who in more recent times has become super rich.
Andre portraying the role of all of the instrumentalists in the music video wasn’t necessarily a stretch, as he reportedly actually rendered every instrument on this track with the exception of bass. The bassist is Aaron Mills, who is better recognized as part of the old school funk outfit Cameo and was sort of a regular collaborator of Outkast’s.
The “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” Album
Believe it or not, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below holds the distinction of being the highest-selling rap album in American history, with Outkast even outperforming the likes of Eminem and the late Tupac Shakur (1971-1996) in that regard.
However Boi and Andre would go on to disband shortly thereafter, in 2007. But they did manage to drop one last studio album under the Outkast moniker, 2006’s Idlewild, beforehand.
To note, the reason why the aforementioned project has two names, i.e. “Speakerboxx” and “The Love Below”, is because it is actually the combination of two different albums, with the former being led by Big Boi and the latter, Andre 3000. Therefore “Hey Ya!” would actually belong to “The Love Below” side of the album.
More Facts about “Hey Ya!”
Although “Hey Ya!” was not released until late 2003, Andre had actually been working on it since 1999. In fact the tune almost made it onto the playlist of Outkast’s fourth studio album, Stankonia, in the year 2000. And back then, the working title of the track was actually “Thank God for Mom and Dad”, i.e. a line found near the end of the first verse.
The rapper also gives a similarly-minded shoutout to songstress Beyoncé and actress Lucy Liu in the lyrics.
“Hey Ya!” also lent to the propagation of iTunes, a service that commenced in 2001. iTunes was launched right around the time that Napster began to go defunct.
Napster was similar to iTunes in that it allowed users to download songs. However, it was peer-to-peer. This basically meant that record labels and the artists involved in making music did not receive any money from their songs being shared, thus raising both legal and ethical issues with the software. However, the problem was solved with services like iTunes, where you pay a small fee for an individual track as opposed to, say $15 for an entire album you probably don’t want. And interesting to note is that “Hey Ya!” was among the first songs to really blow up on iTunes.
While encouraging listeners to dance, Andre uses the metaphor “shake it like a Polaroid picture”. Polaroids are cameras that develop the picture on the spot, i.e. giving you an instant hard copy of a snap.
Users like to shake the pic once it is printed in order for it to appear properly (even though said act is not recommended by Polaroid). Polariods were more or less outdated even before this song came out. But Andre namedropping the brand resulted in a momentary uptick in sales.