Eight years ago today, ‘Hey Ya!’ began its reign at the top of the Billboard charts. It was the game-changing song that became a wedding disco staple. The experimental masterstroke that made pop stars out of Outkast and a style icon out of Andre 3000.
It was influenced by the unlikely source of the Ramones and made the phrase “shake it like a Polaroid picture” part of the pop culture lexicon. At the time it was released, NME‘s review called it “a loophole-leaping oddity doused in the tantalising, unmistakable tang of Something Truly Unique.”
By the time ‘Hey Ya!’ and its accompanying album ‘Speakerboxxx/ The Love Below’ were released, the Atlanta duo of Big Boi and Andre 3000 had gone from purveyors of G-funk soul and Dirty South rap, their own ‘Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik’, and morphed into two distinct musical entities.
The band had released their career-peaking ‘Stankonia’ and a ‘best of’ (‘Big Boi and Dre Present…OutKast’) at the turn of the decade. The only place left for them to go seemed be: their separate ways. They did this, but in a uniquely OutKast way.
‘S/TLB’ was essentially two solo albums released as a double. And while Big Boi’s ‘Speakerboxxx’ was a pre-cursor to the laid back style of his 2010 solo album ‘Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty’, ‘The Love Below’ was one long tribute to amour, with Andre 3000 delving into as many different genres as possible, not to mention eschewing rapping for… singing.
‘The Love Below’s preoccupation with love wasn’t a coincidence, the entire thing being based on a screenplay Andre had written. It was a rom-com of sorts, about falling in and out of love (the film was never made, and neither was a long rumoured Jimi Hendrix biopic with Andre in the title role. His own film career has been pretty uneventful and has included Be Cool and a voice in the upcoming Madagascar 3). Coming slap bang in the middle of the album it finds him questioning everything he thought he wanted from a relationship.
Andre explained to MTV:
’Hey Ya!’ is pretty much about the state of relationships in the noughties. It’s about some people who stay together in relationships because of tradition, because somebody told them, ‘You guys are supposed to stay together.’ But you pretty much end up being unhappy for the rest of your life. So ‘Hey Ya!’ is really about saying, ‘Fuck it. Live life, you know?’
Musically, the psychedelic-folk sound on the track came about when Andre strung together the only guitar chords he knew, channeling “the Ramones, the Buzzcocks, the Smiths.” He started working on ‘Hey Ya!’ in early December 2002, when he arrived at Stankonia Recording studios with several song ideas in his head and an acoustic guitar in hand.
John Frye, who recorded the session, told MTV:
He had the bulk of it already conceptualized in his head. It all happened quite fast. We recorded the skeleton part, with the intro and the first verse and hook, all in one night.
Pete Novak, who recorded Andre 3000’s vocals at Larrabee Studios in Los Angeles said there were a bunch of different versions of the track lying around. “We (recorded) a lot of vocals and lived with them and trashed them,” he said. “There were so many different versions of that song. If I had the files, I could let you hear 20 different versions of that song. There were lots of ideas that were interesting, but I’m happy with the way it turned it out. We had one of the verses with him singing through a Vocoder. It was cool at the time, but it didn’t really work.”
The finished track did work however. It remained at Number One in the US Billboard charts for 9 weeks, went to Number Three here in the UK and got to Number Three on our 150 best tracks of the past 15 years.
Reflecting on the song’s success, Andre 3000 concluded : ‘I know ‘Hey Ya’ will never happen again. I’m OK with that. I talked to this businessman, this great businessman, and he said, “Whatever you do, whatever brand you have, build it. Build it, until it reaches its highest point. Then step away from it. Or sell it. But you’ve got to know when to step away, you’ve got to know when to sell.”‘
Did You Know?
* When Andre 3000 calls, “OK now, ladies” in “Hey Ya!,” the “Yeah!” response is from one woman, an assistant to the studio engineer, who was edited to sound like a crowd.
* The song is in a 11/4 time signature, very odd for a pop song.
* Of lyrics like “What’s cooler than being cool? Ice cool!“, Andre 3000 admits: “I wrote them as a joke. I am the most nervous man in the world.”