Meaning Behind the Song: “Hey Ya!” by OutKast

This year, OutKast’s magnum opus “Hey Ya!” turns 20. That means that for the past two decades the world has been shaking it like a polaroid picture to “Hey Ya!” But what does the song really mean? Join us as we go behind the meaning of OutKast’s 2003 masterpiece.

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The Origins

The hip-hop duo – made up of artists André “3000” Benjamin and Antwan “Big Boi” Patton – were already a well-established fixture in the Atlanta music scene when “Hey Ya!” was released. Their 1994 debut album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, laid the framework for Southern hip-hop.

By the time their fifth album, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, was released in 2003, the pair were on their way to legendary status. “Hey Ya!” appeared on the record, but had been in the works well before then.

“The song went through several working titles,” André 3000, who was the song’s main writer, told The Huffington Post. “Thank God For Mom And Dad” was one of them. [‘Hey Ya!’] was actually the oldest one on the album because I had started writing it during the Stankonia Tour.”

As for the song’s meaning, he went on to explain, “The song isn’t autobiographical, it’s more like fantasies or tangents based on real life. Moments from my life spark a thought when I’m writing.”

The Lyrics

“Hey Ya!” needs no other introduction, but the opening count, One, two, three, uh! From there, the song erupts into a beat-abundant arrangement.

The verses play like little vignettes, snapshots of life, as the song bops along. In an interview with VH1, André 3000 explained the song is about “the state of relationships today.” The song begins with the narrator and his significant other and the doubts surrounding the relationship that exists between them.

The iconic lines Hey ya! Hey ya! are repeated over and over before the song dives back in. The next verse illustrates a relationship that’s not flourishing, but instead just getting by for the sake of tradition. It is ultimately the crux of the song as the narrator questions the purpose of their relationship.

“A lot of people stay together for tradition,” the songwriter continued in the interview. “All I’m saying is I think it’s more important to be happy than to meet up to somebody else’s expectations or the world’s expectations of what a relationship should be.”

You think you’ve got it, oh, you think you’ve got it
But “got it” just don’t get it ’til there’s nothing at all
We get together, oh, we get together
But separate’s always better when there’s feelings involved
If what they say is, “Nothing is forever”
Then what makes, then what makes, then what makes
Then what makes, what makes, what makes love the exception?
So why oh, why oh, why oh, why oh, why oh
Are we so in denial when we know we’re not happy here?
Y’all don’t wanna hear me, you just wanna dance

The Hey ya! chorus plays again, this time with flourishes that drive home the meaning of the song.

Hey ya! (Uh-oh) Hey ya! (Uh-oh)
Don’t want to meet your daddy
Hey ya! (Uh-oh)
Just want you in my Caddy (Uh-oh)
Hey ya! (Uh-oh)
Don’t want to meet your mama (Uh-oh)
Hey ya! (Uh-oh)
Just want to make you cum-a’ (Uh-oh)
Hey ya! (Uh-oh)
I’m, I’m, I’m, I’m just being honest (Uh-oh)
Hey ya!
I’m just being honest

“This is a celebration of how men and women relate to each other in the 2000s,” André 3000 added to VH1. “But you wouldn’t know that if you just dancing all night. You really have to sit down and listen to it.”

After the classic breakdown of the What’s cooler than being cool? Ice Cold! lines and the emphatic All right, all right, all rights, comes the moment we’ve all been waiting for.

Shake it, sh-shake it, shake it, sh-shake it
Shake it, shake it, shake it, sugar
Shake it like a Polaroid picture

When asked how that fan-favorite line came to be, André 3000 explained in the aforementioned Huffington Post interview. “I have no idea!” he said. “In rap, lyric writing is what comes to mind, that was just the visual I had. And you’re apparently not even supposed to do that.”

He added the same thing happened with the following line: all the Beyonces & Lucy Lius…”When I was writing [Beyoncé’s] video was on,” he said. “It’s great when that happens, you’re not thinking, you’re just going with it.”

Now, all the Beyoncés and Lucy Lius
And baby dolls, get on the floor
You know what to do, oh, you know what to do
You know what to do

The song then comes to a close, fading with the infectious chorus of Hey ya!

The Music Video

The music video is as upbeat as the song. Capturing an Ed Sullivan Show-type atmosphere, the visual features André 3000 portraying all members of the fictional group depicted on stage. His group mate Big Boi plays the role of the band’s manager before the song begins.

Actor Ryan Phillippe plays the television show’s host, presenting the band to a crowd of screaming teens, a moment reminiscent of the Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show back in the 1960s. What ensues is a mid-century mod performance set to the hit of the 2000s.

(Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images)

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