OutKast — “Hey Ya!”

Released: 9.9.03

Peak: #1

One way to create a genuinely post-racial United States would be to get rid of all the white people. But even with miscegenation and immigration doing their bit, such a monochrome utopia will likely never exist outside the imaginations of Big Boi and Andre 3000. Young enough not to remember de jure segregation, OutKast romanticized its upside. Whether embedding themselves in the all-black society of Idlewild, or touting the back of the bus as where it’s at on “Rosa Parks,” or pretending that the invention of rock and roll could have galvanized black and tan teenyboppers worldwide, in the video for “Hey Ya!,” Dre and Boi dreamt of a world where culture formed itself independent of the constraints of history.

And yet “Hey Ya!” is the work of an artist broadly experienced enough to realize that those living in de facto segregation deny themselves “white” pleasures the way pre-Elvis audiences denied themselves “black” ones. That video, which recreates not-pop-but-Rock history in an entirely black universe, was a sort of double-backflip reverse crossover maneuver. With white acceptance presumed (and borne out via wedding band playlists and a viral Peanuts video), “Hey Ya!” challenged black audiences. Maybe Andre 3000’s delivery partook of rapping on its way from singing to declaiming. But only the broadest definition of hip-hop would take in those hand claps, acoustic guitar, jumpy drums, synth-bass and high-end chirp synth.

At the core of “Hey Ya!” remains an irreducible paradox: A joyful song about the pains of realism, it’s ultimately unable to resist its own ebullience. “Y’all don’t want to hear me,” Dre complains. “You just want to dance.” And yet, by the coda, he’s shouting along “All right all right all right!” Whether in either ecstasy or acquiescence we can’t be sure.

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