Music education always & always looking forward.

Intended to Trick You: Changing Meter & Deceptive Cadence in Outkast's "Hey Ya"

Everything is deceptive here, including meter & cadence, in this inescapable song.

Having utterly dominated the charts and seeping into popular culture like a chemical weapon in 2003-2004, this song is inextricable from my life and my memories.  College Marching Band socials after football games, dancing at weddings, first dates, group karaoke & more; for my money, this was the most culturally expansive hit song of the last 15 years.  And from a compositional standpoint, it's also pretty clever.

It so saturated pop culture all over the world that a small, determined group of Australians wanted to make it their national anthem.  And they actually heard back from their Prime Minister on the matter.  I guess it never hurts to try.  

“Hey Ya” - Outkast

Intro: One of the most critically acclaimed hip-hop acts of the last 20 years, Outkast achieved a seemingly unattainable feat with “Hey Ya!”. While the duo of Andre 3000 and Big Boi had attained almost legendary status in the rap community with their first three albums, they were artistically ambitious for 2003's double album Speakerboxx/The Love Below, with each album reflecting the sensibilities of each member. “Hey Ya!” was released as a lead-off single for the album, and stayed at #1 on the Hot 100 charts for 9 weeks through December 2003 and well into 2004. Because of its unusual composition and genre-bending appeal, it appeared on several US genre charts, including Hot R&B Hip-Hop, Alternative Songs, Adult Top 40, and Hot Latin songs. Besides its ubiquitous nature in the US, it hit #1 in Australia, Canada, Norway and Sweden. Thus far, Outkast has won six Grammys (including one for "Hey Ya!") and sold over 25 million albums. Despite the group's prolific & deeply creative work, this is the song Outkast is best known for.

Spoiler Alert: Every fourth measure in this song skips two beats and there is a consistent recurrence of an unexpected chord.

Analysis: Although deceptively simple at the start, “Hey Ya!” contains a consistent pattern of meter shifts that also function to highlight the song's unusual harmonic movement. While the song starts in 4/4 time, it can be broken up into six measure phrases, in which every fourth measure (throughout the song) is a measure of 2/4 (first heard at 1:13 in the video below). This reinforces the continuously heard deceptive cadence, as the song is in G major. The chords move in a I-IV-V pattern – with the D major chord played in the 2/4 measure, preceding said deceptive cadence. The V (Dmaj) chord resolves to a VI (Emaj) chord. This is strange for two reasons: first because it is non-diatonic (the Emin chord would serve as the vi of the key), and also because the transition to Emaj (VI) means that the tonic note (G) has to be sharpened in order to make that deceptive cadence work. Here, the changing meter works in service to the harmonic motion of the song, with the V chord in the 2/4 measure creating a shorter period of expectation and adding to the unusual nature of the deceptive cadence.

Considerations for Teaching: This song was and remains extremely popular in American pop culture, and so many students may already be very familiar with it. However, it contains some questionable subject matter, discussing love and relationships. It is not until the bridge/outro section that Andre 3000 states “Don't want to meet your mama / just wanna make you come-a”, which might blow past some listeners but remains sexually explicit. Versions of the song are available for digital purchase listed as clean, with the word “come-a” silenced. The concept of the changing meter and its service to the harmonic progression can be expressed within the first minute of the song, in which there is no offensive language, but proceed playing this song for classes with caution.


Curious enough, "Hey Ya!" is only no. 20 on the all-decade All-Aughts chart.  Which makes no sense to me, but if you're interested in which 19 songs bested it in the 00s, here's that link.  

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