Recently, I stumbled upon a mind-boggling thread on Twitter; it entailed of opinions on what folk thought were misunderstood songs. The suggestions were utterly confounding. Some suggested; not to burst your bubble but the modern gospel hymn ‘Hallelujah’ was a muted down version of the original song – Leonard Cohen’s 1984 song Hallelujah – a rather sexual song smoke screened in religious undertones. The Weeknd’s Can’t feel my face which has always perceived as an RnB love song was surmised as a song about cocaine (It was nominated for a Nickelodeon Kid’s choice awards). Sia’s Chandelier was argued to be a poignant song with suicidal undertones. Maxwell’s This Woman’s work was cited not to be a love song but a song about the threat of loss during childbirth Et al.
This, sent me down a rabbit hole of picking out classic songs and bops that hallmarked my childhood, adolescence and youth. Painstakingly, I trode over the lyrics in an attempt to unearth some stashed musical chest. Well, I’d say I succeeded but, did I?
Generally, I think, more often than not, our minds are innately inclined to perceive the punch/beat of music as opposed to the subtleties that exist therein. It is for this reason I think more vibrant music; pop, hip hop, dancehall, house et al. appeal most to popular masses as opposed to rather subtle music like indie and whatnot.
Other than the pace of a song, our emotions at the time we are listening to music, I contend, either augment or obscure our ability to get the intent of a song. I have come to realise, and I believe you can attest to this: when you’re sad you tend to get more engrossed in a song as opposed to when you’re gleeful or just languid.
But what happens when you’re gleeful and a relatively sad song is shrouded in a catchy and rather fast pace. Will you be able to pick it out? It is because of the aforementioned reasons, I assert, we miss the real meaning of a song.
Gradually, as I ventured deeper, it unfurled that some songs we jammed to weren’t black and white as i/we think/thought. They were shrouded in greys – oft-times – subliminal subtleties that you wouldn’t superficially perceive. There exists myriads of them I learnt, I will attempt to tackle one – one of my favourite Hip-Hop classics, so here goes nothing.
Hitherto some time last year, after a rather disconcerting and poignant aspect I noticed on Outkast’s Hey ya music video piqued my interest. I had always listened to the song and thought not a lick more of it other than an upbeat Hip-Hop bop. Boy I was wrong.
On the surface, Outkast’s hit casts a catchy rhythmic groove, only not. The motif of the song is actually dark. Hey ya actually tackles about contemporary relationships and how skewed they are; how people tug on defunct relationships informed by their fear of being lonely rather than their own happiness. How the modern person in relationships is more broken that fulfilled. The following lyric extraction is a conspicuous marker :
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?
I, for one, contend the mixing and production of the song was not coincidental but intently geared to guise the melancholic lyrics therein, a ploy for Outkast to look back and have a laugh over how we were made a fool of. To bolster this theory, at some point towards the end of the song Andre 3000 says “Ya’ll don’t wanna hear, you just wanna dance” knowing not many people would get the song on the onset and well, we didn’t for a while.
They succeeded in pulling that one off. In a recent Twitter post on Outkast’s official handle, they posted a picture showing how much the song was hinged on sadness as opposed to a bop. More muted and serene covers of the song actually illuminate how melancholic the song actually is. But we have to give them that one and concede that we misconstrued the whole point of Hey Ya!.