I was listening to Joe Rogan's podcast one morning when one of his guests said he likes covers of songs that don't sound like the original, covers that capture the essence and meaning of a song better than the original. That's how I discovered the cover of Obadiah Parker's "Hey Ya." I love Andre 3000 and "Hey Ya" is a classic that I'm sure most of you have heard and enjoyed. I've always liked music for its energy. Its melody was good enough that you didn't have to pay attention to the lyrics. Ironically, Andre 3000 knew it when he said, "You don't wanna listen to me, you just wanna dance". The juxtaposition of the song's melody with its subtly cynical lyrics is a perfect display of Andre 3000's genius.
When I heard the original I only did it to put myself in a good mood because music has that effect on you. It's a party song more than anything. That was until I heard the cover and realized what the song really was: a tragic interpretation of the thoughts of all men in a monogamous relationship.
Andre begins the song by singing, "My baby won't play because she loves me so much and I'm sure / But does she really want to but can't take to see me walk out the door?" The first line seems to come from a man who is in a happy, loving, and trusting relationship. The second line expresses some doubts about why your girlfriend is engaged. In context, the first bar sounds like a guy convincing himself to believe something he knows is probably not true. The second bar states that the man would not be satisfied with his girlfriend's loyalty alone unless the underlying motives were based on true love and adoration for him. He admits his girlfriend is probably loyal, but that's either because "she loves him so much" or because she's too afraid to leave behind the comfort and security that comes with the relationship...definitely perks of one long term relationship . but they are not the main reasons for staying in a relationship. Or maybe you just don't cheat because you know how much it would hurt your partner. Or maybe she's a narcissist and if she can't have it, no one can. These are all ways for them to stay in the relationship and stay loyal, but they are not the building blocks of a stable relationship based on unconditional love.
This is an amazing insight into what everyone thinks when they are in a relationship. First of all, we ask ourselves if the person we are with is faithful to us. If they aren't, we're devastated and will likely abandon them. But even if they're loyal, we want to know it's for the right reasons. We want to know that it's because they couldn't introduce themselves with anyone else. We couldn't live with the person we're with being with us simply to keep tradition alive, or because they're afraid to be alone, or for some other superficial reason to stay in a relationship.
Andre then goes on to sing, "Don't try to fight the feeling because the thought is just killing me right now / Thank god mom and dad stay together because we don't know how." He starts the bar by he says that the mere thought of his girl wanting to be with someone else is so gross that he must face it now or he will be eaten alive. We know very well how accurate that is. When such thoughts enter your head, especially about your partner, the fear of putting it off is too much for anyone. They need to be confronted and dealt with promptly and in the right way, however difficult it may be.
In the next bar, Andre uses the trope of a happy marriage as an example of what love should be, or at least once was. The irony here is twofold: 1) Who says our parents are happier than we are? Who says they haven't gone through the same troubles or that they face these troubles all the time? Who says marriage was a better and more stable institution when they got married? Perhaps the divorce was minor because it was crushed, not because all marriages are based on true love. 2) Andre was raised by a single mother so he didn't have a happy marriage to learn from at home. I'm not saying the song is from his perspective, but it doesn't matter. There is a touch of satire in his saying that we must learn from our parents when it comes to love.
In his second verse, Andre stops beating around the bush and asks the one question we've all thought of at some point: "They say nothing lasts forever, so what makes love exceptional?" The man in this hypothetical relationship asks the question that answers all questions. Hollywood convinced us that true love lasts forever, that there is such a thing as unconditional love and that everyone has someone who happens to be their perfect match. Are we naïve to believe that the real world works like this? Are we so naive as to think that we can really love someone forever? Are we still naïve to think that someone with terrible flaws could love us forever? While I don't have the answers to these questions, it's perfectly natural to have them, especially when you're starting to question or even walk away from a relationship.
The song continues with a question that leaves a clear solution: "Why are we in such denial when we know we're not happy here?" It seems you knew the answer all along. It's almost like he's talking about himself when he talks about his girl wanting to leave him. The second verse makes it clear that this man is afraid of getting too close to anything. I think his biggest fear is that a girl will feel what he feels about him. That's why he says: "Separate is always better when you feel connected."
Once the song asks her toughest questions and reveals her doubts and insecurities about love and relationships, the second verse ends with "You don't wanna listen to me, you just wanna dance". He knew his audience very well. I was speaking to a hip hop audience. I knew they were here to hear something exciting, something ignorant. He challenged the girls to shrug it off (like a Polaroid photo) and everyone dance. He gave them what they wanted. He played them brutally sad music disguised as party music. The cover doesn't even contain the last line of the second verse because the previous line has to be digested. That's the last thing you say in a relationship. It's the end, the honest and tragic end.
And what's cooler than being cool? Frozen. So cold you don't feel a thing.
This song isn't just a critique of modern love, it's a metaphor for life, for reading between the lines. Many people see what they want to see when they look at something, rather than what they know they need to see. When you listen to this song you will feel so much energy that you can sing and have fun. It's a song to enjoy without understanding what it means. The real story is in the meaning. The real story is on the cover. Life isn't always what it seems. Life is a lot of suffering. It's doubt, denial, heartbreak, all the consequences of making yourself vulnerable. Because in order to gain anything worthwhile, you must first make yourself vulnerable, whether it's opening yourself up to failure, rejection, shame, or just plain pain. What's cooler than freezing? Be open and honest with yourself and with the world.
The two versions of the same song are two different perspectives of seeing the world. You can choose to live in willful blindness and pretend you like the present. Or... you can choose to see the world as it is. You can choose to face the consequences of opening your soul to true and full love, even if it involves immense pain. Remember, "It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved."