Mat Weddle covers OutKast’s “Hey Ya”

A story in Monday’s edition of The Arizona Republic featured local musician Mat Weddle (of local group Obadiah Parker; he’s on the left in the photo), who concocted an acoustic cover of OutKast’s Hey Ya. A performance of the song was videotaped at an open-mic night at a coffeehouse (*cringe*). It found its way to YouTube, and now it’s a smashing success, or so we’re told. Weddle told, “It’s all been a big accident.”

This bothers me a little bit, though not as much as the Republic writer calling the original Hey Ya “little more than get-out-of-your-seat melodic fluff” (more on that in a sec). I don’t want to be too much of a naysayer here because Weddle’s version is pretty nice and the video – edited to mix the original video and Weddle’s performance – is clever and fun. (The original video apparently was slowed to 80 percent of normal speed to match Weddle’s tempo.) Hell, this is the first time I – and possibly a lot of other people – have heard of Obadiah Parker, which I’m guessing might be a small part of the motivation to do this cover. If we’ve learned anything from OK Go’s treadmill stunt, it’s that gimmicks bring publicity.

I’m mostly annoyed by the perpetuation of this trend of indie/folk rockers covering hip-hop songs, which, next to trucker hats, is just the pinnacle of irony. Off the top of my head, I can think of Ben Folds’ cover of Dr. Dre’s Bitches Ain’t Shit, Nina Gordon’s cover of N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton (mp3) and Dynamite Hack’s cover of Eazy-E’s Boyz-N-The-Hood.

I admit: That Ben Folds cover is pretty funny. But even my own reaction is part of the problem. Hip-hop songs that were conceptual and meant something in their original form are taken out of that context and reduced to parody because, hey, it’s funny to hear a square white dude say “bitch” or an adult-pop songstress sing “crazy motherfucker.”

Back to the Republic article, written by a guy I know who is in his mid-40s and white, which, sorry, has to be a little relevant to this conversation. He says of Weddle’s take on Hey Ya: ” … his graceful voice adding measure to a song that was little more than get-out-of-your-seat melodic fluff.” Just a tad patronizing to a song that was voted best single for 2003 by the Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll, no? You can’t tell me that Weddle’s voice is what unearths the greatness of Hey Ya. I’m really disturbed by the comments on the video at YouTube, including this one: “oh man!… such a better version of that song!!!” … or this one: “I love this! No offense to anyone but the original is crap compared to this” … or this one: “…You made Hey Ya bearable to listen.” … or this one: “Go white boy!”

I suppose this conversation could head in different directions: talk of appropriation by white artists (“Go white boy!”) or maybe a discussion of what makes a good cover. Regardless, this whole concept seems to mock the originals and maybe, by extension, hip-hop culture as a whole. Do these covers exist to promote the art of rap and hip-hop or to prey on the convenience of irony (and publicity)?Mat Weddle | Hey Ya (OutKast cover)

Video on YouTube.

UPDATE: I was sent another acoustic version of Hey Ya, this one by an artist from Iceland who goes by the name My Summer as a Salvation Soldier. I’m posting, if only to help prove my point that these covers are becoming a) unoriginal and b) tired.

My Summer as a Salvation Soldier | Hey Ya (OutKast cover)

17 thoughts on “Mat Weddle covers OutKast’s “Hey Ya””

  1. It doesn’t seem to me that that cover is mocking the original at all. It comes off as sincere and strong.

    Good covers are about recontextualizing and highlighting songs; well, that and capitalizing on the fame of others and getting your own name out to a wider audience and/or pleasing that audience with something they know.

    Also I know that after hearing Mat’s version I want to hear the original again… sometimes how good a song is can be obscured by the trappings – be it the video, instrumentation or production – that might not be necessary. I am not, however, suggesting that OutKast start recording their songs acoustically.

    So yeah, the problem isn’t the songs themselves it’s that reactions are undeveloped. Sure, there’s humor in playing against type but there’s more worth embedded in such covers.

    It’s easy to go around with blinders on and forget that good music is being made in other genres… and 20 years ago and 40 and 80 years ago. Crossover covers offer relatively safe avenues of exploration… most of the time at least. There’s good music being made everywhere and I try to avoid contemplating how much good old music there is out there that I haven’t gotten to.

    [Also, btw, I’m using a general “you,” from reading the posts here there’s no lack of musical diversity.]

  2. I’m not sure you get the point of doing covers in the first place.

    If “it’s all good” then sometimes a cover can show you things in a song you didn’t know were always there–like the lyrics.

    If you respect musicians and creativity, covers is a risk we can stand to take. What’s there to lose?

    So what if it’s “ironic”? What does that even mean anymore?

    I thought Matt’s treatment of Hey Ya was done respectfully and as an obvious outsider to the original. Not everyone belongs to the “kool klub.”

  3. Tony,

    I’m not sure what the “kool klub” comment means, or why it’s spelled with K’s. I think if you’ve read this site regularly, I’ve never claimed to be cool or even “kool.”

    Probably the original point of doing a cover is a band paying respect to a song or band it likes. Yes, a cover can uncover something about the original maybe missed the first time around.

    But my point is that these folksy/acoustic covers of hip-hop songs come off more as gimmicks. And, in Mat’s case, it worked, in the form of a story in a major newspaper.

    In a way, I feel kind of bad for him and his band. For the time being, anyway, he’ll be known more for a cover than his own original material. That counts as ironic, whether you think that word has any meaning or not.

  4. Don’t go hatin on Mr. Weddle. It’s just a good, solid cover. While I agree with the idea that some of these covers of hip-hop tunes might come off as gimmicky, this was a bad example. It’s just a song, and the guy just played it. Played the fuck out of it, as a matter of fact.

  5. Thomas,

    I’m not hating on Mat. In fact, I mentioned that I thought it was a nice rendition. I’m hating on the concept as a whole. I mean no ill-will toward Mat … I’m just tired of these types of covers.

  6. Interesting post and debate for music nerds.

    Personally, I find these types of covers amusing but not much more than that. The entire time I was listening to this ‘Hey Ya’ cover I wanted to listen to the actual song. It’s not that the cover was bad, it’s just not something I would ever want to listen to outside of actually witnessing it in person. I made it about 2 minutes into the YouTube video, stopped it and put on Outkast’s.

  7. Kevin – for the record, I agree with you entirely, and think you made some good points. Not with this cover in particular, but the others you mention – and some others I can think of – come off as slackful gimmickry.

  8. I am surprised that Mat’s re-imagining of “Hey Ya” could provoke any negative comments out here on the blogosphere. I felt it was a very nice song that put more emphasis on the melody than the original and showed how strong Andre’s writing was on it.

    This is a popular song with a wide audience. I do not feel there is anything racial about this song being performed by Mat, despite the one comment (out of how many? and you chose to list it). In fact, there is a version of Gin and Juice performed by an Austin band, named The Gourds that is an absolutely hilarious AND highly likable rendition. Snoop even agrees.

    I believe, if you pull back for a minute and look at music in a historical context, you will see Vivaldi and Bach, Clapton and Johnson, Weddle and Benjamin are all part of a cycle of musicians who appreciate other musicians’ works and make it personal for them, and as a result their fans. Most covers I have come across are sincere interpretations through the voices and fingers of people who appreciated the original. To act like they are less of an artist or try to hype themselves via a gimmick is selling a strong and important tradition in music, short. Just because it comes from another genre should not make it off limits (think gospel/blues/country). Of all music, Rap / R&B should not have any sacred cows that people are afraid to approach.

    I believe that Mat’s version stands on it own and should be appreciated on its own merits. Perhaps some who liked the original will not like Mat’s but so what? There will be a number of people who like Mat’s version over Andre’s and that’s just the way it goes with people’s taste.

  9. A cover is simply an artist’s rendition of a song, often times chosen due to the artist’s respect for the song and wishing that they themselves had come up with the song in the first place. Now I don’t know what Mat’s motive was for covering the song, but he did a heck of a job. People perform music in most cases for the love of it, not to mock a certain genre or even a certain song. Parody’s generally change words, and most of the time if someone is making fun of a song there going to change a word hear and there. Your entitled to your opinion, but I doubt your a musician. If you were, you wouldn’t be disgracing musicians for covering songs but instead embracing their creative talents and ability to make something absolutely fantastic out of an already fantastic song.

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