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 Spin.com, “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 â€“ edited to mix the original video and Weddle’s performance â€“ 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 â€“ and possibly a lot of other people â€“ 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)
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)