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Not Fade Away 2003: Hey Ya! by Outkast

"Musically and lyrically, OutKast are unusual, even given the medium's history of experimentation. They are, in a way, post-hip-hop, combining PM Dawn's kooky confections with the Pharcyde's hallucinatory whimsy, Public Enemy's hardline politicking with De La Soul's cartoon dementia, to fashion something vital and new. In terms of attitude, Dre and Big Boi provide an alternative voice for rap." - Paul Lester, May 2001

All you Beyonces and Lucy Lius, get on the floor ...

I'm tempted to leave it there. Tempted to leave you all with that invitation to dance. Tempted to let the song stand for itself.

Because Hey Ya! doesn't need any special pleading. It is a very nearly perfect pop song (I have some issues with the keyboard line that runs through it) in a year full of nearly perfect songs (Crazy in Love of course, a brace of Kelis songs - if you push me I'd opt for Trick Me - Justin's Cry Me A River, Tatu's All the Things She Said, Pharrell's Frontin' - a track I much prefer to this year's Happy - and, yes, even Junior Senior's Move Your Feet and the comedy metal of The Darkness)

But let me add a couple of things. One, is that despite my gut response to the harder edge of hip-hop - it seems to me impossible not to guiltily love NWA's Straight Outta Compton - I do have problems with its often bullheaded, Neanderthal machismo.

One of the pleasures of hip-hop in the 21st century is the way it moved away from that model, towards what Paul Lester suggests above is a post hip-hop idea. Or rather a hip-hop that wasn't thematically dependent on violence or bling and musically moved beyond the lazy lope of G-funk.

In that sense being neither east coast or west coast, Atlanta's Outkast represented something new. A distillation of the smarter hip-hop acts of the nineties married to a Sly Stone funkiness. By the time they got to the Speakerboxxx/Love Below double album that had even led them to the pop mainstream as on Hey Ya!

And while in 1999 I suggested that Bjork might be the last pop star I guess Andre 3000 comes pretty close. "It should go without saying that Andre is the most deliciously interesting figure in hip hop/R&B today," Barney Hoskyns wrote in December 2003, "a polymorphous Prince for a rigidly conformist age".

That makes sense. Andre is a dandy, a loverman who at times plays with camp iconography. In many ways the video for Hey Ya! is the high point of his pop ascension - playing a whole band of fictional versions of himself who are in turn playing to a besotted audience of women. The video, like the song, is a smile of a thing.

In the end Andre's desire to be a Hollywood star seems to have diluted his musical ambitions. Shame really. But at least he gave us this slice of 21st-century pop that's as vivid and timely as any Motown single from the 1960s.

Shake it like a Polaroid picture ...

 

Other contenders

Maps, Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Cry Me A River, Justin Timberlake

Out Of Time, Blur

Crazy in Love, Beyonce

All The Things She Said, Tatu

Move Your Feet, Junior Senior

Never Leave You, Lumidee

Frontin, Pharell and Jay Z

Are You Ready for Love, Elton John

Black Cherry, Goldfrapp

Strict Machine, Goldfrapp

Milkshake, Kelis

Trick Me, Kelis

Mundian To Bach Ke, Panjabi MC

Breathe, Blu Cantrell

Scandalous, Mis-Teeq

Seven Nation Army, The White Stripes

I Believe in a  Thing Called Love, The Darkness

The NME Single of the Year: Crazy in Love, Beyonce

John Peel's Festive 50 Winner: Don't Touch that Dial, Cinerama

And the best-selling single of the year: Where is the Love, Black Eyed Peas

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