Mostly lazy, in my opinion.
Among the most commonly used interjections in music is the word “hey.” Regardless of if the song is a bass-heavy, 100 percent certified banger or a brash punk rock anthem, “hey” is found all over the musical spectrum, often used to add a vocal amplification of instrumental intensity.
For example, in its 1993 hit “Shine,” Collective Soul used “hey” between bouts of grunge-y, but undeniably catchy, guitar riffs to give the listener a vocal hook to chant with each iteration. It is an example of the word being used in its appropriate foreground context that adds to the song.
However, for as many times as “hey” is used to strengthen a track, it is used equally as passive, meaningless filler.
The biggest culprit of the misuse of “hey” is DJ Mustard, who uses syncopated “hey’s” between claps in nearly all his songs. Although it might be considered a signature style like his bouncy synths or intro-catchphrase, Mustard’s use of syncopated “hey’s” in major hits like Tyga’s “Rack City,” B.o.B.’s “HeadBand” and a variety of YG songs has become less of a trademark and more of an exhibition of lazy producing. Those “hey’s” don’t engage the audience but rather act as cushion for the mix, which could easily filled by a more interesting and unique sound choice.
However, despite its shallow function, Mustard’s practice has also been embraced by other artists and producers such Iggy Azalea in “Fancy,” DJ Snake in “Turn Down For What” and, more recently, Jidenna in “Classic Man.” And although those examples might have been an attempt to replicate some of Mustard’s success, the fact remains that the “hey’s” still do not work and have continued to gain traction as just another hackneyed hip-hop trope.
Yet, hip-hop is not the only party guilty for the diminishing effect of “hey.” The early 2010s folk revival, spurred on by the success and popularity of Mumford & Sons, helped to re-incorporate the syllable into chanting rather than actual lyrical content referring to the meaning of the song like “Hey You,” “Hey Jude” or “Hey Hey What Can I Do?”
With hits like The Lumineer’s incredibly sappy “Ho Hey” in 2012 and Of Mice and Men’s “Little Talks” in 2011, modern folk musicians have shouted “hey” so much it’s grown as clichéd as their lumberjack clothes or home-brewed beer. And although the “hey’s” are not quite as passive as the looped samples in hip-hop, they still serve little musical significance because they’re not based around instrumental phrases or progress a lyrical narrative or emotion.
They’re just there, not adding anything but another layer of percussive sound. They probably wouldn’t even be listed in the lyrics sheet, if those exist anymore.
Granted, there have been cases of “hey” being successfully used merely for its sound and desired effect, but most of those songs made an effort to use it in the forefront rather than the background. OutKast’s 2003 mega-hit “Hey Ya” uses the syllable ironically supported by the subsequent lyrics “y’all don’t want to hear me/ you just want to dance.”
And in 2006’s “Snow (Hey Oh)” by Red Hot Chili Peppers, the word is featured so prominently that it becomes tied to the emotional meaning of the song and not simply thrown in for good measure. The same goes with the band’s song “hey,” released the same year, which embraces the term instead of nearly discarding it.
It seems that I have a lot to say about “hey,” but when it really comes down to it, it has to do with the growth of lazy songwriting. Listeners should not let musicians get away with throwing useless words in their songs just for their popular appeal. What used to be an energetic interjection of spontaneity and excitement has now become formulaic and commercialized.
And, frankly, that’s nothing to shout about.
Luke Furman is a sophomore studying journalism and a reporter for The Post. What do you think of this lyrical choice? Tweet him @LukeFurmanOU or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.