From Nirvana to Radiohead to Queen, Panic! At the Disco are known for covering high-energy rock anthems at their live shows. They went in a different — and arguably more challenging — direction with Outkast’s 2003 slam “Hey Ya.” Panic frontman Brendon Urie explained that every song the band covers comes down to its “sheer fun” factor, so “Hey Ya” was an obvious choice for their turn to record a cover at Spotify Studios.
Urie was in high school in Las Vegas, Nevada — and evidently very into music theory — when “Hey Ya” blasted onto the airwaves. “The song was like playing with minor and major chords, for the music nerds out there, that is something that is so difficult to do, to marry to each other, in a song,” Urie said effusively on the Under Cover podcast. “It’s such a rub, but it just feels quirky and fun. It’s got weird time signature where it skips, adds a bar … very few songs have that,” he said. “It’s such a specific vibe, but they really did it … Every five seconds there’s a new hook.”
Urie and Co. gave “Hey Ya” a faster tempo and a sprinkling of high synths that make the cover sound somewhat Devo-esque. The biggest divergence was having all four band members sing background vocals. As for Urie, he did not miss a single opportunity to mimic Andre Benjamin’s spastic come-ons and “oh-ohs.” Overall, Panic! keep the bounciness of the song, the acoustic guitar, the “farty” synths, per Urie, “and all kinds of different noises that pop in and out.”
“It breaks all the rules … It’s an instant classic,” Urie said, amazed that Benjamin was once terrified to play the song in front of an audience. “Outkast has always been one of those artists that have excelled over the years … never resting on their laurels,” Urie said. And of “Hey Ya” in particular: “When it came out it was just the biggest summer song for me — and it still is.”