Y’all don’t wanna hear me, you just want to dance
A love letter to the lyrics of Hey Ya! by Outkast
Becky sweeps across the floor to indulgent smiles. They all want to be near her, seen by her. Claps, cheers as she moves to the beat. The old people look up, eyes narrowed in search of the source of the noise, but knowing really it’s the young people’s time now. Music thuds, ties and tongues loosen. Formalities are over, speeches done, the cake cut, the endless summer haze of the afternoon is finally turning into night. Time is speeding up.
Emboldened, Becky spins, forgetting the shoes she’s wearing for the first and probably last time. She hadn’t really thought about dancing that day in Selfridges, Alison with her, fizz in the restaurant; a treat piled upon a treat but the only fitting way to accompany the afterglow — part calm, part thrill — that came with buying them. Now, as she wobbles before catching herself, five alert arms all try to do the same, nearly knocking her further off balance. Arms that earlier had tried to avoid being noticed as they competed just a little too keenly for the bouquet. Tangled, no you, really you, OK if you insist, sure, no problem.
Becky gets back to the beat and grins.
One, Two, Three, Uh!
Glances all around, arms raised in celebration, victory — I love this one. Faces hot with sweat beneath hair do’s and inhibitions both starting to come undone. The song is infectious. Everyone knows it. Everyone loves it. Everyone joins in. More claps, more cheers.
Becky goes cold.
My baby don’t mess around cause she loves me so
I know this for sure
Tom is sweaty-proud in his waistcoat, grinning. He’s at the centre of the day, no need to prove anything to anyone, taking it all in — the friends, the family, the tunes, the dancing. Becky too, of course, though he doesn’t see – can’t see – what it feels like on the inside when your throat is gripped by panic and fear and you want desperately for no one to know.
But does she really wanna, but can’t stand to see me, walk out the door
It’s kryptonite. She feels weakened, her certainty pierced. The cling of her dress starts to suffocate her. Dread starts to climb up from the floor, scaling her like a zombie mountaineer. No one notices. The horror remains hidden from view, just as the awful truth of this song is still concealed beneath its garish clothes and the shake it shake it shake like a polaroid picture jauntiness.
And it’s everywhere, still. Zumba, the pub, the radio at work, friends’ kitchens, cabs. It has followed her around her life like the eyes of a creepy painting. When she’d bought a new car a few years ago, a red Golf, it was weird how she’d started seeing red Golfs everywhere, despite having never noticed them before, as if they’d all been held in captivity and released back into the wild to keep her car company. Ever since Tom had proposed, something similar had happened with this song, its sense of doubt trailing and amplifying her own.
Becky steels herself, as she always did, to push the feelings back down again. Not today, she thinks. Please not today.
Don’t try to fight the feeling cos the thought alone is killing me right now
Thank God for Mom and Dad for sticking two together cos we don’t know how
Previously the dread would take the form of questions. Whenever she rationalised one, another came in its place, then another, and another, and then those she’d knocked back would re-appear, and all would ricochet and cluster until individual questions merged to become a general, murky, claustrophobic fear. Now, on the dance floor, that fear leapfrogs all questions and plants itself in front of her. The unwelcome witch angry at not being invited, now here, unmistakeably, with a vengeance.
Does she really want this?
You think you’ve got it, oh, you think you’ve got it
But “got it” just don’t get it ’til there’s nothing at all.
It’s the question Becky has wrestled with for more than a year. Does she love Tom? No idea anymore. Her feelings are desiccated — labelled, second-guessed, subjected to so much examination that they have become the pages of an ancient book, to be turned only with white gloves, no longer a story with meaning, just a document to be observed. At the same time the relationship has become an edifice, part of the landscape of her life, impossible to tear down, her feelings sacrificed at the permanence everyone she knows assumes it to have.
And so the relationship lived on while the feelings became history, artefacts behind protective glass.
We’ve been together, oh, we’ve been together
But separate’s always better when there’s feelings involved
It wasn’t Tom’s fault. He’s a lawyer. You only ask questions you know the answer to and back then a yes was inevitable. She’d meant it then; she was in love. If she was put on the stand, under oath, her testimony was sound. It was the truth. But — the whole truth? Nothing but the truth? Over time, her yes struggled to contain that much, started to blur at the edges. What did that yes leave out? It felt too soon to know. Untethered by something that seemed so simple and fixed to everyone else, she felt confused and wronged, as if confronted by an exam question she hadn’t studied for. She knew a nothing but answer should stand proudly against paths not yet taken and doors not opened. It would withstand the someone still not met, the feelings not yet squashed. It wouldn’t recognise the implications of a glance deliberately not seen.
Her yes didn’t feel big enough for that.
On the stand now she’d feel, if not a liar, then certainly a fraud. She’d got used to the cold dread, inoculated herself against it, which made it easier to ignore, harder to detect, a frog in boiling water. But something about this song tonight shocks her. A shower run cold, its concealed truth suddenly an accusation. It is there in the questions, repeated over and over, as if the singer can barely bring himself to say the unsayable either.
If what they say is ‘nothing is forever’,
Then what makes,
Then what makes,
Then what makes,
Then what makes,
Love the exception?
A logic she didn’t want to hear, had denied for months now, is forcing itself on her. She knows what’s coming — the other half of the equation and its even more dangerous question, the singer stumbling again, incredulous perhaps that it even needs asking.
So why oh why oh,
why oh why oh why oh,
Are we so in denial
That half rhyme at the half line makes for a double whammy, a question that answers itself (why are we so in denial?) and turns Becky on the stand from witness to defendant. It’s an open and shut case, but still the prosecution pushes the point.
When we know we’re not happy here?
If. Then. So. When.
The equation is complete, the logic inexorable.
The music stops, leaving the final clause suspended, a real courtroom cliffhanger, the void heavy as a two-minute silence, sucking in everything. Feelings with no name. A bride’s silent scream. A hundred pairs of oblivious eyes. A bet on forever and a life lived on held breath and the hope things turn out OK. A yes not big enough for the life it creates and the lives it will one day shatter.
The song starts again. The void closes. Everything is locked away again. A time capsule that may never be opened, least of all by Becky, who for the first time today is unseen and ignored as everyone else claps their hands again and I am your neighbour and just want to make you cumma and shake it shake it shake it shake it like a polaroid fucking picture.
There, hidden still, tucked away beneath the Hey Yas now sung deliriously by all around her, is the line that no one ever hears, that Becky wants to scream, scream into the faces of her family, her friends, of Tom, but hasn’t today and doesn’t know when she ever will.
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