In HateSong, we ask our favorite musicians, writers, comedians, actors, and so forth to expound on the one song they hate most in the world.
The hater: As the creator and semi-inebriated face of Drunk History, Derek Waters facilitates the delivery of hilarious, semi-accurate historical knowledge on the regular. The star of many of the show’s off-kilter reenactments as well as the drinking buddy to the comedian telling the story, Waters has tangentially taught Americans about everything from Dolley Madison to the origins of the Sugar Hill Gang.
The third season of Drunk History kicks off September 1 on Comedy Central.
The A.V. Club: Why did you pick “Hey Soul Sister”?
Derek Waters: Great quesh. Great quesh.
Well, contrary to public belief, I don’t like the sound of diarrhea. And I love music. I should say that. I am a huge, huge fan of music, and I do believe that music will change the world. I love music. Without music we would be fucked. I have to say something like that before I rip this song a new one.
But I’m going somewhere with this. Think about the power of media now, where every human being has a voice, and every human being is allowed to express his or her voice. Here’s my problem: You cannot take that time to express your voice if you’re not fucking saying anything. Like people that like to complain, or “Hey Soul Sister.” This song actually says nothing. The sound of it is like, “I definitely can imagine this as the ending song at the end of a romantic comedy, and they drive off together,” which is nice, but then just don’t put any words to it.
I remember the first time I heard it, I heard the singer refer to his untrimmed chest. His full quote is, “My heart is bound to beat around my untrimmed chest.” What the fuck?! It’s like, “Oh, that’s so cool, you trim your chest, but you’re letting it all hang out for this girl?” Like, “I don’t have to let it all hang out for this Soul Sister.”
I’m also a little worried that the Soul Sister could be mute, because she doesn’t really have a say in anything that he’s talking about with her or about whatever is going to happen tonight.
Oh boy. I mean, you start off a song with, “Your lipstick stains on the front lobe of my left side brain”? Right off of the top I’m worried about rhyming, and trying to be in-depth and clever. And he also says, “And so I went and let you blow my mind.” Which I think is so sweet of him, that he let her blow his mind.
The only cool reference in this song is when he says, “Hey Soul Sister, ain’t that Mr. Mister on the radio”? I mean that was a cool band, Mr. Mister. I wonder if Mr. Mister had to be like, “Yeah, you can use our name.”
AVC: They were probably like, “Yeah, of course! Talk about us!”
DW: “Yeah, of course. We know soul sisters!”
One of my favorite parts of the song is in the third verse, “When you cut a rug, watching you’s the only drug I need. So gangster, I’m so thug.” To me, that’s the most honest part of the song, because any time I hear people talking about the band Train, the only things I picture are gangsters and thugs, you know?
AVC: Like Straight Outta Compton.
DW: I mean, Train has been through hell. He met Virginia. Remember that line, “She smokes a pack a day. Oh wait, that’s me, but anyway…” Fuck off! Really?
“Meet Virginia?” I’d rather not. I don’t know if Soul Sister is any relation to Virginia, though.
This song has that algebraic equation to a catchy song. As much as we don’t want to like Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” it has that thing in there where you’re like, “Yeah, this is an addictive song.”
If “Hey Soul Sister” is on the radio, I’ll keep it on and hope that at the end of the song he’s just going to go, “Just kidding!” That would’ve been the best way for him to end this song, for him to say “I’m just kidding.”
AVC: It’s hard, because you know frontman Pat Monahan probably takes himself very seriously.
DW: Well, he’s been through hell. He’s been through hell! He hasn’t had time to trim his chest! He’s got these lipstick stains on the left side of his brain!
Have you looked at these lyrics?
AVC: I have. They’re really bad. Did you read the Wikipedia page about the song?
DW: Oh, god. Don’t tell me it’s about a cancer girl or something.
AVC: It’s about Burning Man.
DW: Yes! Perfect!
AVC: Pat Monahan had never been to Burning Man when he wrote the song, but he knew the concept of it, so he thought, “Oh, I’ll just write about all these beautiful women dancing around a burning fire,” and that’s how he wrote the song.
DW: I did not think I could hate this song more than I did, but now I’m learning that it’s about Burning Man. Can you make it seem like I brought that up?
AVC: There’s also this quote on the Wikipedia page about how one of the two Norwegian guys who Monahan wrote with brought a ukulele into the studio. Monahan said, “These words were meant to dance with ukulele and not guitar.” That makes my skin crawl.
DW: There are like five songs that a ukulele is appropriate for. Mostly Hawaiian songs or when you go to some hipster bar and there’s that guy with a fedora and a ukulele and you think, “I’m not going to have anything in common with this guy.” I’ve never been like, “Oh, you gotta meet my buddy, he plays ukulele.” I’ve never said that.
I’m just trying to think of the other stuff to hit on about why I hate it so much.
AVC: Well, it is crazy popular. There is that. And it won a Grammy.
DW: It’s crazy popular. Have you watched the video for this song?
AVC: I haven’t, thank heaven, but it’s very L.A., right?
DW: I always thought, “Oh, is he going to kill her?” When I was reading these lines, it seemed to me like he was just stalking a girl. And then when I watched the video, it’s a girl—you never see her face—and she’s cutting out magazine words to form a banner. You know how serial killers write letters with newspaper headlines? And so I thought, “Oh, maybe this is going to be cool and dark.” No. What is she building a collage of? At the end of the video, we pan back and we see that it’s the fucking cover of this Train album. Oh my god.
If anything, I feel bad for the Soul Sister because this isn’t going to end well. It’s all about him. All she did was blow his mind, and she should not have brought up that she enjoyed Mr. Mister in the ’80s. She should not have brought that up.
And to say, “I believe in you like a virgin, you’re Madonna.”
AVC: He has her on some sort of pedestal.
DW: You know what’s so smart, is the word “Hey” instead of just “Soul Sister.” They’re clearly not having a conversation. How many times in a conversation do you say “Hey”? You only say “Hey” when someone’s across the way.
I fear for the life of the Soul Sister.
AVC: Well, thank God she’s just a metaphor and not a real person, hopefully.
DW: Thank God she just represents Burning Man.
AVC: I’m glad that I could bring you that knowledge.
DW: I love that, because as many [of my] friends that have enjoyed Burning Man, this is making me not want to go to Burning Man.
AVC: It’s a great representation of why Burning Man sounds so horrible.
DW: “You can see I can be myself now finally. In fact there’s nothing I can’t be. I want the world to see you’ll be fine with me.” This is not good. This is not like, “I’m so glad we’re together.” This is stalking. This is scary. This is a one-way trainwreck.
I’m looking at these lines: “Just in time, I’m so glad you have a one-track mind like me.” Everything’s about him. This is a very self-centered song. The trick is that it sounds like he’s talking to someone but it’s all about himself.
I’d rather meet Virginia. You know, I wasn’t going to meet Virginia, because she smoked a pack a day, but then when I found out it about “Hey Soul Sister,” I was like, “Okay, maybe I will meet Virginia.”
AVC: “Maybe she’s okay.”
DW: Yeah. She’s good.
Oh, and it does say, “A game-show love connection we can’t deny, I’m so obsessed.” And then it says, “I’m so obsessed my heart is bound to beat right out of my untrimmed chest.” Oh, God. What guy talks about trimming their chest? Or that it’s untrimmed. Whatever, I’ve already said that but that’s really disturbing to me.