What's Up? (4 Non Blondes song)

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"What's Up?"
WhatsUpCover.jpg
Single by 4 Non Blondes
from the album Bigger, Better, Faster, More!
B-side"What's Up?" (piano version)
ReleasedJune 11, 1993[1]
Recorded1992
Genre
Length
  • 4:55 (album version)
  • 4:15 (radio edit)
LabelInterscope
Songwriter(s)Linda Perry
Producer(s)David Tickle
4 Non Blondes singles chronology
"Dear Mr. President"
(1992)
"What's Up?"
(1993)
"Spaceman"
(1993)
Music video
"What's Up?" on YouTube

"What's Up?" is a song by American rock group 4 Non Blondes, released as the second single from their 1992 debut album, Bigger, Better, Faster, More!. It has gained popularity in the United States[2] and in several European countries, peaking at number one in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden and Switzerland.

Background and writing[edit]

The song had its origins well before 4 Non Blondes were formed. During the time when the two were struggling musicians in San Francisco, Third Eye Blind frontman Stephan Jenkins recalled sitting in a room with Perry, who worked as a waitress down the street, performing their original compositions to one another. The two played each other early versions of "Semi-Charmed Life" and "What's Up?", both of which would become massive hits for their respective bands. It would be decades later that Jenkins realized the songs performed in that private session would sell a combined 17 million records.[3]

The title does not appear in the song's lyrics, but the phrase "what's going on?" is prominently included in the chorus. The title was chosen to avoid confusion with Marvin Gaye's 1971 song "What's Going On".[4] Perry told Rolling Stone that she heavily disliked the song's production.[5] Perry revealed on Behind the Music that she hated David Tickle's reworked version (with different lyrics) intended to be used for their album. She had told this to Jimmy Iovine, who agreed, preferring Perry's demo version over Tickle's. Tickle's instrumental (over the original vocals) could be heard on Perry's episode of Behind the Music; Tickle's version was never released. The final version was recorded in one day after Iovine allowed 4 Non Blondes to re-record Perry's demo version. The music video was directed by Morgan Lawley.[6] During an interview with Tape Op magazine, Perry said:

"The producer (David Tickle) had no sense of what the song was. I went to the label and said 'This song sucks. This is not the song I wrote.' I grabbed the band during a break and we went to The Record Plant in Sausalito. I started moving things around. I was in the middle of vocals when David Tickle showed up. I was annoyed...we were already done with the frigging song. We comped the vocal and mixed it that night.... That is the version that blew up all over the world. I've told the story enough that people know that David Tickle did not produce that song. It was me."[7]

Critical reception[edit]

Bill Lamb from About.com said that the song "seemingly appeared out of nowhere, becoming a neo-folkie hit first on modern rock radio stations and then on the pop charts. Although it only reached number 11, it has been a radio fixture ever since."[8] AllMusic editor Tom Demalon described it as a "massive, neo-hippie anthem" in his review of the Bigger, Better, Faster, More! album. Rolf Edmund Lund from Norwegian newspaper Altaposten complimented Perry's voice as "incredibly good".[9] Larry Flick from Billboard wrote that "gymnastic vocals, leaping from a breathy, high range, to gravelly, bar-rock blues in a single passage, front this straightforward, heartfelt rocker. Treads the line between album rock and modern rock, with the piano version favoring the former."[10] Tom Sinclair from Entertainment Weekly described the song as "funky" and added that it "is only one of the goodies in the Blondes' musical grab bag".[11] Music writer James Masterton viewed it as "a wonderful piece of laid back summer rock (well, almost)".[12]

Pan-European magazine Music & Media stated that it is a "strong composition", where the lyrics "are done more than justice by Linda Perry's impressive vocal touch."[13] A reviewer from the magazine commented, "Peroxide is definitely out of the question here. Toni Childs backed by a rock band playing Bobbie McFerrin's Don't Worry, Be Happy comes closest as a description."[14] Alan Jones from Music Week said it is "charming" and "easily the best track" of the album.[15] R.S. Murthi from New Straits Times called it "anthemic" and added that it "is probably one of the simplest and catchiest pop songs to be produced in recent times."[16] Carmen von Rohr from Rome News-Tribune noted "the amazingly down-to earth common sense lyrics" of "What's Up?" and added that Linda Perry "sings in her rich, soulful voice about the frustrations she feels as she tries to adjust to her place in the universe."[17] A reviewer from Sunday Life wrote that the song is "naggingly memorable".[18] Ronny Johansen from Troms Folkeblad commented, "What a wonderful use of voice and what an irresistible song!"[19]

Some critics disliked "What's Up?" Songwriters Carl Barât and Stuart Braithwaite named the song the worst ever.[20][21] Dean Ween said: "It's as bad as music gets…. Everything about the song is so awful that if I sat down and tried to write the worst song ever, I couldn't even make it 10 percent of the reality of how awful that song is."[22] Tara Dublin in The Huffington Post wrote that it is "without question, the worst song of the 1990s".[23]

"What's Up?" ranks number 94 on VH1's 100 Greatest One-Hit Wonders,[24] and ranks 86 on the MuchMore The Top 100 One Hit Wonders.[25]

Chart performances[edit]

The recording received considerable airplay success. It reached number 14 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and went gold, but peaked higher in many other countries, reaching number-one in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland while reaching number two in the United Kingdom and Australia.

Music video[edit]

A music video was produced to promote the single. It was directed by American film director Morgan Lawley[26] and features the band, dressed in punk clothing, performing the song as they stand in a living room set decorated with paintings. In between there are footage of the band in a park and a playground. The video was published on YouTube in February 2011. It has amassed over 1 billion views as of September 2021.[27] The video was nominated for the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards in the category for Best Alternative Video.[28]

Track listings[edit]

7-inch single / CD single

  1. "What's Up?" – 4:16
  2. "What's Up?" (piano version) – 4:09

CD maxi

  1. "What's Up?" (edit) – 4:16
  2. "What's Up?" (remix) – 4:51
  3. "Train" – 3:47
  4. "What's Up?" (piano version) – 4:09

Cassette

  1. "What's Up?" (LP version)
  2. "Train" (LP version)
  3. "What's Up?" (LP version)
  4. "Train" (LP version)

Personnel[edit]

Charts and sales[edit]

DJ Miko version[edit]

"What's Up"
DJMikoWhat'sUp.jpg
Single by DJ Miko
from the album The Last Millennium
Released1993
Recorded1993
GenreDance
Length
  • 3:45 (radio edit)
  • 4:35 (club edit)
LabelZYX
Songwriter(s)Linda Perry

Italian disc jockey DJ Miko covered the song as a dance track in 1993 (retitled without the question mark) with vocals provided by British singer Louise Gard. Although the song was released as a stand-alone single, it later appeared on DJ Miko's sole album, The Last Millennium, in 1999. DJ Miko's version was a modest hit in Europe in late 1993 and early 1994, reaching number 5 in Italy and Spain, number 13 in Finland and number 17 in Sweden.

The cover was released worldwide in mid-1994, peaking at number 6 on the UK Singles Chart and number 8 on the Irish Singles Chart. On the Eurochart Hot 100, "What's Up" reached number 21. In the United States it reached number 58 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and number 19 on the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart. In the Australasia region, "What's Up" was popular in New Zealand, reaching number 23 on the RIANZ Singles Chart, but it was a commercial failure in Australia, reaching number 92 on the ARIA Singles Chart.

Critical reception[edit]

Music writer James Masterton wrote in his weekly UK chart commentary, "The biggest new hit of the week comes straight from the clubs. After setting dancefloors alight for weeks, this rather pointless dance remake of the 4 Non Blondes track crashes straight into the Top 10. As a dance track it seems to work alright but of course pales in comparison with the original which made No.2 in July last year."[77] James Hamilton from British magazine Music Week's RM Dance Update described the song as a "truly bizarre galloping cheesy Eurodisco remake of the 4 Non Blonde's strangulatedly wailed 1993 smash".[78]

Charts[edit]

Minnesota version[edit]

"What's Up"
MinnesotaWhat'sUpcover.jpg
Single by Minnesota
B-side"Move Your Body"
Released1993
Recorded1993
Length3:38
LabelCoconut
Songwriter(s)Linda Perry
Minnesota singles chronology
"What's Up"
(1993)
"Without You"
(1994)

German eurodance group Minnesota covered the song as a dance version in late 1993. It reached number one in Portugal and on the Canadian RPM Dance chart, peaked at number two in Finland and also charted in Belgium and Switzerland.

Charts[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

The song has been used in numerous forms of media including films, television, advertising, video games and as a sample in other musical works.[98]

In the 1994 film Lassie, the main character Matt casually sings some lines of the song.

Taiwanese rock singer A-mei covered "What's up" for her 1997 compilation album Girl Power.[99] Her version also has its own accompanying music video.[100]

In 2005, a Texas-based animation and video production company known as SLACKCiRCUS created a satirical music video titled "Fabulous Secret Powers." Edited by Ryan Haines and composed by Jay Allen, the video was inspired by Fenslerfilm's G.I. Joe PSAs and pairs/edits footage from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe with their own techno-house cover of "What's Up" (which eventually interpolates Don't Cry Out Loud by Melissa Manchester).[101][102] It has since become an internet meme,[103] with a shortened version (titled "HEYYEYAAEYAAAEYAEYAA") amassing over 190 million views on YouTube as of October 2021.[104]

In 2011, the song appeared in the film Young Adult, starring Charlize Theron[105] Also, in 2011, Ariana Grande sampled and interpolated the song in her debut single, "Put Your Hearts Up".

In 2015 it appeared in the fourth episode, "What's Going On?", of the Netflix Original series Sense8;[106] the episode's title quotes the song's refrain. The song also appears in the 5th episode of the second season, "Fear Never Fixed Anything" as a remix performed by Riley. Since its feature on the show, the song has become an anthem for the fandom and is often sung by the fans to welcome the cast and crew of the show.

A master recording version of the song was used in Rock Band 4.[107] A version of the song, sung in Spanish, appeared in the final episode of season one of the television series Zoo.[108] In Brazil, the song was included in the international soundtrack of Olho no Olho telenovela (Rede Globo). Again it was part of a Rede Globo telenovela, titled A Lei do Amor (2016). In the Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode "The Negotiations", Jake Peralta and Doug Judy (portrayed by Andy Samberg and Craig Robinson respectively) sing the song at a karaoke club.

A version of the song was used in the trailer for Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City.[109]

References[edit]

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