AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
It's concert season, and one of the biggest shows in pop and rock kicked off this past weekend in California. The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is where music royalty shines. And it's not unusual to see big reunions. Iggy Pop and the Stooges, The Pixies, and Rage Against the Machine come to mind. This year, it was OutKast.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEY YA!")
CORNISH: The rap duo of Andre 3000 and Big Boi has won six Grammys and sold more than 25 million records, and they haven't performed together in a decade so their return was supposed to be a victory lap of sorts. But the reception at the show is casting some doubt on that plan.
NPR's Frannie Kelley was there and joins us now to talk more about it. And Frannie, this song - "Hey Ya!" - was so huge when it came out on their album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. That was almost 10 years ago. But give us a sense of who they are; who's OutKast?
FRANNIE KELLEY, BYLINE: OutKast - they make these songs like "Hey Ya!" that almost everybody loves. I mean, how could you hate that song? But they're also revered by people who take hip-hop extremely seriously and within that world, they push the envelope. They put Southern rap on the map - and they are kind of weird.
CORNISH: And this was the first of a series of summer festival performances. OutKast was billing this as a big thank-you tour for fans. They come out on stage, what happens?
KELLEY: So what we see, after a huge flash of light, is this enormous mesh cube that contains these two men that we haven't seen together in more than a decade, and the crowd flips out.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG FROM CONCERT)
CORNISH: So what happens after that first rush? I mean, "Bombs Over Baghdad" was a big song when it came out.
KELLEY: Yeah, it was big, but it's not as danceable, as catchy as "Hey Ya!" And after everybody sort of rushed the stage, they just stood there. I saw a lot of folded arms; a lot of people sort of witnessing rather than celebrating.
CORNISH: So is this because people just want to hear the hits at a festival show like this, or does this have to do with the demographics?
KELLEY: Yeah, I think it goes back to the two audiences that OutKast now has. They have these enormous hits that have, in essence, overshadowed the vast body of their work. And so they have to play these songs to the people that go to festivals, you know, to be with their friends; and then to also appeal to their followers who've been with them for two decades.
CORNISH: So Frannie, help us understand the economics of this. What does a group, a band like OutKast - trying to turn into a legacy act - what do they have to do to make the money work?
KELLEY: Well, they're playing festivals most likely because festivals are guaranteed money. And also, this is their 20th anniversary. For most acts, that's the chance to make a big cash grab before you walk off into the sunset, and they need that cash to build that huge mesh cube and take everybody on the road. So they're doing this for financial reasons, but the question is, at what cost to their relationship with each other, their relationship with their fans, and their relationship to their legacy?
Do they have control over it anymore, or will we now remember them with a slight sour taste in our mouth? I don't think so, but we're gonna have to watch what happens for the rest of the summer.
CORNISH: That's Frannie Kelley, of NPR Music. Frannie, thanks so much for talking with us.
KELLEY: Thanks, Audie.
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