"Hey Baby" is a song written by Gwen Stefani, Tony Kanal, Tom Dumont, and Bounty Killer for American rock band No Doubt's fifth studio album, Rock Steady (2001). The song is heavily influenced by the Jamaican dancehall music present at No Doubt's post-show parties and tour bus lounges of their Return of Saturn tour. Its lyrics describe the debauchery with groupies at these parties.
The song received positive reviews from music critics, although its dancehall influences had a mixed reception. It was released as the album's lead single in October 2001. The single was commercially successful and peaked at number five on the Billboard Hot 100. At the 45th Grammy Awards, it won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.
"Hey Baby" was one of the first songs written for Rock Steady. The song begins with instrumentals programmed with producer Philip Steir at Toast Studios in San Francisco, California. They experimented with ray gun-like electronic effects and sounds that guitarist Tom Dumont compared to Star Wars music. Notably, the intro is reminiscent of the beginning of the song Jungle Love by the Steve Miller Band. The lyrics and melodies were recorded at a session at Dumont's home studio in Los Angeles weeks later. While the band was working on the album in Kingston, Jamaica during March 2001, producers Sly & Robbie left the percussion and Gwen Stefani's original vocal. The band asked about adding a guest appearance on the song, so Sly & Robbie recommended and added a toast from Bounty Killer.
Like the song's dancehall style, the lyrics depict the band's post-show parties from touring in support of Return of Saturn. The song details female groupies who attended the parties to hook up with the male band members. Stefani commented that "if you're talented and you're up there, girls want to make out with you." Bassist Tony Kanal described it as "a very PG version" of the licentiousness that took place while touring. The song also touches on Rock Steady's overall theme of Stefani's impatience in her long-distance relationship with then-boyfriend Gavin Rossdale (whom she eventually married in 2002), as she sits "sipping on chamomile/watching boys and girls and their sex appeal".
"Hey Baby" is a ragga song composed in the key of E minor. It is written in common time and moves at a moderate tempo of 90 beats per minute. The song focuses on programming and lacks live instrumentation. As a result, the band needed four keyboard rigs to recreate the track's sound for live performances, including a Roland AX-1 and an E-mu Proteus 2000. Stefani's vocal range spans over two octaves in the song, from D3 to E5.
The song opens with an introduction consisting of a sustained measure of electronic effects followed by two lines from the chorus. In each two-measure line during the first half of the verses, Stefani descends the scale while the keyboard plays the off-beats of the first measure and the electric bass opens the line with a two-note bassline. During the second half of the verses, Stefani's vocals are overdubbed, and the instrumentation becomes more frequent. Each of the two verses is followed by the chorus, where overdubbing is used on Stefani's vocals to produce first inversion and normal form E minor chords. Bounty Killer then toasts the bridge, and after a brief section sung by Stefani, the song closes by repeating the chorus twice.
"Hey Baby" generally received positive reviews from music critics. LAUNCHcast's Lisa Oliver described the song as a mix of "spacesynth" and ragga that "bursts with Batman punches." Colleen Delaney of Stylus Magazine was unimpressed by the lyrics' double entendres and noted that the toast and "deep, booming production save this song from being thin" but that it remained "inane and unengaging". Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine found the song a return to the band's roots, and that it finds No Doubt "sunnier (and tighter) than ever" as a result. Entertainment Weekly included "Hey Baby" in a list of the band's top five songs. About.com ranked the song number three in a list of the top five singles from Stefani's career, with the band and as a solo artist, for her "simultaneously sounding like she understands the hippest of contemporary pop (the Bounty Killer guest rap doesn't hurt) while having the wisdom of an adult several years out of high school." The song was listed at number thirty-eight on the 2002 Pazz & Jop list, a survey of several hundred music critics conducted by Robert Christgau.
The band's endeavor in dancehall music received mixed reviews. AllMusic reviewer Stephen Thomas Erlewine viewed the toast as a mistake, and Blender's Rupert Howe found the foray into dancehall misguided, leaving Bounty Killer sounding bored. Alex Needham wrote for the NME that the song was a strong example of "white reggae" but that many listeners may not be able to tolerate the genre itself. For Entertainment Weekly, David Browne described the chorus as "big, bustling, and irresistible" and its hip hop influence as kicky. In the BBC review of The Singles 1992-2003, Ruth Mitchell wrote that the chorus was addictive and chiming and that the song had a "catchy dancehall groove".
"Hey Baby" was chosen as the lead single from Rock Steady to represent the band's more "upbeat and confident" attitude for the album. It was commercially successful in the United States and enticed a younger audience to No Doubt. The song debuted at number thirty-six on the Billboard Hot 100, remaining on the chart for half a year. In its third week, the song became the band's highest charting single, eventually peaking at number five for two consecutive weeks, later broken when "Underneath It All" reached number three. It was successful in the mainstream music market, topping the Top 40 Mainstream and reaching the top ten on the Top 40 Tracks and Adult Top 40. The song had significant crossover success and reached number five on the Rhythmic Top 40 chart. At the 2003 Grammy Awards, the song won the award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, and No Doubt performed a medley of "Underneath It All" and "Hella Good" at the show.
The song had similar success in Europe, reaching number five on the Eurochart Hot 100 Singles. In the United Kingdom, "Hey Baby" debuted at number two on the UK Singles Chart but was unable to top the chart. It reached the top ten in Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, and Norway and the top twenty in Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland.
In Australia, "Hey Baby" debuted on the ARIA Singles Chart at number twenty-eight and peaked four weeks later at number seven. It was listed at number thirty-seven on the 2002 end of year chart. On the New Zealand Singles Chart, it reached number two, under Shakira's "Whenever, Wherever", for two non-consecutive weeks.
The song's music video, directed by Dave Meyers, follows the theme of the lyrics. It shows the band on a tour bus, stopping at a party at Club Poonani. The members separate when three girls approach the male band members. Kanal has his picture taken with several women, paying for it by taking money that drummer Adrian Young earns by hanging from gymnastics rings naked. Dumont defeats a woman, portrayed by Sonya Eddy, in an endurance drinking game, and Stefani dances, eventually joining Bounty Killer on stage. There are intercut scenes of the band members on a red and black background, a black and white houndstooth background, and standing on top of the phrases "NO DOUBT", "ROCK STEADY", and "HEY BABY" in red and white.
The video was filmed in three days in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles. The scenes were designed to recreate the parties that the band attended while recording Rock Steady in Jamaica. Young's scene was based on an actual event, where he won US$200 on a dare to hang upside down and naked on the rings at a club in New York City. Dumont's scene, filmed at Casa Mexicana, is inspired by a similar scene from the 1981 Indiana Jones film Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Young's full frontal on the rings, shown during Bounty Killer's line "The way you rock your hips, you know that it amaze me," was controversial. Bounty Killer's rival Beenie Man stated that "the video portray Bounty as a gay. That is a Jamaican artist, and that can't gwan in a dancehall, no way." Bounty Killer cancelled his performances with No Doubt because of the incident, stating that "they did not understand because they are from America and they accept gay people … If Jamaica is upset, I ain't going to accept no success that my culture is not proud of."
The video debuted at number ten on MTV's Total Request Live, peaking at number three, and topped VH1's Top 20 Countdown for three weeks. The video won the MTV Video Music Awards for Best Pop Video and Best Group Video in 2002. In Canada, it reached number eight on MuchMusic's Countdown for two consecutive weeks and remained on the countdown for nine weeks. The video was nominated for Best International Group Video at the 2002 MuchMusic Video Awards but lost to Korn's "Here to Stay".
Credits adapted from Rock Steady booklet: