No Lie: Shakira's 'Hips' Gets An Oxford Makeover

Aug 2, 2014
Originally published on October 1, 2014 2:13 pm

A group of undergraduate students in Oxford, England, must be pretty chuffed right now (that's how Brits say "pleased," by the way).

Why? They've managed to get the attention of Shakira, one of the biggest pop stars in the world:

The video she retweeted is a saucy take on her hit "Hips Don't Lie" by the Oxford University a cappella group Out of the Blue. The single from the group's album Soul Sisters benefits Helen & Douglas House, a children's hospice in the U.K.

Two of the group's members, Ollie Nicholls and Marco Alessi, spoke with NPR's Scott Simon about their sudden worldwide fame, how they put together their dance moves, and some of the other artists they've covered.

Click on the audio link above to hear the full conversation, plus a snippet of one of their favorite covers, a "choral-esque" version of Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence."

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A group of undergrad students at Oxford must be pretty chuffed right now. That's how young British scholars say pleased, by the way. They have managed to get the attention of one of the biggest pop stars in the world.


SHAKIRA: (Singing) I'm on tonight. You know my hips don't lie and I'm starting to feel it's right. All the attraction, the attention. Don't you see, baby, this is perfection?

SIMON: That's Shakira, of course. She was referring to an a cappella group called Out of the Blue. They put their own touch to Shakira's song. Their hips don't lie either.


OUT OF THE BLUE: (Singing) Shakira. Shakira. I never really knew that she could dance like this. She make a man want to speak Spanish. Como se llama? Bonita.

SIMON: These Oxford blokes have now produced a pretty saucy video of their own. Ollie Nickholls and Marco Alessi join us from the BBC studios in Edinburgh. Gentlemen, thanks very much for being with us.

OLLIE NICKHOLLS: No, thank you.


SIMON: All right, let's get the dutiful stuff out of the way first. This is for charity right?

NICKHOLLS: Yes, it is. We have worked the last eight years as a group with a wonderful children's hospice in Oxford called Helen & Douglas House. They're actually the first children's hospice ever in the world founded in 1982. And they provide incredible support and palliative care for children with severely life-limiting diseases as well as bereavement care for their family.

SIMON: Your vocals are terrific, but I'm guessing, having seen this video, that you don't have a professional choreographer?

ALESSI: (Laughing) We don't. No. So all the choreography is done within the group. We just kind of watch Shakira's videos, loosely try and copy some of those movements and put our own spin on them. But yeah, quite clearly, we're not professionally trained dancers nor do we have a professional choreographer.

SIMON: Loosely - interesting choice of words.


OUT OF THE BLUE: (Singing) I won't deny, you know my hips don't lie, and I'm starting to feel it's right. The attraction, attention. Don't you see, baby, this is perfection?

SIMON: Now if I could get you gentlemen to describe the dance moves and tell us how you managed to keep your regimental ties still knotted too.

NICKHOLLS: I guess, oh, gosh, how do you describe the dance moves? We just keep doing things until we agree they don't look so bad that we couldn't possibly perform them, and then just stick to that.


ALESSI: It's definitely more about the enthusiasm than it is the accuracy. We've had lots of people who've praised our hips because obviously they don't expect boys from Oxford to dance. We've had other people who've called us rhythmless white boys. So mixed feedback.

SIMON: Tell us about your group Out of the Blue, if you could.

ALESSI: Out of the Blue is an all-male a cappella group from Oxford University. We were formed 14 years ago actually by an American who came over from Yale University to Oxford for a year, who we're still in contact with very much. So here we are 14 years on - a new group obviously.

SIMON: And what kind of music do you favor or is it always, you know, Shakira and twitching your hips?

NICKHOLLS: Well, I think it definitely depends on the particular year groups. If you look at the album from the group a couple years ago, it's really rocky. Then this year we have quite a lot of funk. Christina Aguilera comes in at one point. And there's a Whitney Houston number as well this year.


OUT OF THE BLUE: (Singing) Oh, I want to dance with somebody. I want to feel the heat with somebody. Yeah, I want to dance with somebody, with somebody who loves me.

NICKHOLLS: We have the Beatles as well. Our favorite song to perform is actually kind of quite choral-esque version of "The Sound Of Silence" by Simon and Garfunkel.


OUT OF THE BLUE: (Singing) Left its seeds while I was sleeping and the vision that was planted in my brain still remains within the sound of silence.

SIMON: There's an old tradition of some Oxford people that are in show business. They usually wind up playing American cops at one point or another. Are either of you interested in the theater? Oh, wait. Forgive me, the theatre?

ALESSI: I somehow feel like an American cop isn't the stereotype that I'd get cast as after that video.


SIMON: Special unit.

NICKHOLLS: Exactly. I was going to say a very particular kind of cop.

ALESSI: I think most people in the group have some background in singing or performing any way, otherwise they wouldn't have the interest to kind of join the group. So it's at the back of everyone's minds that they might want to pursue it afterwards. And I think some people are still holding out for this video to get them noticed and get them the record deal that they're so aiming for.


OUT OF THE BLUE: Morning. Today's forecast says blue skies. (Singing) Sun is shining in the sky. There ain't a cloud in sight. It stopped raining. Everybody's in a play, and don't you know, it's a beautiful new day.

SIMON: Ollie Nickholls and Marco Alessi join us from the studios of the BBC in Edinburgh. Their album "Soul Sisters" on sale now, on Bandcamp soon, on iTunes, then who knows where? Thank you gentlemen.

ALESSI: Thank you so much.

NICKHOLLS: Thank you very much.


OUT OF THE BLUE: (Singing) Hey you with the pretty face, welcome to the human race. A celebration.

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.