Is It Finally Cool to Like ‘Weird Al’?
There are those of us who’ve suffered ridicule and alienation because we hold a deep love for the work of “Weird Al” Yankovic. We’ve dealt with the narrow-eyed stares of new girlfriends and boyfriends when they found our ‘Permanent Record: Al in the Box’ box set of CDs. We’ve been laughed at by our closest friends when we proudly showed off our signed vinyl copy of the ‘UHF’ soundtrack.
But we’ve watched from our relegated spot in the corner as the mainstream has become more accepting of Yankovic’s talents. He turned a lot of heads in 2006 with ‘White & Nerdy’ from the album ‘Straight Outta Lynwood.’ All of the sudden he could rap, and he could do it well. ‘White & Nerdy’ became Al’s first single to break the Billboard Top 10, as well as his first single to go platinum. Chamillionaire, who wrote the original song ‘Ridin,’ praised “Weird Al”‘s rapping skills and attention to detail in an interview.
“He’s spittin’ just like Krayzie Bone on the second verse … It’s actually very funny if you listen to what he’s saying,” said Chamillionaire. “The way Krayzie is harmonizing, he does the same thing. It surprised me. I didn’t know he could rap like that.”
The overwhelming success of ‘Straight Outta Lynwood’ gave us longtime fans some hope that our friends may finally come around. Depending on what crowd one might find oneself in, ‘White & Nerdy’ was more well-known than its original source material. The second single from the album, ‘Canadian Idiot,’ didn’t do nearly as well as ‘White & Nerdy,’ but you would catch those people who aren’t loyal fans chuckling under their breath whenever you forced them to listen to it.
These non-believers would typically, though, wrinkle their noses and walk away when the next track, a Rage Against the Machine pastiche called ‘I’ll Sue Ya’ started to play. And to the credit of the non-fans, ‘I’ll Sue Ya’ is not one of “Weird Al”‘s strongest songs. Sure, it’s funny and clever, but it’s no home run. And home runs are what’s needed to bring the non-believers around.
“Weird Al” Yankovic hasn’t exactly struggled to sell albums, of course. He’s been quite successful, actually. But while his success has kept him around for all this time, it’s never been enough to push him over the edge into full-fledged mainstream acceptance.
Sure, “Weird Al” got to make a movie in 1989. Normally that could be taken as a big sign that he’d cracked the barrier keeping him out of the mainstream. But his film, ‘UHF,’ didn’t do so well. It got panned by critics and made very little money in the box office. The failure of ‘UHF’ sent our weird friend into a slump that wouldn’t be broken until he heard the sweet refrain of Nirvana‘s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’
The success of “Weird Al”‘s parody, ‘Smells Like Nirvana,’ helped him recover and get back in the game. He would once again flirt with chart success, with the Nirvana parody reaching the No. 35 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. But His Weirdness never did more than brush up against chart success.
All of that has changed now. “Weird Al” recorded what he says is his final album, ‘Mandatory Fun,’ and released it after a media blitzkrieg the likes of which we’ve never seen. “Weird Al” has been absolutely everywhere lately, discussing his new album and his approach to songwriting. There are hints that people who’ve always written “Weird Al” off as a novelty act are starting to gain some respect for what he does. The Telegraph even ran an article called ‘Weird Al Yankovic: Why Pop’s Parody King Is No Joke.’
Yankovic’s last three albums — ‘Straight Outta Lynwood,’ ‘Alpocaplypse’ and his newest release, ‘Mandatory Fun’ — all cracked the Billboard Top 10. ‘Straight Outta Lynwood’ was Al’s first album to do that, and it came out 30 years into his career. Now, ‘Mandatory Fun’ has become his first album to debut at number one. And we say it’s about time.
Sure, a large part of the success of ‘Mandatory Fun’ can be attributed to “Weird Al”‘s music video onslaught. We’re guessing you already know that he released eight videos in eight days, making the task of avoiding him nearly impossible. More than ever, “Weird Al” fans had a chance to make their friends and family listen to him, which is something we’ve always enjoyed doing.
But apparently we didn’t need to go to the trouble. Views of the eight videos topped 47 million in a short time. Some people might attribute the success of these videos to “Weird Al”‘s choice of popular source material, but that can’t account for all of it. One of the videos, ‘Lame Claim to Fame,’ is a pastiche, or style parody, of the band Southern Culture on the Skids. Does anyone under 30 years old know even who they are?
‘Sports Song’ is literally a marching band tune. When was the last time you chose to listen to a song performed by a marching band that wasn’t a cover of some radio hit? When was the last time you took to YouTube to listen to your school’s band play the school’s fight song? Never?
And his last video, ‘Mission Statement’ apes the style of Crosby, Stills and Nash. While those guys are very famous and successful, they’re certainly not what you’d called modern day pop stars.
So if “Weird Al”‘s newfound success can’t be attributed simply to his choice of source material, how can we explain it?
More than anything else, the Weird One’s success can be attributed to his keen awareness of what’s going on in pop culture. This means more than just knowing what songs and artists are popular. It means knowing what people are thinking about, what they’re texting to their friends and what they’re talking about in bars. “Weird Al” seems to have a preternatural ability to tap into the cultural zeitgeist and use it to maximum effect.
It’s kind of sad that “Weird Al” didn’t make it to the top of the charts until now. But we know we’ll be seeing more of him in the days to come. He said he’ll keep releasing singles, and without being tied to an album release, he’ll be able to produce much more timely material. We’re hoping he’ll also keep making appearances in other places, like the time he portrayed Sir Isaac Newton for ‘Epic Rap Battles of History.’ It’s one of his best lyrical moments, and one of our favorites.
We were lucky enough to get a few moments of “Weird Al”‘s time for an interview. He gives some precious insight into the thought process behind his work. Check it out below.