Everyone’s (?) favorite (?) parodist is back. Weird Al Yankovic has embarked on a media blitz in support of his new album, Mandatory Fun, releasing eight music videos in as many days. We’ve seen such madcap genius as “Word Crimes,” a grammar-nazi’s send-up of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”; “Tacky” (Pharrell’s “Happy”), lampooning the clownish clothing of high fashion; and my personal favorite: “Foil,” a conspiracy-tinged romp through Lorde’s big hit. Mandatory Fun is so good and its rollout has been handled so well, that for the first time in his career Weird Al Yankovic has a No. 1 album on the Billboard charts.
I couldn’t be happier about that.
I know at first blush I might not seem like Weird Al’s natural constituency. I’ve earned a reputation as something of a snob in the years since I first got down to “Amish Paradise.” Indeed, one might well have expected my enthusiasm for Yankovic to wane as I became, y’know, an adult. That is not the case, and let me tell you why.
I was born in 1984, and have never known a world without the music of Weird Al Yankovic. Like many males, I did not become aware of him until I reached the age of 10 or 11 and could appreciate the subtle humor found in songs like “Fat” or “Eat It.” Truthfully, though, it was his “Jurassic Park” that really brought me into the Weird Al orbit – I was the exact target demographic for the movie, and was primed to love the song forever.
Weird Al cemented his hold over me with “The Saga Begins,” which has permanently displaced the actual lyrics to “American Pie” in my mind (and Don McLean’s, too). While the actual Star Wars prequels left much to be desired, Yankovic’s parody and video most assuredly did not. The subsequent years have seen him become yet more adept at his craft, both musically and comedically, as he sometimes manages to sandwich in subtle social criticisms with the absurdity.
Yankovic represents that rare entertainer whose joy and humor translate effortlessly to his audience. The man loves what he’s doing, clearly, or else we wouldn’t have had the pleasure of his endlessly cheerful, puckish presence these past thirty-odd years.
Even when covering bands like Nirvana, he lampoons the “angry” song – there is none of the angst and unpleasantness found in the original. In fact, he seems to be slyly reminding us that life is rarely so bad as all that. I mean, watch this polka cover and try to tell me your adolescent Sturm und Drang was in any way justified:
These days, so many artists play at being tortured as they strive for “authenticity,” or to shock the sensibilities of their audience. So many of them are wholly fabricated personalities, calculated to appeal to a demographic, manufactured down to the eyelash. So many of them can’t even sing, let alone play a mean accordion. By contrast, Weird Al is authentic where they are phoney, has changed his look precisely one time in his career, and is an actual musician with real talent. Do you deny it?
In this vast cultural desert, Yankovic is an oasis of guilt-free, almost wholesome (just slightly off), unapologetically goofy entertainment.
He has appeal for both kids and the grown-ups they become. He’s also a guy who loves his job, which happens to be helping his audience enjoy a few fleeting moments of their lives.
It is my contention that Weird Al Yankovic is one of the foremost, enduring entertainers of our era, and I will fight any man who says different.
However, if you agree with me then I’d urge you to buy Mandatory Fun. The chances are good you will wind up having some.