“Weird Al” Yankovic is the unequivocal King of Parody. With a career spanning thirty years, his clever quips and parodies have passed the test of time and his 14th and potentially last album, “Mandatory Fun,” was the No.1 album on the Billboard 200. Yankovic told Bloomberg Businessweek, “A No. 1 album is something I never … in my wildest dreams ever thought would be a reality. I was just hoping I’d get to No. 8.”
But beyond the curly-haired, Hawaiian-shirt-wearing, goofy exterior (his nickname is “Weird Al” after all) lies a sharp wit and a keen observer of society. What are the qualities that distinguish this accordion-playing musical parodist whose influences include Mad magazine, and who has parodied (with permission) the likes of Michael Jackson, Madonna, Kurt Cobain and Lady Gaga?
1. His creative process is constantly evolving.
Yankovic only pursues ideas he thinks will do well. On the process of creating new songs, Yankovic told NPR, “I'll generate ideas, and 99 percent of those ideas are horrible. I have no problem coming up with ideas, but good ideas are hard to come by. When I do find a good idea, then I'll start riffing on concepts based on that idea, and come up with pages and pages of notes based on that."
Yankovic’s early parodies reflected his vision of having the song be as close to the original as possible. An example of this is “Eat It,” Yankovic’s parody of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” where each frame was a near replica of the original. For the video of “Smells Like Nirvana,” a parody of “Smells Like Teen Spirit," Yankovic even hired some of the same actors from Nirvana's famous music video and used the same set. More recently in Yankovic’s career he has branched out, adding his personal spin to videos, as in “Foil,” a parody of “Royals” by Lorde, and “Tacky” a parody of Pharrell Williams’s “Happy.”
2. He's endlessly adaptable.
Yankovic's career started before the era of music videos, YouTube, and "viral" social media posts. "My Bologna," one of Yankovic's earliest parodies, was released in 1979, before music videos even aired on MTV.
He's adapted to the changes in American pop culture by focusing his attention on where his fans are, including having a presence on social media and YouTube. Yankovic also recently took to Reddit for an AMA conversation with fans.
3. He's resilient.
In 2004 Yankovic’s parents, who introduced him to the accordion and were a source of unwavering support, died from carbon monoxide poisoning in their home. In the midst of a tour, Yankovic wrote on his website:
Many people have wondered what's going to happen with the tour. I briefly considered canceling some shows, but I ultimately decided that it would be better for me personally to continue working. Plus, I've heard from so many people over the years that my music has cheered them up in times of tragedy... well, I thought maybe my music would help me too.
So far, it has. Going up on stage in front of thousands of supportive fans is a cathartic and somewhat therapeutic experience for me right now. I don't know if I can say that the concerts really take my mind off of the tragedy, but at least they give me a break from sobbing all the time.
4. He's found a way to do what he loves and boost the careers of others.
"White & Nerdy," Yankovic's parody of "Ridin’” by Chamillionaire featuring Krayzie Bone, became known as a geek anthem and helped boost the popularity of the original song. Chamillionaire even cites Yankovic as one of the reasons his song won a Grammy.
Yankovic said he was “tickled” by Chamillionaire's reaction to "White & Nerdy" on his recent Reddit AMA. “I ran into him on the Grammy red carpet a few years ago, right after he had won the award for Rap Song of the Year. He thanked me, because he said my parody made it undeniable that his song ("Ridin'") was, in fact, the Rap Song of the Year!”
5. He explores the relationship between creativity and originality.
Is there any other pop musician out there who makes us think about the relationship between creativity and originality?
6. His work is ultimately an expression of love.
In a recent Associated Press interview, Yankovic talked about why his parodies don’t go the mean-spirited route. “I'm a fan like everybody else. When I do my parodies it's not meant to mock these people. It's not meant to belittle them or make them look bad. It's an homage. ... I don't think you need to be hurtful to be funny.” Even at this stage in his career, Yankovic continues to ask permission of every musician before he parodies their song.
7. He’s not afraid to show his gratitude.
Musicians love to say it's all about the fans, but when Yankovic says it, it really does seem genuine, as opposed to a way of glorifying himself.
“I have been doing roughly the same thing for many, many years, and this is the best week of my life in terms of like the response from people,” Yankovic told the Associated Press about the recent success of “Mandatory Fun.” “It's just insane and it's extremely gratifying. It's hard for me to wrap my head around (it).”
Yankovic also expressed his appreciation to his fans on Twitter.
I’m so pleased everybody is enjoying the album, and I’m enormously grateful for everyone’s support. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU.
If you’d told me 30 years ago this would happen, I never would’ve believed it. If you’d told me 2 WEEKS ago, I never would’ve believed it.
It’s official. MANDATORY FUN enters the Billboard album chart this week at #1. Wow. WOW.
8. After a career spanning 30 years, Yankovic is still embracing change.
On his Reddit AMA, Yankovic said, “I'll probably just be releasing singles (possibly EPs) going forward - I really don't think the album format is the most efficient or intelligent way for me to distribute my music anymore. I highly doubt that I would sign with another label. I guess I might be open to a distribution deal, but... we'll see. Anyway, I certainly wouldn't want to have my releases on any kind of a schedule - that would be too much pressure, and it might actually start to feel like a JOB!”
The process of parodying a song is a long one. Yankovic said on NPR, “I go through the Billboard charts, I listen to the radio, I keep my finger on the pulse of what's happening online and I make a master list of songs that I think would be reasonable targets. Then I'll go down that list and do variations on a theme. I'll think, 'What are all the possible ways I could go with this song to make if funny? What are the puns based on the title? What are the directions I can go?'”
Now that Yankovic is free to release a single any time he wants, any time a new singer hits the stage or a band rises to number one, without a doubt “Weird Al” will be there, asking permission from the artist to parody a song, with a release on YouTube shortly thereafter.