I’m going to come out and say what we’re all thinking: Weird Al Yankovic is a god among mortals. First of all, he does not age. He’s 54 but looks basically the same as he did when he was parodying Michael Jackson in the ’80s or Nirvana in the ’90s. Second, he’s really smart, Revenge of the Nerds personified, standing out amongst multiple generations of satirists as a maestro who can see any pop earworm as a blank canvas over which to design a completely new creation.
Oftentimes these creations end up being catchier (and obviously, far funnier) than the originals — when I hear Don McLean’s “American Pie,” it’s a toss-up whether I’ll remember the actual lyrics, or absentmindedly sing, “Soon I’m gonna be a Jedi” instead. The same goes for “Gangsta’s Paradise” — Al’s “Amish Paradise” always jumps into my mind instead.
With his new album, Mandatory Fun, released last week, Weird Al ruins/improves the pop songs of a new generation (“Blurred Lines,” “Happy,” “Royals”), and throws in pastiches of some older bands for good measure (Pixies; Crosby, Stills, and Nash). As you’re likely aware, Yankovic released eight music videos over eight days, a little Hanukkah in July if you will, to promote the album. While some of the videos are sharply perceptive and nice to listen to on their own, others are straight-up annoying — albeit generally in that endearing, brotherly way.
Here are all eight videos for your viewing and listening pleasure, ranked from worst to best:
8. “Lame Claim To Fame”
The video for “Lame Claim to Fame,” Al’s detailed account of all the minor ways he’s connected to celebrities, is a cool cut-paper, stop-motion art piece. It looks like a scrapbook a young celebrity stalker like Perez Hilton might have made in eighth grade, which is surely the point. The lyrics are funny, but not his funniest, like, “I threw up in an elevator next to Christian Slater.” What kills this one is the sound of the song, done in the style of Southern Culture on the Skids. Quite simply, it’s annoying… but I think we can blame Southern Culture on the Skids for that.
7. “Mission Statement”
Today’s release, on the Wall Street Journal‘s Speakeasy blog, is “Mission Statement,” a song laden with corporate-speak, recorded in the style of Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” The idea behind it is quite smart, as Al explains on Speakeasy:
“I wanted to do a song about all the ridiculous double-speak and meaningless buzzwords that I’ve been hearing in office environments my entire life. I just thought it would be ironic to juxtapose that with the song stylings of CSN, whose music pretty much symbolizes the antithesis of corporate America.”
Unfortunately, the joke isn’t really sustainable for an entire song — it’s funny for a verse, maybe. And the whiteboard video is bland, despite taking ten months to make.
6. “Sports Song”
“Sports Song” isn’t a parody exactly, just an opportunity to poke fun at college fight songs across the land with wordy verses — “Your sports team is vastly inferior / That simple fact is plainly obvious to see / We’re gonna kick your collective posterior / Of course you realize we’re speaking figuratively” — and a simple chorus: “We’re great / And you suck.” Let’s just say we wouldn’t download this one, but we’re glad it exists.
5. “First World Problems”
The jokes in “First World Problems,” a spot-on pastiche of Pixies songs “Debaser” and “No. 13 Baby,” aren’t new per se, but at least they’re funny, bemoaning such issues as not getting wifi in your kitchen or having to buy something you don’t need just to qualify for Amazon’s free shipping. It’s also highly entertaining to watch Weird Al play a douchey blonde guy in the Liam Lynch-directed video.
“Handy,” a parody of Iggy Azalea and Charli XCX’s song-of-the-moment “Fancy,” looks like the kind of low-budget commercial that would air on a local news channel in the Midwest (and then go viral for a few days). It’s funny in an obvious sort of way, and the graphic backgrounds recall those beautiful flying toaster screensavers from early computers. This is pretty classic Weird Al, but he probably didn’t have to try too hard to write it.
Patton Oswalt is a supporting actor in “Foil,” Al’s parody of Lorde’s “Royals.” Here we see Weird Al doing what he does best: squeezing multi-syllabic words into small spaces, making us look at a household item in a slightly more poetic way, and putting a “weird” twist on a parody that seems pretty straightforward (watch all the way through to understand what we mean). Also, it’s nice to see Patton Oswalt silent.
“Tacky,” Weird Al’s “Happy” parody, was a strong contender for first place, but for reasons we’ll get into in a minute, it just couldn’t stand up to the #1 song. Al rounded up a group of comedian pals, including Kristen Schaal, Eric Stonestreet, Margaret Cho, and Jack Black, to appear in the video, which was shot in one continuous take. The lyrics are basically perfect, and double as a little etiquette manual you can sing in your head when considering questionable behavior (“I Instagram every meal I eat” should cause more than a few millennials to blush in shame). Also, anyone else get the implied allusion to School of Rock‘s great line, “You’re tacky and I hate you!” by Al’s inclusion of Jack Black? Am I reaching? I don’t think so.
1. “Word Crimes”
“Word Crimes” — which I hope will unseat its predecessor, “Blurred Lines,” in that region of the brain where sticky songs get trapped on a loop — wins top honors for many reasons. One, we need an updated bit of Schoolhouse Rock-style education for the Internet generation, who seem to forget how to spell another batch of words daily, smashing simple grammar rules beneath their quick-typing fingers. Two, I don’t need to remind anyone of the terribleness of the “Blurred Lines” lyrics, but we all know that the Pharrell-produced hook is catchy as hell. This way, we can enjoy a producer’s great work without also celebrating the sad, creepy asshole who profited from it. Thanks, Weird Al!