Why Weird Al Yankovic, the Anti-Troll, Is More Relevant Than Ever


When it comes to chronicling pop music trends, Weird Al is as dependable as Now That’s What I Call Music! compilations. Every few years, Yankovic offers up new parodies that pack a light enough punch that even grandmothers and children under the age of ten can appreciate the humor. But it was not until this week, 31 years and 14 albums into his career, that Weird Al scored his first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 chart.

As even casual followers of chart history know, an album reaching No. 1 has as much to do with its competitors during its debut week as it does with the LP’s promotion and the quality of its content. Still, Weird Al had a legitimately impressive sales week for someone who occupies his niche: with 104,000 copies sold, his new album Mandatory Fun earned Yankovic his best opening-week numbers since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking sales in 1991.

Weird Al’s PR team deserves kudos for pulling off a concentrated burst of publicity at a time when fans could actually purchase Mandatory Fun. Instead of the initial excitement coming months before the album’s release, word of Yankovic’s latest came just weeks before its arrival. Little was known about it, however, until the videos started surfacing last Monday, just one day before the album’s release. For eight days running, Al released goofy videos for songs off Mandatory Fun through a breadth of outlets that confirmed his ubiquity, from College Humor and Nerdist to The Wall Street Journal and Yahoo. The Internet was difficult to navigate last week without running into some piece of content tangentially related to Weird Al. It’s a good thing he has proven so difficult to hate, or else the backlash would have extended beyond a persnickety linguist and some Twitter contrarians.

“Three years ago, I released a video for every single track from [2011’s] Alpocalypse,” Al explained to Vice this past weekend. “I’m not gonna say I’m the first person to do that. I’m sure someone did it before me. But what irked me was, when I came out with this eight-videos-in-eight-days thing, people were like ‘Oh, you’re pulling a Beyoncé.’ and I have to be like, ‘No, actually Beyoncé was pulling a ‘Weird Al.'”

Still, the success of Mandatory Fun goes beyond a smart, albeit overwhelming, promotional strategy that was unavailable to Weird Al before the rise of the viral video less than a decade ago. Anything has the power to go viral now, especially a competent pop-song parody, but perhaps more crucial to Yankovic’s success in 2014 is the Outrage Renaissance we’re experiencing in online culture. Even in the three years since he mocked Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift on Alpocalypse, think-piecing has reached a tipping point. There are simply too many opinions on the Internet (some of which come from this website!), and in the cultural think-piece hierarchy, humor is the Trump Card.

The type of ubiquitous hit singles Yankovic chooses for his good-natured parodies — which on Mandatory Fun include Lorde’s “Royals” as “Foils,” Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” as “Handy,” Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” as “Word Crimes,” Pharrell’s “Happy” as “Tacky,” etc. — have been debated to the point of exhaustion since their respective releases. It’s hard to get ruffled feathers over a perfectly executed parody of “Fancy” that sounds like it was written by Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor. In this sense, Yankovic is the anti-troll: he’s not aiming to upset anyone, only inspire belly laughs. In the current, anger-driven climate of the web, we need more figures like Weird Al.

Likewise, the collective Internet has dissected everything that’s wrong with “Blurred Lines” so many times that the only thing left to create is a seemingly random parody about contractions, the clever video for which has already racked up nearly 11 million YouTube views. A welcome reprieve indeed, and not just for those of us who have strong opinions about Oxford comma usage. If it gets people to stop using the word “literally” incorrectly, great. Even better if it gets them to care about Weird Al after more than three decades of well-crafted silliness.