You may have heard that “Weird Al” Yankovic, that bastion of pop music parody for over 30 years, is coming out with a new album next Tuesday, July 15, called Mandatory Fun. I’ve been a huge Al fan for about 16 years now, and I am ridiculously excited! Like, really. It’s surprising even me how much I’m looking forward to it.
I certainly knew Al’s work in the 1980s, even though I wasn’t a huge fan then the way I am now. I loved “Eat It” and “Ricky,” and some of the other hits that got regular airplay, but that’s about as far as it went. When I met my closest friend Gina in the mid-1990s, she (re)introduced me to Al’s music, specifically Running with Scissors, which has the song “The Saga Begins,” his Phantom Menace parody to Don McLean’s “American Pie.” (Gina is the fan-turned-friend who “gave him a book called ‘Diet For A New America,'” which led to his becoming a vegetarian.)
Listening to Running With Scissors, I was blown away by how smart, clever, and sophisticated his music is. Whether a direct parody, like “Jerry Springer,” which changes the lyrics to BareNaked Ladies’s “One Week,” or a style parody like “Ringtone,” an original song brilliantly written in the style of Queen, I marveled at the close rhymes, clever subjects, and truly spectacular musical ability. I’d always liked him, but listening to his earlier music you can tell it’s often silly and not nearly as nuanced as his later material. He’s definitely developed into an Artist. If you only know him from his radio hits, do yourself a favor and pick up one of his albums.
I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting Al several times, and I think he knows who I am, or at least recognizes me (Gina and I even danced during his shows more than once). Not surprisingly, he’s a wonderfully kind and sweet guy. In fact, like probably more celebrities than we realize, he seems introverted and uncomfortable with meeting strangers, even though it’s a huge part of his profession. It’s pretty fascinating to consider.
TMZ recently posted a video (embedded below) they got of Al talking to Iggy Azalea, singer of the song “Fancy,” asking her if he could parody her song. I don’t follow TMZ at all; I actually hate what they do, and this video is a good example of why. The title of the article is “Iggy Azalea Gets Ambushed by Weird Al.” Ambushed. Not approached, not proposed, not asked or talked to, but AMBUSHED. So you go in expecting to see something resembling a football tackle.
Of course the video is nothing like that. In fact, what struck me is how …awkward he looks. I certainly don’t mean that as an insult–in fact I find it endearing, and encouraging.
He looks like a fanboy!
Despite TMZ saying they “got the whole thing on video,” we don’t actually see the whole conversation, nor can we really hear what they’re saying, but his body movement, his stance, the way he waves goodbye, and ducks his head as he does it, all these express (to me, at least) an awkwardness, a kind of discomfort that you’d think he’d be long over, having done this kind of thing for 30-odd years. Because he writes parody, which follows different copyright rules, he isn’t required to get permission to use someone else’s songs, but he does it out of courtesy for the original artists, and has since he started, I believe.
I’ve been pursuing entertainment journalism for about two years now, but I’m first and foremost a fan (which is why I wanted to pursue entertainment journalism). I’ve had a few opportunities to meet some of my heroes and it gets better–they’re people, just like us civilians are–and yet I still always feel awkward speaking to artists I admire. I don’t want to sound like an idiot or do something stupid. So whether or not Al actually felt uncomfortable approaching Iggy Azalea or not, it’s encouraging to remember that he is a person, just like me. Perhaps someday I’ll ask him about it.