Thursday, April 21, 2011

“Weird” Al Yankovic – The Man, the Myth, the Breakfast Cereal.

This week, a geek icon has made his way into the news at the center of a controversy. “Weird” Al Yankovic posted on his blog that he had been nearly ready to announce a new album, he was waiting on artist approval for the final song, which would likely be the big single for the release. As a parody artist, all of "Weird" Al's music is protected from allegations of copyright infringement, but his personal policy is to obtain artist permission before commercially releasing a song based on their work.

"Weird" Al's classic look, maintained throughout the 1980s.
“Perform This Way”, based on Lady Gaga's “Born This Way” was written with the intention of being the final song on the new album. When he contacted Gaga's management for permission, he was told initially that she needed to hear the song before giving permission. He forwarded over the lyrics, assuming that if she knew the tune to her own song with his alternate lyrics, this would be enough. Her people sent back a message “She needs to HEAR the song, or the answer is no.” So, assuming the best about others, Yankovic recorded the song, a not inexpensive undertaking. He further offered to donate profits from the song to charity, and the answer came back: “Gaga says no.” The controversy over the situation raged from geek to geek over the internet, and Lady Gaga's manager assumed responsibility, saying that he never actually played the parody for her, she loves it... the answer is now yes. Hmm.

“Weird” Al is an artist that is loved by many, but especially by geeks. He's done several Star Wars parodies, he plays the incredibly nerdy accordion, and of course... his hit “White and Nerdy” hits most items on any geek's checklist of interests. Not all his fans are nerds or geeks (even if we rightly consider him one of “ours”,) Dave Grohl said that he knew that Nirvana had finally made it when “Weird” Al recorded “Smells Like Nirvana,” and Kurt Cobain called him a musical genius. Presidents of the United States liked his version of their hit “Lump” (“Gump”) so much, that they used his words to end the actual song in the live recording. Chamillionaire credited Yankovic for his Grammy for “Ridin'”, saying the exposure from “White and Nerdy” was incredible, with European fans telling him how they'd heard “his version” of the “Weird Al” song.

This isn't the first time that permission, or the lack thereof, has resulted in a scandal. Representatives for Coolio told Yankovic that the artist had given the okay for a parody of “Gangsta's Paradise”, but the artist himself was not a fan of 1996's “Amish Paradise.” This made “Weird” Al change his policy, insisting he needed to hear from the artist themselves regarding permission. James Blunt gave Yankovic the go ahead to record “You're Pitiful”, a parody of “You're Beautiful”, but after the song was recorded and ready to go, Atlantic Records rescinded permission. Rather than defend the song under Fair Use in court, the song was not commercially released, though “Weird” Al performs it live (at least once while wearing an “Atlantic Records SUCK” shirt.)

"If Madonna's allowed to reinvent herself every 15 minutes, I figure I should be good for a change at least once every 20 years."

After 35 years making music, from parodies about food recorded for the benefit of the Dr. Demento radio show in the late 1970s, through the feature film UHF which he wrote and starred in, and to present day, one nerdy favorite has remained current and relevant. He typically outlasts the musical careers of the people who inspire his comedy, and his writing remains clever and his humor typically ages well, even after the original song is forgotten, the parody remains.

My cynical side questions whether the Gaga controversy is truly the work of a manager overstepping his bounds and embarassing the artist he is supposed to represent, or whether this is a case of backpedaling after a public backlash. After all, Lady Gaga was the target of the ire of a lot of “Weird” Al fans after this story broke, and what has Coolio done lately? Seems like being on the wrong side of one of these scandals doesn't work out very well for an artist. What do you think?
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Unknown said...

I'm not sure if this is still the case, but "You're Pitiful" was made available as a free MP3 download for awhile.

Can't wait for the new album.

The Awesome Alien said...

i need that so white and so clean version

The Happy Whisk said...

I was a little amused that she needed to hear the song. Glad it worked out for him in the end with the song, it's nice of him to ask first.

Matt said...

I FREAKING LOVE WEIRD AL! It sounds to me like the Gaga thing is a little PR backpedaling. If anything Weird Al offers a win/win for an artist, because he broadens the exposure while fans of the artist can write him off as a copycat if they don't like his parody. Great post and great videos! I saw Weird Al live once, and his version of "Fat" in a fat outfit was freaking hilarious.

Jay said...

heard the gaga cover, it was okay for me. :)

PekkaK said...

Oh, new Weird Al! This is good news. How you're doing? Still without a job?

The Angry Lurker said...

Always liked him but did not know he was still around, thanks for that.

Moobeat said...

i used to love this guy to death when i was young

Admin said...

lol never heard of him, but i loved that music "white and nerdy"

Jessica Thompson said...

Weird is just... Weird... Come check me out,

Nina said...

I love weird al.

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