This past week, the music news cycles have been dominated by one of music’s most unlikely candidates—namely, veteran popstar parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic. After a modest reception of his previous effort Alpocolypse in 2011, the jokester is actually aiming for his first No. 1 record ever with Mandatory Fun, which dropped this week.
What’s different about this one? Not much, really, as far as the content is concerned. It’s the same basic formula by which Yankovich has carved out his niche for decades—crafty parodies of modern-day hit songs, with a few comic originals thrown in for good measure, along with the ever popular polka medley. Nope, what’s different is the way in which the music is being released, thanks to some clever marketing and leveraging of social media. Every day this week, “Weird Al” released a new song on video from the LP—and pretty much every video has gone viral. It’s not as innovative as Beyoncé’s surprise release of her eponymous “visual album” last fall, but it’s a brilliant use of current media outlets. And Yankovic is promising more to come.
Apparently, it’s paying off big-time. Despite reigning fears from industry executives that online streaming is cannibalizing album sales, people aren’t just watching the videos: they’re buying the record. Billboard indicates that Mandatory Fun is currently on track to top the Billboard 200 album chart. If this happens, it will constitute the first No. 1 album of Yancovic’s career, and probably set some sort of milestone or record for comedy records in general.
Having one’s song parodied by “Weird Al” has been something of an unspoken rite of passage for popular musicians over the years, somehow ironically legitimizing one’s standing as superstar. That being the case, some newcomers to the scene ought to feel very flattered—namely, Lorde (whose hit “Royals” is turned into “Foil,” one of the album’s funniest tunes), and Aussie rapper Iggy Azalea, whose debut LP has been out barely three months (“Fancy” becomes “Handy”).
Other parodies are more predictable, including “Tacky,” which doesn’t only mimic Pharrell’s smash hit “Happy”, but also takes its cue from the accompanying music video, eliciting help from celebrity comedians such as Jack Black and Margaret Cho. And while Robin Thicke has fallen out of public favor of late, Yankovic’s parody of “Blurred Lines” (“Word Crimes”) is certain to delight annoyed wordsmiths the world over.
So we come to the end of perhaps the biggest single week of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s career—and his run at the media isn’t over yet. We’ve yet to see videos for the other half of the album. It will be interesting to see if Yankovic’s media momentum continues.