Over at Grantland, Steven Hyden has penned a sort of half-hearted hit job on “Weird Al” Yankvoic. Much as I hate to assail the journalistic integrity of one of my favorite sites, it feels like little more than very competent clickbait to publish a piece with the sub-heading “do we still need Weird Al?” the moment Yankovic has stepped back into the social media spotlight (the satirist has released three videos from his forthcoming album in the last three days). At the end of the second paragraph, Hyden notes–presumably with the impatient breathlessness of a 90s-born teenager–that recording an entire album of top 40 parodies isn’t the easiest thing to do in a timely fashion. In the age of consumer-tantrum appeasement that we live in, after all, relevance has been reduced to a 2-3 day window, and as Hyden explains, “late is usually worse than ‘lesser quality’ these days.”
There’s no accounting for taste, but let me be the first to regurgitate the old engineering axiom: cheap, fast, or good–pick two. Hyden even goes on to snarkily point out that Al’s latest album, Mandatory Fun is full of songs that were big last summer (emphasis Hyden’s), as though the quality and usefulness of parody and comedy were dependent on the satirist being as up to date with his quips and references as a caffeine-addled redditor. Quality takes time, and as any salty old comedian can tell you, the essence of great material is timeless.
Weird Al’s songs seldom parody the person making the song because Weird Al himself seems to have very little of his brand invested in making Robin Thicke or Lorde look like an idiot (an example media outlets like TMZ, who gathered like slobbering dogs to record Yankovic politely asking Iggy Azalea for permission to parody her hit “Fancy”, would do well to follow). He’s a talented musician and comedian invested in the business of making high quality material that makes people laugh. Right now, when we’re more obsessed with ourselves and our identities and how we appear to other people–one can only guess how much anxiety is a direct result of fretting about the “right” likes, shares, instagram photos, and relationship choices–Al’s obsession with silliness is refreshing, and at times, seems downright heroic.
Unlike most satirists, Yankovic skewers himself, or at least the characters he plays rather than writing direct send-ups of the songs or artists. In the video for “Foil” (source material: Lorde’s “Royals”), Weird Al puts himself in the narrator’s role of a man whose obsession with freshness take a sudden hard left turn into wingnut conspiracy theories, a conceit that’s helped along by the divergent paths of the video’s narrative and the “behind-the-scenes” video-in-video segments featuring Patton Oswalt as a director who may or may not be an Illuminati lizard-person.
It’s moments like these when Weird Al is at his best. When he’s found a way to satirize and thus breathe new life into some decent pop music that has been overplayed well past its sell-by date whilst simultaneously telling a certain demographic to cut the shit in the goofiest and most non-threatening way possible. Who is being taken to task here, if anyone? Lorde, or folks who spend way too much time on Prison Planet?
By that same token, who exactly is Hyden taking to task (perhaps unconsciously): a battle-tested comedian and undisputed master of parody or the notion that perhaps the best art, even silly, goofy-beyond-words art featuring grown men with perms and accordions, needs to spend longer than a few days in the fermentation chamber? We’re becoming a nation of artists that continue to kowtow to impatient brats who demand immediate gratification for impulses that won’t last longer than a week or so at best, and as a result, half-formed gobbledygook like Lost or Prometheus or the last few episodes of True Detective are slowly becoming the norm. Some people, it appears, would rather have things fast, cheap, and mediocre.
Be careful what you wish for.