“Weird Al” Yankovic is a comedy performer, his work is always about funny first. Funny that can stand-up to time and repeated listens. References may change (I’m looking at you MySpace in “White and Nerdy”), but the ideas hold up. Often inherent in comedy is social commentary. It can be the sugar that helps the medicine go down (sorry, my kids have been watching Mary Poppins a lot lately). When the chimneys of society need cleaning, connecting funny words to feelings can help people clarify ideas.
Al has never really explicitly delved into issues. But, there are two instances I want to talk about when the art had a more serious tone than usual: the video for “TMZ” and the song “Why Does This Always Happen to Me?”
I was bursting with fatherly pride when my five year old daughter requested that we spend another evening watching “Weird Al” videos. As we were making our way through Al’s YouTube channel, we watched the video for “TMZ”. The song from 2011′s Alpocalypse is a parody of Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me”. The song is a pretty straightforward fun poking at the infamous website and celeb obsessed media culture in general. But, the video is an artful analysis of privacy, media and shaming.
The video for “TMZ” is about a woman who has her picture taken by a sneaky assailant. The picture then goes viral and we follow the woman as she tries to move through her life while dodging voyeuristic and judgmental goofballs until she is swallowed. The video struck me as so sad. The woman didn’t do anything that she was now ashamed of, she didn’t try to use the media for promotion, she was ambushed and became a part of something else.
The song “Why Does This Always Happen to Me?” is an Al original. It’s a Ben Folds style parody (Folds also plays the piano on the song) from the 2003 album Poodle Hat. This is a song that may need some context for the social commentary to be fully felt. In 2003 we were in the mists of a wave of capitalizing on tragedy with entertainment, especially in song. There were a number of over wrought diddies that kind of tried to inserted the singer into world events. I don’t know if this trend is specifically what Al is commenting on, but that’s how I’ve always heard it. If you are too young to have been aware in the early 2000′s some of the satire may be lost on you, but let’s explore.
The song starts with a very earnest Al singing about watching TV and hearing about an earthquake in Peru. He sings of his sadness at hearing the news. But, then he twists it. The sadness is really about the news interpreting his recording of The Simpsons. This horrible event has caused destruction – making him miss some of his favorite show. The verses become increasingly silly, but the idea remains consent: we to often latch onto tragedies and try to inflate minor injustices in our lives to the level of disaster. It’s an explosion of an ‘I’m sad too, what about me?’ mentality. Brilliance wrapped in goofiness.