"Weird Al" Yankovic is a lot of things to a lot of people. He's the closest thing we have to Walter Cronkite these days. He's the American nerdocracy. He was Beyoncé before Beyoncé was Beyoncé. Currently, he's the king of the Internet — the reminder we nostalgic 20-somethings all needed of our childhoods.
Yankovic has been on an incredible winning streak this past week. He released a video a day for eight straight days, starting with the song "Tacky," a parody of Pharrell Williams' "Happy," and ending Monday with "Mission Statement," a brilliant rip on Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's "Suite Judy Blue Eyes." Publications from Slate to the Wall Street Journal to the Atlantic have been scrambling to explain how a man in the fourth decade of his career could suddenly make such a huge splash.
The viral success of these videos has bumped his album, Mandatory Fun, up to No. 1 on the iTunes digital downloads chart, and he's now slated to land the top spot on the Billboard 200 for the first time in his career — as long as he can beat out Jason Mraz's new album Yes.
This has left everyone with one question: How did he do it?
Image Credit: MemeGenerator
The truth is Yankovic has always owned the Internet — even before there was an Internet to own. He essentially created viral comedy video culture with early MTV hits such as "Eat It," a parody of Michael Jackson's "Beat It," and "Like A Surgeon," a parody of Madonna's "Like A Virgin." He identified the foundation of modern pop media culture and made a career out of chronicling and parodying it.
The kids who grew up singing those early parodies in the schoolyard are now nearing 30, but culture is only just catching up with Yankovic. He's been able to remain relevant because of an unflinching and earnest dedication to the oft-overlooked musical comedy genre, even performing soon after his parents died in a tragic accident.
In honor of an incredible career that is just getting its due, here is the definitive ranking of the videos from Yankovic's unbelievable week.
Yankovic's final video, released late Monday morning (and only available here), is a brilliant finale — the indisputable best of his past week. He takes the famous "Suite Judy Blue Eyes" by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and replaces its classic 1969 hippie poetry with contemporary corporate jargon. "It's getting to the point / Where I'm no fun anymore" becomes "We must all efficiently / Operationalize our strategies."
The video is the best glimpse of what makes him so great. Yankovic began his career in the '70s and '80s, much closer to the poetics of CSNY than the jargon of Silicon Valley. He's the goofy bridge between then and now. He's the constant in a changing musical culture always encouraging us to remember — to remember our old music and to remember not to take ourselves too seriously.
Most classic Yankovic videos follow a pattern. They start with a well-known song or songwriting conceit and reframe the lyrics around a wacky premise. Then, verse to verse, the lines get gradually more and more ridiculous until it reaches its ludicrous zenith.
"Foil," a parody of Lorde's "Royals," is the apex of that strategy. The video begins innocently as Yankovic expounds on the preservative benefits of aluminum foil, but halfway through, he loses it. He switches from salesman to Illuminati conspiracy theorist. Suddenly, the foil is less kitchen tool than it is man's last defense against NSA-style surveillance. Hence the foil hat.
Pharrell received astronomical praise for the milquetoast "Happy." A takedown, then, was sorely absent until Yankovic stole the same single-take, dance-walking style of the "Happy" video and reimagined it as a catalogue of the tackiest contemporary behaviors.
Dressed up in awful, clashing colors and horrendous hats (*cough* Pharrell *cough*), Yankovic and a gang of famous comedians skewer modern fashion and social media habits. All of the most awkward Millennial habits — twerking, trolling and snapping selfies at funerals — get a healthy dose of skepticism in the video.
Yankovic takes shots at celebrity name-droppers who will go to any length to claim fame. He introduces such legends as the guy whose "sister took piano lessons from the second-cousin of Ralph Nader" and a guy who "threw up in an elevator next to Christian Slater."
It’s a pretty familiar concept, but who doesn't love a good first world problem joke? There are multiple Internet memes dedicated to the idea, but Yankovic still comes up with some original — and uniquely terrible — lines like "My Sonicare won't recharge, now I gotta brush my teeth like a neanderthal" and "My barista didn't even bother to make a design in the foam on the top of my vanilla latte." SMH.
At this point, it's almost sad to see another person taking a crack at "Blurred Lines." But instead of going after the song or the man (who has taken enough of beating in the social media platforms recently) Yankovic goes after Internet commenters and poor speakers alike, reminding that there's a difference between "lesser" and "fewer," and that "I, C, and U are letters, not words."
In "Sports Song," Yankovic takes the classic college fight song and elevates its diction — "Your sports team will soon suffer swift defeat / That theory's backed up by empirical evidence" — while emphasizing the inescapable lameness of the genre.
With this parody of Iggy Azalea's "Fancy," Yankovic takes us back to the golden age of carpentry humor, when Tim Allen's Home Improvement ruled the airwaves and hitting your finger with a hammer was the funniest thing since poorly sliced bread. Like the best of his songs, its a pleasant snapshot of a moment in time.