485. “Weird Al” Yankovic’s ‘Weird Al Yankovic In 3-D’ (A Conversation With Known “Weird Al” Hater James Normington)
A few weeks ago, I bought the sophomore album from Weird Al, Weird Al In 3-D. I would say I’m not really a Weird Al fan, per se, but this record was too goofy to not spend the $5 on. I wasn’t sure what I’d have to say about Weird Al, but I knew exactly who to call: My friend James Normington, a grad student in Minneapolis, who is a known Weird Al hater. I wanted to get to the bottom of James’ hatred, and create interesting content, so we emailed back and forth yesterday. I think ultimately, it made me hate Weird Al and now I’m not sure if I want this record anymore.
Andrew: James, I am asking you to do this because 1. I want you to be involved with my Tumblr somehow because I am a professional at involving my friends in my shit and 2. Because, incredibly, you are the only person I have ever met who vehemently hates Weird Al. I know people who don’t like him much—my moms for instance—but you like seriously hate him. I remember that time at karaoke those girls did his American Pie Star Wars shit, and you kept yelling to me about how Weird Al is “an unfunny piece of shit fuckboy.” For the record, I think he’s Important to pop culture history, but he hasn’t been remotely funny since at least “Amish Paradise.”
So, I guess to start, tell me why you dislike Weird Al. When did it start? What set you off on your Weird Al holocaust?
James: I appreciate this opportunity. It’s always been an outsider-looking in type of hate. Honestly, I am flabbergasted at the lack of criticism he gets every time he releases a song. I’ll do my best to explain.
My first memory of Weird Al is hearing “Amish Paradise” when I was growing up. I laughed along to it, but it was more of a “HAHA I GET THIS I UNDERSTAND WHAT HE IS SAYING GUYS LOL” rather than a “Wow, this is genuinely funny.” The song is much more mean than it is funny, which is a common theme in his stuff.
To best answer your question — I went to a private high school, so most of my classmates come from a good amount of money. I was placed in an advanced math class freshman year of high school that was taught by a pretty goofy dude. One day we were kind of dickin’ around and the teacher reveals he loves Weird Al and knows “White and Nerdy” by heart. He recites the whole thing and was validated with laughter by a sea of white rich dorks. It was the most under-the-rug scene of privilege, superiority, and caucasian smugness. I have a separate manifesto about the song itself, should I go into that?
Andrew: Yeah, tell me about your “White and Nerdy” manifesto. I think there is something to be said for the fact that I think Weird Al escapes a lot of the appropriation talk that comes in with like, Miley Cyrus, or whoever. No one is writing thinkpieces about how Weird Al is taking a song about the harsh realities of the Los Angeles Ghetto (“Gangsta’s Paradise”) and turned it into a giant joke. I also think it’s impossible for him to co-opt like, Chief Keef. He knows which targets are safe, which is maybe his biggest asset as a parodist.
James: Yeah, exactly. How does he get away with that so cleanly? I could go into the whole cultural appropriation thing but I’ll leave it to the reader to just look at the lyrics. It’s terrible. I’m nowhere near as hypersensitive as your Sociology 101 professor, but there is something to be said about positive stereotypes still being stereotypes. If you don’t bat an eye at “White and Nerdy”, don’t you dare get angry about “Asian and Mathematically Gifted”, “Black and Good at Basketball”, “Hispanic and Romantic”, or “Jewish and Thrifty”. That being said, I don’t hate Weird Al because I think he’s racist (intentionally, at least). I hate him because he is a musical genius in the way that Buzzfeed writers are accomplished journalists — he has a formula (and it fucking works because humanity sucks and everyone lacks critical thinking skills):
1) Take an extremely popular song.
2) Take out the original lyrics.
3) Replace the lyrics with
a. universally relatable garbage (“First World Problems”, “Don’t Download this Song”)
b. new lyrics which are coherent but completely unrelated to the original lyrics (almost every other song)
Do you see why this works? The only difference between a popular song and a song by Weird Al is the lyrics, which is pretty hard to mess up with the right studio equipment.
Andrew: I mean, I feel you, but I think there’s sort of a generation gap here. When Weird Al was at his big peak—say, 1991—there wasn’t a million people making jokes about current songs like there is now, or least not in a public forum. He was basically the only dude out there making the “Eat It” joke. I think his schtick was originally sorta unique—and it was unreal that he became famous enough to make a movie (UHF)—but now he’s too late on most of his parodies because people have already made the same joke a million times. I think I’m about the last age of person who can think that Weird Al is “Important.”
I think the interesting thing about this album (Weird Al in 3-D) specifically, is how ephemeral his stuff is, and how there are only 2 songs on it that I can identify which songs its parodying. I kind of wonder where he’s going to end up historically. Like, in 25 years, are kids going to listen to “Eat It” and laugh? What do you think? You can’t tell me you at least don’t sorta chuckle at “Eat It.”
James: Yeah, I’m guessing it is a generational gap. With the advent of the technology, information is so accessi- <falls asleep for ten hours> and so basically every joke has been made or is about to be made!
On the real though, I feel you. But it’s just something I can’t see nor do I want to see. Weird Al Yankovic will always be a recognizable name in the realm of music, sadly. Will he be ultra-relevant like he was in the 90’s? No. If the world was fair, he’d be as ephemeral as Corky and the Juice Pigs.
Also, be careful about your use of the word “parody”. When you parody something, you make fun of it or AT THE VERY LEAST you reference it. Weird Al does not parody songs. He steals music.
Andrew: So your thesis is that Weird Al is as bad as Napster? You’re my favorite.
James: Larv you Andrew
James is on Twitter at @Jamesnormington. He is a better lover than he is a fighter.