"Weird Al" Yankovic on Arcade Fire, Robin Thicke, Prince and 'Mandatory Fun'
Published Jul 15, 2014On his new album Mandatory Fun, "Weird Al" Yankovic does his usual mix of infectious originals and stellar parodies of contemporary Billboard hit singles (i.e., songs by Iggy Azalea, Imagine Dragons, Robin Thicke, Lorde, and Pharrell Williams are all sent up). Asked if he has considered satirizing any self-serious indie rock by Arcade Fire, Spoon or the National, Yankovic tells Exclaim! he's still waiting for one of these bands to really break.
"They're all on my radar," he explains. "I know Arcade Fire are huge and they win Album of the Year Grammys and their album's at the top of the charts, but I usually wait until they have a single that reaches mainstream status.
"I had the same thing with Nirvana. I loved the band and I was thinking, 'These guys are great, it's too bad they're never going to be famous enough for me to do a parody.' Then I watched 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' climb the charts and when it hit No. 1, I thought, 'Okay, now's the time.' So I'm sure these bands will have their mainstream breakthrough on the singles chart and then it's fair game."
As is his wont, Yankovic has taken his source material as a jumping-off point and then gone off in some absurd direction, deliberately hitting the deck instead of the pool. Iggy Azalea's "Fancy" becomes a DIY home repair anthem called "Handy," Lorde's "Royals" is a tribute to aluminum "Foil," and Pharrell Williams' ubiquitous "Happy" is a Larry David-esque diatribe about human misbehaviour called "Tacky."
All of these will make you laugh, but nothing is as funny and pointed as "Word Crimes," which takes "Blurred Lines" down an unlikely path. While Robin Thicke has been a punching bag since the song came out, Yankovic totally ignores him.
"Most of my parodies aren't directly referencing the original song or original artist," he clarifies. "Because we live in the YouTube age, I knew that if I put out a 'Blurred Lines' parody a year after the fact, I probably wouldn't be the first parody out there. There have been thousands of 'Blurred Lines' parodies, most of them about Robin Thicke and how rape-y the song is.
"I wanted to do something that was completely unrelated to that, so I decided to make it about the proper usage of grammar, which I'm guessing I'm probably the only person to go in that particular direction. Which also means it's probably the only chance that 'Blurred Lines' will be used in the curriculum of somebody's school."
Interestingly, there's one artist who does get called out by name on "Word Crimes." At one point Yankovic sings: "You should never write words using numbers / Unless you're seven or your name is Prince!" The shot stems from the fact that, yes, the Purple One tends 2 do that but also because he has never permitted Yankovic to parody any of his work and it kind of sticks in Al's craw.
"I honestly haven't tried," Yankovic answers when asked if he's approached Prince about a parody recently. "I mean, there hasn't been a song that he's done that I've felt is mainstream enough for me to consider as a parody. If something came along, I wouldn't have any problem asking him, but I haven't asked for his permission, probably for 20 years now. I kind of got the message loud and clear in the late '80s and early '90s that he wasn't so much into the parody thing."
Having said that, Prince seems to be letting his hair down of late. There was that Breakfast Can Wait artwork featuring an image of Dave Chappelle dressed as him serving pancakes on an old episode of Chappelle's Show. Plus he was on New Girl recently and released a single with Zooey Deschanel. These things were vaguely fun.
"I'd like to think that people change and Prince in particular could use a little lightening up, and it sounds like he is so that's nice to hear," Yankovic chuckles.
Mandatory Fun arrives today (July 15) via RCA Records. You can watch the new video for "Tacky" below.
Read our recent Questionnaire with "Weird Al" Yankovic here.