The video for PerformThis Way, Weird Al Yankovic’s parody of Born This Way, is now up on YouTube. I haven’t watched it yet. I doubt that I’d get too much amusement out of watching it, given that I’ve never listened to any song by Lady Gaga, nor paid any attention to her, and I don’t intend to start doing so anytime soon. I feel confident, however, that both the song and the video for Perform This Way are brilliant. After all, they were made by Weird Al Yankovic.
Weird Al has been making parodies for about thirty years now. Many trends in music have come and gone during that time, but his technique has remained remarkably stable. First he takes a song that’s hip and popular among young people. Then he takes a topic that is completely unhip and not at all popular among young people, such as obesity, surgery, the Flintstones, Amish people, plumbing, or personal computers. Lastly he mashes the song and the topic together and comes up with comedy gold.
If the approach is always the same, the variety of musical styles that he’s gone after is remarkably varied. Furthermore, he has talent. In most cases he doesn’t write the music, though in a few cases he does. His talent lies in writing the lyrics and is picking the particular jokes to include. His videos are particularly noteworthy simply because of their energy. Weird Al never does things by half measure. He throws himself whole-heartedly into the task of imitating the style and flair of the original while apparently taking everything with total seriousness. There is no self-reference and no winking at the audience. At the same time, his satire is never biting or bitter. You could never think that the man actually dislikes any of the musicians he’s parodying–or, for that matter, the uncool subject matter that he’s linking it too. Here are a few of his best efforts.
My brother and I started listening to Weird Al around 1992, when I was ten and my brother was eleven. He’d already been doing his stuff for almost twenty years by then, and he’s still popular today. Few musicians can claim as much. I’m not talking about groups like Santana, who disappear for decades and then reappear. And I not talking about acts like KISS, who stay “popular” by hawking Diet Dr. Pepper. I’m talking about musicians who continuously release new music that is worth listening to. Weird Al has talent, and with that in mind I’m not surprised to learn that (according to Wikipedia) he was valedictorian of his high school class.