Tuesday, August 5, 2014

On "Weird Al"

Al is everywhere at the moment because of the success of his new album, Mandatory Fun. What's resulted are a string of bizarre and often largely pointless articles trying to analyse his appeal. This also seems to have brought all the crazies out of the woodwork with an axe to grind, appropriately enough, who can't seem to abide living in a world where a man makes a career re-recording pop songs with silly and humorous lyrics. This may be expected for a guy whose moniker is being "Weird," but in actual fact I've met Al a couple of times and seen a fair bit of footage of him and he comes across as an entirely friendly, grounded and self-aware person who really doesn't match the image of an eccentric musician, especially not the kind of tedious self-involvement of many supposedly mainstream people in music and cinema. What I mean by this, is that I don't see Al as being in any way harmful, nor is his success indicative of something bad. Surely the blame lies with the industry he lampoons and the artists he parodies, not the reverse. Sure, his style of humour is often either whimsical or crude in an entirely inoffensive way, but surely that's what makes him harmless, and therefore not deserving of anger. I admit there are a couple of lyrics here and there which haven't aged well, but other than that I don't see a problem. I'm not interested, however, in "defending" Weird Al, because it seems to me that he doesn't need defending from the kind of insecure people I've been discussing lately, but trying to give a brief interpretation of why people like his stuff.

1. Some people probably like his stuff because they find it funny
Not everyone has the same taste in humour, obviously, and it's entirely possible to enjoy Al's style of humour as well as other, different kinds, which might be more edgy, hard-hitting, vulgar or what have you. But I think it's safe to say that Al makes people laugh: not everyone, I'm sure, but some people. Many of his lyrics are funny, and sometimes the entire concepts or compositions of his songs can be funny - in my opinion, of course. The humour wears off after repeated listening and resurfaces at other times, naturally, but the same is true of any humour. I would argue that this is probably the main source of Al's appeal to the average listener, however, who is in the mood for a chuckle.

2. Some people probably like his stuff because they think the parodies improve the original songs
There's plenty of music out there, but it's altogether possible that people get turned off music for one reason or another, in terms of the lyrics or singing. Never fear: here's Al to replace them with amusing lyrics and his distinctive voice. I honestly think this is probably a reason why Al gets some of his popularity and establishes long-term fans. Take 'Amish Paradise.' The song it's based on (I won't say 'original song' because it's not really original in itself, is it) has exactly the same tune as the parody, of course, but unlike Al's tones, Coolio sounds like he wants to murder you in your sleep. Now I realise that may be the point, but it turns me off that kind of thing. Al, on the other hand, makes it work in a different way. You can enjoy a song you might otherwise never listen to. That may seem like a weak reason, but honestly I would never listen to a lot of the stuff Al parodies voluntarily because without his voice and lyrics, I often find them pretentious, shallow or just plain boring. I think this aspect is probably a good reason for why some people like Al.

3. Some people probably like him as a musician on his own
Al and his band are consummate professionals, able not only to precisely replicate and in some cases even improve upon existing material but also compose entertaining pieces of their own. Now Al's not nearly as well known for his original material as he is for his parodies, unfortunately, so I'm establishing this as the deepest 'tier' as it were of likelihood for someone enjoying Weird Al. My point is, however, that many of Al's original songs are funny and a lot of his music is catchy, and fun to listen to and sing along to. That may not be the most overwhelming argument, but nonetheless I think it's a valid reason for people's enthusiasm.

Not that hard, is it? My whole point is, I don't agree with the implication that Weird Al's success is a problem or somehow a bad thing, and I'm probably only arguing against a very limited and extreme point of view here that evidently not many people hold (like all extremes, really) so it may be pointless, but at least I think this interprets why people like Al: maybe not especially 'deep' reasons, but reasons that I think are perfectly valid. He's entertaining (by a particular standard, of course) and he's not doing any harm. It's not like Al attacks musicians in his lyrics - although kids who like the people he parodies and the occasional stupid seem to labour under the delusion that any parody is criticism - and he rarely even parodies particularly 'important' music, just vapid pop trash that doesn't matter anyway. Surely the fault is with that side of the industry, and Al's actually doing a good thing by, really, highlighting the shallowness of the industry by replacing lyrics with, usually, mundane and intentionally frivolous ones that actually match the process behind the original songs and their exhausted, simplistic topics they indulge. I don't think people actually listen to Al for that reason, most of the time, but at least the concept is there. My view, in the end, is that Al really is "on our side" as it were, and his success is definitely a good thing in addition to being well-deserved recognition of the talents of him and his band.

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