What dwells beneath the hair?

Making fun of 25 years worth of music with Weird Al Yankovic

There’s a prevalent fascination with the process of creation not only for artists but also for the community that supports them. Every posturing amateur hack has read a book or two on the craft they love — no matter the medium — and all these books have some portion devoted to the origin of creative energy. Sometimes the emphasis is on ethereal free-association oftentimes it’s on strict discipline and occasionally the two are combined though the sum is never equal to more than its vague parts. Sadly geniuses never know why they’re geniuses. Their minds simply absorb and parse information differently and they’re no better at explaining how they do it than a clock is at explaining how it keeps time accurately. Alfred “Weird Al” Yankovic though not a genius or a clock is an intelligent man who’s made a very lucrative career from parsing out pop cultural information into clever oddly satirical music and is perfectly satisfied giving the same non-answer.

“I just sort of bombard myself with pop culture and saturate myself with all sorts of media and kind of turn it around in my brain and see what comes out” says Yankovic. “I can’t really say too much about the process while it’s in there. When I came up with ‘White and Nerdy’ really when I had the idea for it I was like ‘This is all right. This could be an album track.’ When I started working on it I thought ‘This is actually really good’ and then I thought ‘This could be the single.’ I thought it was a strong track when I was working on it but I never dreamed it would be my biggest single ever.”

Indirectly the success of “White and Nerdy” illustrates how well Yankovic has aged — both literally and musically. On the cusp of 50 he’s been putting out albums with reasonable consistency for half of his life all with the same band and only one change in hairstyle. Full of references to Internet memes and good-natured spoofing of modern rap clichés the recent hit shows just how immersed Yankovic has kept himself in pop culture over the years — and also proves that making fun of ridiculously complex Internet acronyms never gets less funny. The argument is often made that Yankovic has maintained his success through the exploitation of a formula — popular song plus wacky lyrics equals profit — but this isn’t a completely fair assessment.

“I’m not ashamed or embarrassed by the fact that I do parodies” says Yankovic. “I love it and I’ve developed a reputation for doing it well but the whole other side to my career is that I do funny songs that aren’t based on somebody else’s music or at least not one particular song. But there are still people who would say ‘Oh that Weird Al guy all he does is change the lyrics to other people’s music.’ That’s not accurate at all. That’s half my catalogue. The other half is done from scratch and it’s in fact more difficult than just writing original music because I’m doing it in the style of an artist.”

When Yankovic decides to caricature an artist rather than a song he’ll listen to everything they’ve ever written take notes and then attempt to emulate their approach rather than their specific song structure. This has led to the self-described “sly homages” to Frank Zappa Ben Folds and Brian Wilson that flavour his albums which are often appreciated by his fans much more than the direct parodies.

“It’s more of an intellectual approach I guess” says Yankovic. “My humour is never mean-spirited and there are lines I won’t cross. It’s not coming from a dark place. It’s not coming from a bitter angry guy who’s trying to get his angst out into the world. I’m not an unhappy clown. I’m just trying to have a few grins and write a few silly songs and have a good time. There’s not a lot of backstory I’m just trying to come up with some clever songs and make people laugh.”