Weird Al’s ‘Mandatory’ Interview: ‘Word Crimes,’ the ‘Tacky’ Video & Prince, Who Still Won’t Say Yes to a Parody
By Kevin Rutherford
Weird Al Yankovic has covered the gamut of popular musicians in his 35-year career, from parodying the Knack’s “My Sharona” as “My Bologna” in 1979 to new album Mandatory Fun, which pokes fun at everything from Iggy Azalea‘s chart-topping “Fancy” (“Handy”) to Pharrell‘s “Happy” (“Tacky”).
But Yankovic, who is noted for always asking for permission from the artist prior to lampooning one of their tunes, still has one major holdout from over the years: Prince.
And what better way to mess with the singer than to get a little jab in during a song — namely “Word Crimes,” his parody of Robin Thicke‘s “Blurred Lines” — that laments writing words using numbers?
“I like to needle Prince every now and then just because he’s the one guy that’s always said no and never has given a reason; I don’t know why,” Yankovic said, laughing, in a recent interview with Radio.com. “I hate to keep picking on him after all this time, but it’s just so fun!”
Prince’s aversion to a Weird Al parody — seen by many as a sign that they’ve truly made it in the industry — goes back decades, and Al recalls an instance in the 1980s when he received a mysterious telegram from the rocker with a strange request.
“I got a telegram from Prince’s office, and this was in the ’80s, this was for the American Music Awards, and apparently I was going to be sitting in the same row as Prince,” Yankovic recalled. “We got a telegram asking that I not establish eye contact with Prince during the course of the show, which, OK, I can get that, I understand, you don’t want to be looked at, that’s fine. So I sent a telegram to him immediately saying, ‘Yes, I don’t want Prince to be looking at me, either. It goes both ways, buddy!'”
Yankovic is currently promoting his new album Mandatory Fun, his first since 2011’s Alpocalypse and perhaps his final conventional album, as he noted in our interview and others. Mandatory Fun zeroes in on some of the past year’s juiciest hit songs/targets, including Azalea’s “Fancy,” which he made into a song about how great he is at home improvement, and the aforementioned rendition of “Blurred Lines” known on his album as “Word Crimes,” a crash course in grammar and spelling for the uninformed.
The latter certainly makes sense for Al to do. He’s certainly a well-documented grammar geek, as evidenced by his YouTube videos. One in particular finds him at the grocery store, shaking his head at the ’15 items or less’ checkout line.
“I thought it’d be fun to do a parody of ‘Blurred Lines’ in the way that I did it because a lot of the parodies that came out on YouTube revolved around his original song being misogynistic and maybe a little rape-y, and I wanted to go the whole opposite direction and change it from a song that was offending a lot of people to a song that could ostensibly be part of a school curriculum,” said Yankovic.
Other songs on the album include the “Happy” parody “Tacky,” which features an all-star cast in the music video including Jack Black, Eric Stonestreet, Aisha Tyler, Kristen Schaal and Margaret Cho.
Yankovic said he “went through his address book” and asked Black to appear in the video first, finding the lone day in his schedule he was available and shooting the clip, which parodies the original’s music video as well. “Man, that was a fun shoot,” he noted. “I think it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had on a video set.”
In 2014, Yankovic finds himself at a bit of a crossroads. Mandatory Fun is the last album in his record label contract, and with YouTube and the rest of the Internet creating a need-it-now mentality for all things—song parodies included—it’s worth it to wonder if Al’s songs, which often include higher production values and see him asking for permission, could soon fall by the wayside. He seems to understand this predicament, but welcomes rather than fears it.
“I was reading a review yesterday morning where the writer was saying that it’s more important for it to be timely than good, which I don’t think I agree with but there’s a kernel of truth in that,” Yankovic said. “People just want it right away and right now, and if it’s like a day after they wanted it, like, ‘Why are you telling me this now?’ In order for me to be competitive with everyone else on YouTube, I’m going to have to get my stuff out there as soon as humanly possible.”
Mandatory Fun is out now.