Sunday, June 12, 2011

Parody: The Semi-Sincere Form of Flattery

Writing about outstanding seniors got me thinking about one of the most famous valedictorians of all time: "Weird Al" Yankovic. Yes, the singer/songwriter graduated at the top of his high school class and went on to top the Australian singles chart ("Eat It," 1984) and the almost-top of the Billboard Hot 100 (#9 for for "White & Nerdy," 2006). For those who haven't heard Weird Al, you should start listening. His new album, Alpocalypse, will be his first release since 2006, expected to hit stores June 21st.

So who is this Weird Al? He writes parodies, and occasionally original music (based on an artist's style), poking fun at artists, French people, and anything he can think of. Apparently, you don't need permission to parody music (to a limited extent), but he insists on getting it anyway. Sometimes, that's worked out really well; Michael Jackson let him use original sets for his "Fat" parody of "Bad." Other times, not so much; "Amish Paradise" ("Gangsta's Paradise") didn't go over so well with Coolio, so Al made a point to insist on speaking to the actual artist when requesting permission. GaGa's manager wouldn't let him sell "Perform This Way" ("Born This Way"), but when GaGa saw it online (Al released it for free), she granted him permission. Any proceeds from the song are now going to the Human Rights Campaign.

Al also likes to parody the music videos on occasion; "Smells Like Nirvana" ("Smells Like Teen Spirit") is a perfect example:
Original Song by Nirvana

Parody by Weird Al

Just so I'm offering a little more than the Wikipedia article condensed, here's a list of my favorite Weird Al selections to date:
WDTAHTM is my favorite, at least in terms of message; shame we don't have a music video. I'm told it's a style parody of Ben Folds.

Al, of course, isn't the only one out there doing parodies. Six13 and Kurt Hugo Schneider both rewrote the lyrics of Justin Bieber's "Baby," which I've mashed together into a moderately-enjoyable video:

Speaking of Bieber, this parody's pretty good, too:

So what makes parodies so great? For one thing, the artists don't need to come up with great music - it's already out there. In fact, parodists can select the very best beats from everything on the air, using only the catchiest tunes for their work. Then, they can take as long as they'd like (well, perhaps they should hurry if the song is losing popularity) coming up with better lyrics. Because so many parodies are comical, there's a built-in advantage; funny music (which pop typically isn't) is a welcome relief from all of the love songs.

Mix great music with funny lyrics, and you've got something marketable to your fans, the original artist's fans, and anyone who wants a good laugh. It even helps the original artists; fans of the parodist will likely go check out the originals.

There you have it. Now get out there and parody something. Heck, you could even do some culture jamming and parody advertisements. Post links if you do!

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