Weird Al taught our generation everything we know about being hip: letting your freak flag fly and enjoying pop culture with a grain of salt and an air of sarcasm. This nostalgic nerd icon has had an enormous influence on the attitudes and approaches that have helped millennials navigate this brave new world of technology and culture. In his latest album, Mandatory Fun, Weird Al proves he is still deeply in touch with life as it is in this age of rapidly changing technology and norms and his timeless wacky sense of humour.
Handy reverses the bourgeois themes of consumption and glamour of Iggy Azelea's "Fancy" by celebrating the values of the working class in an ode to the handyman. This song gives a nod to vintage nostalgia by referencing MacGyver and Jay-Z. The music aptly matches Fancy while Al's semi-pubescent vocals (a feat likely not easily achieved considering he is now 50-odd years old) beg us not to take the track too seriously. Too late for me, of course, because I am already wondering if through reversal we are not still imposing a structure of celebrating the usefulness and exploitability of the working class.
Lame Claim to Fame, a pastiche (that is, not a parody of a specific song but an imitation of a style) of rockabilly group Southern Culture On The Skids, discusses our culture's obsession with celebrities and our desire to be recognized. As Al describes stories of a neighbour's best friend's dog sharing kennels with Nick Cage's cat and another absurd celebrity stories, it's impossible to not notice that we invest so much in knowing a friend of a friend of a celebrity, rather than celebrating our own small achievements. What is it that makes celebrities so different from any other human being on this earth?
Foil managed to create a parody of Lorde's "Royals" entirely focused on aluminum foil by introducing a twist of Shamalanic proportions. Instead of this song getting as stale as an unwrapped sandwich, Al (Yes, three paragraphs in, and we are on a first-name basis.) gave the piece lots of humourous and unexpected material with his unique twist on the theme. I find it interesting that the original focuses on poverty and the economic stratification of America, a topic which frequently induces accusations of conspiracy theories and class warfare, and meanwhile Yankovic's parody overtly discusses conspiracy theory. I can't help but get the feeling that Al is choosing to parody certain songs with certain themes as a means of continuing the conversation. Perhaps I am overinterpreting here...
Sports Song is a track that manages to say everything I already knew about sports to a catchy marching tune. Glad someone finally said it, because after FIFA I've had more than enough of the jingoistic sports mania!
While "Blurred Lines" has been catching a great deal of flak (I've heard arguments on both sides analysing the lyrics, but I think it's pretty clear Robin Thicke blurs the lines between what makes an acceptable song... and acceptable behaviour), Weird Al manages to refurbish the catchy tune in Word Crimes to a topic we can all relate to: tearing apart other people's grammar. Let's face it: internet commenters who can't differentiate between they're/their/there are almost as annoying as the people who comment on grammar! This song gave us all a dose of humility and education, however, introducing some grammatical differentiations even I hadn't been aware of.
My Own Eyes, a pastiche of the Foo Fighters, shows our voyeuristic addiction, an obsession with using the internet to dig up the disgusting and bizarre, that which "cannot be unseen." It reminds me of a scene in "Oryx and Crake" where the main character, Jimmy, uses the internet to dig up violent and disgusting sensationalized entertainment. At first he's critical, but he finds it difficult to stop and becomes desensitized to the violence. This song left me wondering: if we consume enough of the bizarre, do we become bored with our own lives?
Of course, it wouldn't be a Weird Al album without the mandatory polka remix mashup. Now That's What I Call Polka! features tracks from Miley Cyrus, Foster The People, Carly Rae Jepsen, Macklemore, and even a personal favourite, Daft Punk. To me, this track shows how pop music all sounds the same and nothing has changed. Our idea of "cool" is just a minor variation on the same formula, and with the details removed, music, culture and "coolness" hasn't changed throughout Western history.
I really enjoyed Mission Statement. Who would expect that taking the folksy, psychedelic sound of Crosby, Stills & Nash and contrasting it with the corporate buzzwords of a mission statement would have such an impact? Crossing the grassroots feeling of retro folk with the seemingly opposite bureaucratic atmosphere of corporate documentation revealed that both share a tendency to use vague, trendy but empty words to pretend to be meaningful and powerful. I was also surprised that both share imagery from nature to evoke themes of growth and movement.
Inactive is parody of "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons about sitting around watching TV, eating crap food, never getting proper exercise and staying inside with no sunlight, no friends, and no proper nutrients. I suppose the original was supposed to leave the listener feeling excited and energized while the parody points out the kind of lifestyle many people today have, which is quite the opposite.
First World Problems is a pastiche of The Pixies about exactly what you think it does. The first world problems described in this track are absolutely ridiculous — they're more like 1% problems! If this song makes you laugh, I recommend checking out whitewine.com.
Tacky is straight up my favourite track that came up just at the right time. Just as I was feeling tired of the overplayed but delightfully cheerful "Happy", I can enjoy it anew with fresh, hilarious lyrics. One thing this song drew to my attention that I thought was interesting how "Tacky" conflates poor aesthetic decisions with straight up being an inconsiderate jerk. Why is it that something as innocent as wearing stripes with plaid is put under the same category as street harassment or public drinking? Maybe I don't appreciate just how deeply terrible fashion can affect society.
Jackson Park Express, a Cat Stevens pastiche, was very relatable for me because I am a regular public transportation user. The song begins heartwarmingly enough about what seems to be two people who are interested in one another, but, true to our age, have difficulty actually starting up a conversation. I thought perhaps it was a song about two delightfully quirky, random people who will never love each other because they are too shy. As the song progresses, however, it become weirder and weirder, until it's obvious this is just a song about some creeper on the bus projecting his fantasies onto some poor woman who just wants to ride the bus in peace! I should have known — it never fails that the person who manages to strike up a conversation with you on the bus is a weirdo!
I enjoyed Weird Al's classic random humour in this album, and although it will be his last traditionally published album, he has more work to come. This album had a way of looking at modern life and pointing out interesting idiosyncrasies while maintaining a lighthearted view. Even though it was the same Weird Al humour, it had a deeper side as well.