[INTERVIEW] 'Weird Al' Yankovic Talks New Album, Iggy Azalea ‘Ambush’ & Calls Out Beyonce, Debuts New Pharrell-Inspired ‘Tacky’ Video For 'Mandatory Fun'
There has been a lot of hype over 'Weird Al' Yankovic's new album Mandatory Fun, perhaps largely due to the parodist's own Twitter account. Sitting as his 14th record, Yankovic exclusively tells Music Times it's the "best thing" he's ever done -- even behind the successes of the legendary Bad Hair Day (1996) and Alpocalypse (2011).
In speaking with MT, the man who made us all more aware of the Amish culture in "Amish Paradise" is nothing short of a delight, fully excited for both the release of the new record and the eight accompanying music videos that go along with it. Just today, in fact, he released the first video –– a "Happy" parody titled "Tacky." And while many are equating the 8-day video-drop to the secret album Beyoncé released back in December 2013, the comedian-musician claims it was he who originated it in 2011, when he unveiled twelve-videos on the day of Alpocalypse's release.
Weird Al's career has spanned decades, with each album acting as a "time capsule" to various eras of pop music, as he says. The musician's pastiches and parodies of famed artists such as Michael Jackson, Coolio, Nirvana and Lady Gaga, to name a mere few, have garnered him a career of amazing accomplishments. And while he faces the unfortunate truth of outlets such as YouTube and Funny or Die allowing others of his ilk to join him in the parodist category, Yankovic's opinion is one of optimism, calling it "healthy."
Weird Al recently spoke with Music Times about Mandatory Fun, that now famous TMZ-Iggy Azalea "ambush" and how Beyoncé actually pulled a 'Weird Al' when releasing her self-titled album.
Music Times: Mandatory Fun comes out today. There seems to be a lot of hype about it, especially after you dropped the tracklist on Twitter. I assume you must be excited about the release.
"Weird Al" Yankovic: Yeah, it's something I'm extremely excited about! I've actually been really excited about it since I started working on it a couple of years ago, but I had to be very quiet about it up until very recently. So, it's nice that other people are starting to get excited about it as well.
MT: Your last album was 2011's Alpocalypse. In those 3 years there's been so many changes in the music industry and artists on the rise. Because of that, has there been anyone in particular you've been particularly excited and hopeful to cover?
AY: I'm happy to say I think I covered pretty much everyone I wanted to here. I'm a fan of everyone I've covered on Mandatory Fun. I like to think my records are time capsules of different periods in music, and I think with the parodies done on this album it gives a general sense of what pop music was in this era.
MT: I know TMZ sort of ruined things a bit by leaking the video of you asking Iggy Azalea but it seems she graciously accepted.
AY: [laughs] Yeah, stuff like that has never been documented before. That was interesting. And the [TMZ] headline was "Al Begs Iggy Azalea For Permission" ... and I asked politely and respectively. I didn't realize that was considered begging these days.
MT: I watched the video, and the truth is it's all for clicks. That's it. You were incredibly kind. Anyone watching that undoubtedly saw there was no begging involved.
AY: I like how they called it an "ambush." Coming from TMZ, that's kind of like the pot calling the kettle black. [laughs]
MT: We're sort of in a comedy boom with places like Funny or Die and YouTube. With that in mind, is it harder to stand out as a parodist and be unique today?
AY: Absolutely. It's definitely more of a challenge. It's a very healthy thing, though, to level the playing field and let everyone have an opportunity. I realize that I will never again be the only person, nevertheless the first person, to do a parody of any given pop song. There's always going to be a thousand other versions.
It's always going to be a challenge for me. I need to step up my game and try to make my material all the more enjoyable. Hopefully, I'll be able to come up with a concept that a few dozen people haven't already done.
MT: Is it ever a feeling of trying to one-up somebody else? Or maybe even yourself?
AY: That's always an internal pressure. I've always felt that every album I put out is better than the last one. And, you know, that's a very subjective thing. I truly believe that my newest album is the best thing I've ever done, but that might not be your experience. [laughs] But I do always love to think that I'm doing something better than I have done it before.
MT: I read that this may be your last album. Are you going to begin releasing just digital singles?
AY: Well, it's all speculative right now because I'm at the end of my record contract. People are asking me 'what are you going to do?' and the answer is 'I don't know.' I haven't given it much serious thought. I've been focused more so on the videos and this album and my tour next year.
The one thing I have been talking about mostly is that I think I will get away from traditional, conventional albums, because I don't think it behooves me to do twelve songs before I put them out at once. It's very difficult to be topical and timely and fresh that way. I think that digital distribution just makes more sense. It makes sense for me to just put out singles or possibly EPs instead of albums. The more quickly and frequently I put albums out, the better for everybody I think.
MT: Speaking of those videos, you're dropping eight videos beginning yesterday, July 14. Some have equated it to Beyoncé dropping that secret album...
AY: I have to say, I winced a little bit when I first heard that comparison, because on my last album, which came out three years ago, I released twelve videos all at once with the album. When Beyoncé came out with her album, nobody said 'Oh, you're pulling a Weird Al!' [laughs]
But yeah, it's something I've done in the past, and the hope is just to get people talking about the album, the videos and the music. It makes it more of an event too, giving people something to look forward to and enjoy. I just want to generate excitement.
Weird Al – "Tacky"
MT: Since your songs can sometimes grow to be more memorable than the original, has there ever been someone who has asked you to cover their song?
AY: I have definitely had that but I'm not sure if they're serious or just starting conversation. I'll tell you though, this happened last year when I was promoting one of my children's books; I was at a radio station and found out Graham Nash was at the studio too. I had just done a song by Crosby, Stills & Nash, and I wanted to tell him about it. So, I walk next door and the first thing he says to me before I said hello was, "When are you going to parody of 'Sweet Judy Blue Eyes'?" [laughs] Luckily, I played him the song and he loved it.
MT: It must be quite a feeling for you. Here you are, these legendary musicians are approaching you and asking you to cover their music.
AY: It's pretty heavy stuff. Just that they know who I am is incredible.
MT: You were recently on Epic Rap Battles of History. What was your experience on that?
AY: I love those guys. I think they're hilarious and incredible at what they do. It was such a wonderful experience. I met Nice Peter at a YouTube event. We expressed our mutual admiration and decided I should do one. What they do is really great. It's clever, it's witty –– I just love working with talented and funny people.
It's nice because comedy-music was always kind of pushed off to the side. I didn't even know where to find my music in a record store back when record stores were around. Now people seem to understand the whole concept of comedy-music a little bit better. It's great to see so many talented people in the genre.
MT: Why has comedy-music been so frowned upon over the years?
AY: I think a lot of people take music very seriously. Maybe they're offended? I don't know. Maybe the 70s just got very heavy and serious. We went through a stretch where anything mixing the two was very much looked down at.
MT: Why has it eased up?
AY: I think putting it back into the hands of the people has something to do with that. With the advent of YouTube, people are seeing comedy-music as an art form. I like to think we're enlightening as a culture. I think we're on an upward trend.
MT: Based on all of the people you've encountered, covered and parodied over the years, what's the worst run-in with a celeb?
AY: Honestly, the artists are always totally cool. It's usually the people around them. I don't know if I've ever talked to an artist and thought what a jerk. They're always pretty nice, honestly. But, on the flip side, I've talked to many, many agents and road managers who were not very nice. [laughs]
MT: So was that Coolio situation a big PR thing?
AY: I don't know what happened there. That was a long, long time ago. There was certainly some misunderstanding there. He claimed he didn't give permission; my label maintains that he did. Honestly, I don't know what happened with it. When I did that Behind The Music special that was the one thing they clung onto because I don't have much drama in my life. [laughs]
MT: That's a very good point about it being the people around the artist. As a journalist, I've encountered many types of managers and publicists who are off-putting, but the actual person I'm interviewing is a delight.
AY: It's funny you mention that. Iggy Azalea's road manager - who I didn't actually meet but asked the promoter if I could talk to her - told the promoter she had to prepare for her show. "She goes on in two and a half hours so she can't talk to Weird Al," they said. I flew all the way from Los Angeles to Denver to talk to her and she can't do it? Then they told me she's going to be in the UK next month and I could meet her there, which is crazy. So, all that was why I had to finally just go up and ... as TMZ says ... "ambush" her. [laughs]