After a staggering 35 years in the joke song business, Weird Al Yankovic has scarcely seemed more productive than this week, releasing eight videos online in as many days in support of his album Mandatory Fun. That makes the pop parodist one of the few artists who can legitimately claim to have both pioneered the use of music videos and outlived the form.
In that time, Yankovic has amassed an impressive back catalog of his signature spoofs, imitating everyone from Queen to Lorde. It could be a while before we figure out which of this week’s releases merit inclusion in the prestigious Weird Al canon, but until then here are the prolific mimic’s 10 greatest video parodies.
“Contemporary hit single + random bit Americana” has long been Weird Al’s recipe for parody song gold and “Bedrock Anthem” is easily one of the most successful expressions of that formula. Reimagining the comically feral-looking Red Hot Chili Peppers as cartoon cavemen, however, is really just inspired.
“Money for Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies,” on the other hand, mostly wins points for its incredible replication of its source material. In an era when even the most rudimentary computer graphics were a rarity, Yankovic put aside a chunk of his UHF budget to commission a perfect (albeit Hillbilly-ied up) copy of the Dire Straits’ famous video.
The second biggest staple of the Yankovic discography is his decidedly unhip hip-hop covers. It’s a joke dozens of other nerdy white dudes have tried and failed at pulling off, but Weird Al’s obvious devotion to both lyricism and being a huge dork put him out on top every time.
Like a lot of his early work, the video for “Like a Surgeon” relied chiefly on Weird Al’s Zucker brothers-like comic sensibilities for its humor. It’s all the better for it, giving us the closest thing to Airplane! in a hospital.
The young geeks that make up Weird Al’s fanbase probably weren’t familiar with Jimmy Webb’s “MacArthur Park” in 1993, but thanks to “Jurassic Park”’s memorable claymation video it didn’t really matter. I mean, what child didn’t want to see Barney decapitated back then?
While not a direct parody of any one song, “Dare to be Stupid” captured the Devo aesthetic so perfectly that even Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh had to give Yankovic props. “I was in shock,” Mothersbaugh told VH1 in 1999, “it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard.”
In perhaps his greatest feat of unlicensed pop culture synergy, Weird Al managed to write and record an accurate summary of Star Wars Episode I before the movie had even come out. Relying on the then-recent concept of Internet spoilers, Yankovic only needed to give his lyrics “very minor tweaks” once he did finally see The Phantom Menace.
Along with “It’s All About the Pentiums” and the aforementioned “White and Nerdy,” “Amish Paradise” is one of Yankovic’s greatest contributions to the woefully understudied field of squarecore rap. And if there’s any Weird Al style more iconic than his classic “art teacher with a Jheri curl” look, it has to be the Amish beard/Coolio hair combo.
It’s the incredible attention to detail that makes “Smells Like Nirvana” both one of Yankovic’s best videos and one his greatest songs. Shot on the same soundstage as “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and utilizing many of the same actors, the Weird Al version holds up better than most pop culture parodies thanks to its laser-like focus on its subject. It also proved Yankovic to be far more adaptable than the artists he parodied, seamlessly passing from one era of popular music into the next.
Perhaps the Platonic ideal of the dumb song parody, “Eat It” contains all the crucial elements of a Weird Al video: a silly outfit, a painstaking adherence to the source material and a dead simple premise that straddles the line between idiocy and genius. Sure, you could argue the similar but inferior “Fat” also meets this criteria, but the fat-suit just can’t compete with Yankovic’s flailing rendition of Jackson’s signature moves.