On his 14th studio album (debuting at No. 1 on Billboard’s chart), Mandatory Fun, Weird Al Yankovic sticks to shtick, sending up current it-artists such as Pharrell, Iggy Azalea, Lorde and that guy who used to be married to Paula Patton. Here, The Globe talks to the man behind hits such as Smells Like Nirvana and Like A Surgeon about the tackiness of social media, the Coolio beef and the weirdest place he’s ever seen a Weird Al tattoo.
Two of your new releases – Tacky and Word Crimes – deal with abhorrent human behaviour and abhorrent grammar, respectively. So which irks you more?
From a guy who’s worn Hawaiian shirts for the better part of 30 years, I’m not going to be too offended by any kind of sartorial infraction, so I’m probably more upset by bad grammar. I really feel pain when I have to correct my own press releases.
Are your parodies a way of airing grievances?
Not always. My primary focus is figuring out a way to be funny, but if I’m able to work in a personal pet peeve then that’s just added fun. I tend to stay away from controversy and politics, one of the reasons being that politics doesn’t age very well, so it can become a bit of an albatross for the catalogue. Plus the fact that it’s divisive. I don’t want to lose half my fan base because they don’t agree with my views.
A lot of your material from Tacky comes from online behaviour – Instagramming meals, selfies at funerals. Are social media making us grosser people?
That’s an interesting hypothesis. I’m not sure. I think that because I’m so tapped into social media that I’m more aware of the related faux pas. Social media didn’t make people tacky, but maybe it gave them permission to be tacky more often.
And to share it with their 500 closest friends. Where’s the weirdest place Weird Al has ever taken a selfie?
It wasn’t a selfie, but I had my wife take a picture of me texting at the Grand Canyon. There I am with all of this majesty behind me and I’m just staring at my phone.
You have a policy to only publish songs where you have the original artist’s permission, even though you’re not legally obliged to. Is that just good old accordion-playing values?
I think it’s just an extension of my personality. I don’t like drama, I don’t want to offend anybody, I would prefer that the artists feel like they’re in on the joke. I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve managed to stick around for so long – I respect people, I don’t burn bridges.
There was that one incident with Coolio [In 1996, Weird Al released a parody of Gangsta’s Paradise called Amish Paradise; Coolio said he had not okayed it].
He is totally fine now. He has publicly apologized a few times [for the confusion] and said that he overreacted. Also, that was 1996, so a lot of water under the bridge. The last time I talked to him, we hugged it out. There is certainly no beef any more – everything’s totally Coolio.
I was just watching your VH1 Behind the Music special, hoping to find some dirt. Unless the comment about your cherry pie obsession was a euphemism, then your biggest vice is dessert?
That was kind of the running joke that there was very little drama. Usually about 30 minutes into Behind the Music it will be like, “And then things went horribly wrong.” I’ve never had that. I’ve always been a relatively happy guy.
You have parodied the MTV era, the grunge era, the Gaga years – how does your personal taste in music play into the songs you choose to send up?
As far as the parodies are concerned, it’s really more a case of trying to do songs that are popular and that I feel I can do something comedic with. I do tend to pick songs that I like because I’m going to have to work on them in the studio and then perhaps play them on stage for the rest of my life.
What video do fans tend to approach you about most often?
I don’t know that there’s one hit. It seems like everybody’s favourite Weird Al song is whatever came out when you were 12 years old.
Has a fan ever weirded out Weird Al?
No, I wouldn’t say that my fans are weird. I am amazed by the fact that a lot of fans have Weird Al tattoos – I’ve met at least a few dozen people who have tattoos of my image or my autograph or a reference to one of my lyrics tattooed permanently on their bodies.
Where is the weirdest place you’ve ever seen a Weird Al tattoo?
I’ve seen them in various places. I’ve met a mother and daughter who have matching Weird Al tattoos on their ankles. There is a line in one of my movies, UHF –“What better way to say I love you than the gift of a spatula?” I met a boyfriend and girlfriend who had matching spatula tattoos on their stomachs because of that. It’s pretty flattering.
I feel as if there should be a Weird Al convention.
Actually, there have been a few. Nothing that I was officially involved in, but there have been fans who have put together these things called Al Cons. I have dropped by unannounced a couple of times to check it out. They have Weird Al lookalike contests, talent shows, a charity sale. I gave them a baggie of my dryer lint to auction and somebody paid $600 for it.
Your fans have campaigned to get you a star on the Walk of Fame. Any update?
I’m not sure about the current status, but I know that my fans have spearheaded a movement. I feel very honoured, but it’s more just the fact that I have fans who are so loyal and so devoted.