When "Weird Al" Yankovic put out his first official single 35 years ago, he wasn't the only person making parody songs — but he was one of very few who were actually attempting to make money off of it.
Fast-forward to Yankovic's upcoming show at Comerica Theatre on Wednesday, and the parody business is essentially a full-sized industry. The ease of access and available money/sponsorships through social media and online videos have made song parodies full-time gigs for some artists and comedians. After all, why put the time and effort into an original tune when you can just parody something else and get millions of views within the first couple of days?
But with the flooding of the parody market, propelled by dreams of internet fame and easy money, comes a decrease in overall quality. Sure, there are still handfuls of people putting actually hilarious parodies on YouTube, but there are many more that are boring, mean, or (worst of all) not funny.
Let's take a look at some of Weird Al's more recent parodies and compare them to popular parodies of the same song from other artists.
"Fancy" — Iggy Azalea
As with any megahit sung by a questionably talented, easy target of an artist, "Fancy" received plenty of parodies. From pregnancy to marriage, the tribulations of parenthood to body hair, just about every common problem has been addressed in a parody of the one Iggy Azalea song that matters, the most noteworthy of which is popular parodist Bart Baker's version simply making fun of Azalea and the original video. For the most part, it's full of cheap shots at low-hanging fruit about her appearance, attitude, and questionable authenticity. On the other hand, Weird Al's "Handy" pokes fun in an entirely different way, appearing as a fantastically cheesy commercial for a handyman. Plus, it features the classic line of "I got 99 problems, but a switch ain't one."
"Royals" — Lorde
Weird Al's "Foil" taught us two things. 1. Weird Al is the master of the fake infomercial. 2. Weird Al secretly looks just a little bit like Lorde (the hair is flawless). Not only is it funnier than the other popular parodies out there, but it also takes it in a unique direction. Weird Al's always been great with food jokes, but how many "ratchet" parodies for various songs does the world really need? It comes down to whether you'd rather hear someone use "fungal enzymes, mold, and oxidation" as a lyric or generic lines like "the ghetto life is just for us." Although, you have to give credit to them, as we are all ruled by the Queen Bey.
"Happy" — Pharrell
Remember when you couldn't escape Pharrell's "Happy"? Probably right around when you began to wonder exactly how a room without a roof would feel, and whether or not it merited clapping. Well, observe the above for a somewhat half-assed attempt at changing it around to a very different theme. "Tacky" might not be Weird Al's best work, but the production value (and celeb cameos) makes it stand out ahead of all the YouTube wannabes. The one above rhymes "whatevs" with "scheds," so how much more do you really need to know? On the flip side, Weird Al attacks everything from socks with sandals to habitual food Instagrammers in his version.
"Blurred Lines" — Robin Thicke
After "Blurred Lines" came out, there was no shortage of parodies. When you make a somewhat rape-y, wildly gross song about having possibly consensual sex, people are going to turn it in every possible way. But just when you thought you'd seen every feminist/intentionally dumb/Miley Cyrus-hating parody there was on the internet, Weird Al drops "Word Crimes" and writes an entire pun-derful song about his love for puns and grammar. Above, you'll find the best of the bunch as far as feminist parodies go, shooting down misogyny and sexual harassment with every line. Conversely, Weird Al just goes after the improper use of apostrophes, poor spelling, and the internet's general lack of grammar.
"Radioactive" — Imagine Dragons
Alright, so "Radioactive" didn't spark quite as many parodies as some of the other songs on this list (after all, you only heard it hourly, not every 10 minutes), but Weird Al's version was too good to pass up. While many of the other parodies (including the one above) steal most of the chorus from the original song, Weird Al's (as always) is completely re-created. Both of the parodies featured here cover the same topic of physical (in)activity, but while the highlight of the one above is an extended battle with a stuffed panda, Weird Al's rhymes "atrophied" with "gravity" and "My NordicTrack's collecting dust" with "My Stairmaster's a pile of rust." Some artists have said that they think of Weird Al's lyrics even when performing their own song, and this is certainly one that'll stick with you even when you hear the original. There might never be another "Pretty Fly for a Rabbi," but it's still way better than any of the other mediocre-at-best versions.
If no one sets the gold standard for parodies, then any random YouTuber with a million followers can bring comedic music down to their level. Sure, someone may beat Weird Al on an individual parody once in a while, but no one has ever been able to top him consistently. From the production quality and the humor in the lyrics to the perfect parallelism of each song and the professionalism of getting each artist's approval, Weird Al will always be the king of parodies.