In anticipation of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s new album Mandatory Fun scheduled for release on July 15, we take a look back at the history and rise of the iconic style of satirical comedy music videos.
If you’re a child of the 80s or 90s, chances are you spent a significant amount of your after-school hours gobbling up the latest chart-topping music videos on MTV. With help from music videos like Michael Jackson’s Thriller (which was recently acknowledged for its pivotal role in American film history), the network played a significant role in changing music video culture – from straight footage of bands singing to the more complex visual dramas we enjoy today. MTV’s legacy was bringing together a perfect storm of visual style, popular music, and youth culture.
And as long as there have been music videos to feed the music industry, there have been satirists eager to make fun of the formulas that have emerged from pop culture, subtly criticizing the social rules that music videos reinforce for consumers. “Weird Al” Yankovic – the undisputed king of parody music – released “Eat It” as a single with accompanying video in 1984, parodying Jackson’s “Beat It” which was released the year before. For the song, Yankovic earned a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording. “Weird Al” had managed to stay on top of the genre and make a career out of it, going on to win again in 2004, and nominated an additional seven times, with the most recent nomination being in 2012 for Apocalypse.
“Weird Al” channeling all of our tuna casserole
and boiled chicken childhood fears in Eat It
Why has comedy-satire music video gained such popularity through the MTV generation and onwards to the YouTube generation? By exaggerating pop culture phenomenon and referencing musical and visual formulas that we have grown used to, “Weird Al” has provided us with a new way of looking at ourselves and the strange perceptions that we blindly accept. For example, in White and Nerdy two apparently opposing cultures (nerd culture and rap culture) are cast together to poke fun at our adherence to codes of behaviour.
“Weird Al” in White and Nerdy
These days, the perfect storm of music video culture and its satirists have moved on to the digital age. While we weren’t paying attention, internet killed the video star. YouTube has ridden on the coattails of early internet pioneers like Myspace, and not only changed the way we consume music videos, but has also given another avenue for artists to distribute their craft.
A tongue-in-cheek look at the internet in the context of musicians,
as performed by Evelyn Evelyn, a conjoined twin act by Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley.
While “Weird Al” first popularized the genre of comedy-satire music video, The Lonely Island, a sketch-comedy satire-music group – made up of Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg, and Jorma Taccone – has taken over the digital waves. Gaining mainstream popularity thanks to the trio’s multi-year writing gig (and Samberg’s performing stint) on Saturday Night Live, The Lonely Island had formidably expanded the reach of the genre to the mainstream hip hop audience. We have this troupe to thank for their viral hit (before viral was even a thing), Lazy Sunday, an overnight success that had changed the landscape of YouTube forever.
Grantland’s Hyden praised The Lonely Island for their ability to set their social commentary and critique of hip-hop culture within “an affectionate homage that doesn’t threaten to usurp the artists they’re cribbing from.” The power of satire-comedy music videos as demonstrated by The Lonely Island lies in its ability to pleasantly disarm us towards self reflection and critique.
Bootleg video of Lonely Island’s Lazy Sunday
But when it comes to staying power, “Weird Al” is still the reigning champion. Why has “Weird Al” been able to stand the test of time with a thirty year career and an inter-generational fan base? “Weird Al” had shown us that regardless of time period, the combination of comedy, satire, music, and absurd videos keep surprising us and pointing out the ridiculousness of the music industry. It has paved the way for other musical satirist comedians like The Lonely Island and Jon Lajoie in the digital age, amongst scores of amateurs and YouTubers, feeding our appetite for more entertaining mockery.
Now, YouTubers like Hanna Hart are leading the new wave of comedy-satire music videos, and we leave you with this gem.
Oh Internet, a love song by Hanna Hart of My Drunk Kitchen fame
In part two, we’ll take at a look at the mass appeal of satire music including some of the world’s most insanely popular online videos.
Thumbnail is a Screen Cap from White and Nerdy
Guest Author Bio
Jessica Lindal and Hingman Leung
We are a comedy music-loving duo currently studying public culture for our Master of Arts program at Royal Roads University, Victoria, BC, Canada. By day, Hingman Leung is professional paper pusher in Ottawa and Jessica Lindal is an exchange student wrangler in Calgary.
For more satirical musical fun, check out our piece on 5 Hilarious Hit Songs That Stick It To The Man