22 July 2014

Brilliant But Weird

We have been listening to a lot of Weird Al this past week.  His new album was recently released and eight days in a row he released a new video from the album. I thought the first two songs and videos, "Tacky" and "Word Crimes," were brilliant and fun. The later songs I thought were typical of his work, but they did not resonate with me like those two did. It does help to know the songs or the styles he is parodying and I willingly admit to being so woefully out of touch with pop culture that I am mostly clueless about where the parodies on his new album originate.

Isaac, as you can imagine, loves Weird Al.  That's his wheelhouse -- the guy gets 8-9 year olds' humor. Isaac knows slightly more of the music that is being parodied than I do, but only slightly. For him, though, the the humor does not come from the parody, it comes from the lyrics and funny videos. Most of his favorite Weird Al songs are older ones like "White and Nerdy" and "The Saga Begins" and "Eat It."

In the past week, there has also been a lot of criticism centered around the new album, specifically the song "Word Crimes" in which Weird Al uses Robin Thicke's song "Blurred Lines" to parody grammar mistakes. In it, he uses negative language to refer to people who use improper grammar. So, his song lyrics, while moderately educational and maybe even well-intentioned, are actually reinforcing stereotypes and the marginalization of a segment of society. There is supposedly debate about who he is actually parodying -- the people who use the incorrect grammar or those who are such sticklers about it.

I listened to Grammar Girl's podcast yesterday about the song and she has some pretty strong opinions about which side he falls on and the message his song is actually sending. I get it -- his terminology could, and should, have been more carefully selected. But I still think the song is fun to listen to.

Would I use the video with my students? No! Before the criticism of the song began, I knew I could never show it to my students or share it on the school Facebook page. Regardless of the degrading words he uses, the video has sexual innuendos that are not appropriate for the classroom. As much as kids, Isaac especially, love his stuff, it isn't meant for school.

Weird Al is brilliant, but he is also crass and his humor is base. Like I said, perfect for 8-9 year olds. I Googled some of the artists and songs he parodied on this album. See? Woefully out of touch. While Weird Al may not be the most high-brow influence on Isaac's musical tastes, I much prefer him listening to Yankovic than the artist "Word Crimes" came from.

Isaac and I made our annual 9 hour drive to Florida last week. Weird Al was played most of the way down. A friend commented that he didn't realize there was 9 hours worth of material. I assured him that there isn't, at least not on Spotify. And Isaac has some definite favorites. I now know them all by heart. I realized that Isaac is now about the same age I was when I first listened to Weird Al. I like that we have that connection and when a song comes on I can say, "I remember seeing this video when I was a kid." There are worse things over which we could bond.

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