Parodies aren’t a joke
What does true success mean in music? Awards? Gold records? Platinum? Longevity? Impact? Fame? Relevance?
There are many different interpretations, but the general consensus seems to be popularity and sustained sales over time. So while a one-hit wonder might get rich from their glory days, the true aristocracy are the musicians with decades of success and a star-studded list of collaborators. They are the names everyone knows — Paul McCartney. Mick Jagger. Weird Al.
That might not be a name that everyone expects, since he’s a comedian and a parodist. Some might say he’s just one step away from a tribute artist , but his track record says otherwise, to say the least. 12 million albums sold. 27 gold, platinum or double platinum albums. 16 Grammy nominations with 5 wins. He’s put many albums on the charts, including a Billboard #1 for Mandatory Fun. But is that enough to put him amongst the legends? Let’s look at what some other successful musicians had to say about him.
Kurt Cobain referred to him as “America’s modern pop-rock genious[sic].” and is supposed to have said that he knew Nirvana had made it when Weird Al parodied their song.
Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh said that his reaction to hearing “Dare to be Stupid” for the first time was “I was in shock. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. He sort of re-sculpted that song into something else and, umm… I hate him for it, basically.”
The list goes on. Prince famously avoided him. McCartney tried to make Chicken Pot Pie vegan. Madonna apparently had the idea for Like a Surgeon before he did. Don McLean is said to mess up his own lyrics to American Pie because of The Saga Begins. The list goes on, and needless to say, Weird Al is a fixture in the American Music scene.
Celebrity endorsements notwithstanding, Weird Al has also been at the forefront of the digital revolution, abandoning the traditional album format in favor of singles and YouTube videos produced with some of the web’s most popular sites. He knows how to play to his audience, and he stays on top of the tech — but after all, he understood virality when it still relied on a VCR.
The money behind the fun
Now that his standing as a successful musician is established, what about the money? Obviously he has made a successful career as a parodist, but what does this mean for his revenue streams, and those of the artists he parodies? While parody is covered by fair use, this isn’t an ironclad defence when parody is also profitable. Weird Al’s work has become so famous that legal writers use it to explain fair use and parody.
One thing that he has been consistent about, and is likely a reason for his continued success and acceptance by the music industry, is that he always gets permission and negotiates a royalty in advance. Weird Al is a parodist, not a parasite, and by working with the industry he makes his niche, and helps them in theirs. As he said himself:
Legally, I say it’s a gray area. I could get away with not getting permission, but I’ve never wanted to get away with that. I think it’s more taking the high road to make sure that the artist feels like they’re in on the joke. I want them to know that it is in fact an homage, it’s a tribute. Like I say, it’s more a poke in the ribs than a kick in the butt.
In many ways, Weird Al’s success is a perfect example of how transparency, fairness, and new technology can benefit the music industry as a whole. At Utopia Genesis, we believe that a better future for the industry is possible, and we’re working hard to make it happen. One play, one pay, transparent copyright, NFTs and equal payments, all supported by the best music play database the world has ever seen. Utopia Genesis — the new music revolution.
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