Weird Al, Lady Gaga, Wonkette, and Social Media
As readers of Big Journalism know, a tidal wave hit a lefty snark-pit of a blog called Wonkette, where editor Jack Stuef posted a disgusting article that relentlessly mocked Trig Palin, Sarah Palin’s down syndrome afflicted son. Underneath a picture that involved a superimposed animated stripper grinding on Trig’s face, Stuef made vile comments that insinuated lovely things like incest, and stated that Trig doesn’t dream because “he’s retarded.” A few hours later, Wonkette advertisers such as Papa John’s, Huggies, and Nordstrom abandoned ship. The reason was because people took to Twitter, and used it to show these companies that their products were being associated with a bigoted, hateful brand of pseudo-comedy. The people spoke, and they listened. The wonder of social media! (Note that Stuef has since issued an apology...sort of)
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Meanwhile, another passionate controversy flared up on the internet. “Weird Al” Yankovic posted an entry titled “The Saga of Gaga” on his blog, stating that he asked Lady Gaga’s people if he could do a parody of her latest single, “Born This Way”. Now Weird Al could legally do a parody of “Born This Way” without even asking, but because he’s a classy guy, he always asks first, so as not to step on any toes. Weird Al asked permission, and he was told Gaga had to hear it first. He then sent them the lyrics, their response was “She has to HEAR it first.” So he figured, hey, I’ll just do the song, and she’ll approve it, and that’s that. He labored on the tune, spent the time in the studio, laid it down, and sent it to Gaga’s camp upon completion. They told him she said no. So Weird Al, in an unusual display of extreme testicular fortitude, went ahead and posted it on YouTube anyway.
Before I get started, let me let you in on a little personal bias that I share with Kurt Schlichter: I really, really don’t like Lady Gaga. When she first hit, I confess that I found tunes like “Pokerface” and “Just Dance” to be bouncy, catchy and fun. Guilty pleasures? Perhaps. Unfortunately she jumped the shark pretty damn quick. The stupid outfits, the pretentious artiste posing, the stealing from Madonna ad nauseum, the arrogant self-anointment as the leader of the gay rights movement, the awful music videos, and the gutless prods at Christianity (note to the Catholic League: stop encouraging her). Gaga went from fun new pop star, to the total embodiment of all that is dull and politically correct in the world of pop-culture.
It’s also worth pointing out that “Born This Way” is a painfully obvious rip-off of Madonna’s “Express Yourself”. Click the links in case you want to see for yourself, you don’t need a Masters degree in musicology to spot it. So really, these three songs form a Human Centipede-style trifecta of recycled material. But hey, she’s getting away with it, and Madonna doesn’t seem to care. So whatever.
Now, as you may know by now thanks to the Big Hollywood marquee, Gaga about-faced on the issue the same day this story broke. Damage control was issued via the irrelevant music publication called Rolling Stone, stating that Lady Gaga’s manager made the bad call himself without consulting her, that Gaga is huge Weird Al fan, and she’s now given him her blessing. Weird Al updated his blog, his record is on track, and everything’s hunky dory. Of course, this came after fans took to Twitter and Facebook in order to make their voices heard.
Whether or not the official line is true is something we’ll never know. What makes me suspicious is that this is the first time in a long while that Weird Al’s parody has poked fun at the artist he is parodying. The last time he did this was in his brilliant send up of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Weird Al’s parodies normally deal with one of three subjects: food, television, and Amish people. But when he did his Nirvana parody, entitled “Smells Like Nirvana”, Weird Al phoned Kurt Cobain in order to make sure he was okay with it. Cobain said it was fine, but asked “Wait a second, it’s not about food is it?” Weird Al said, “No, it’s actually about how no one can understand your lyrics.”
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“Smells Like Nirvana” pokes fun at not only Nirvana, but at the Seattle grunge movement as a whole. The fashionable apathy, the mumbling vocals, the screeching guitars, Weird Al nails it in a manner that is funny, but never mean-spirited. The parody of “Born This Way”, entitled “I Perform This Way”, takes on the same strategy. Weird Al references the egg in which Gaga arrived to the Grammy’s, her penchant for wearing meat, and her fans, which she affectionately calls her “little monsters.” In both instances, Weird Al is obviously having fun, but he's also taking the air out of their respective personas. The fashionably nihilistic attitude that surrounded Cobain was being nudged by someone who is clearly having more fun. The self-importance that buoys Lady Gaga's entire act gets deflated in the same manner by Weird Al's good-natured antics.
Because the song makes light of the persona Lady Gaga takes so seriously, it wouldn't surprise me if she herself nixed the song. Or maybe that's why her managers gave it the thumbs-down for her. Regardless, the reason Gaga's camp reversed their position was because people made it known on Twitter, Facebook, and the comment sections of blogs (especially Weird Al's) that this was a terrible move on Gaga's part. Any musician with a sense of humor will tell you that getting your song parodied by Weird Al is an honor. The man has made a cottage industry out of lampooning songs, and it's because he does it well. Regardless of what really happened behind-the-scenes, the people have spoken via the internet, and they have decided that they like Weird Al parodies, and dislike mean comedy hacks bullying special needs children. April 20th, 2011 was a good day for social media.
Thanks to Ezra Dulis for suggesting this topic