Does anyone actually hate "Weird Al" Yankovic? You'll usually find two reactions to him: adoration or indifference, with the indifference mostly confined to wayward millennials. Considering that he's been churning out parodies (and originals!) for nearly 35 years, that in itself is impressive. He's done his thing for so long without making anyone angry, except for maybe a quick spat with Coolio, and even that was more of a miscommunication, and pretty much everyone is indifferent to Coolio these days.
Mandatory Fun, which wraps up Yankovic's major-label deal and is very possibly his last tangible, "normal" album, is out this week, and if it does indeed close out this part of his career, he's going out with a bang, releasing eight new music videos online, one per day. All of them have the "Weird Al" humor you'd expect—juvenile yet erudite, cheerful yet occasionally biting—but "Word Crimes," a grammar-minded improvement upon Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines," has been the best so far. It's been a good week.
It's only appropriate: Though he owes his late-'70s breakout to famed radio DJ Dr. Demento, the current nature of the internet owes much to Yankovic, for both good and ill. These days, any popular song immediately spawns dozens of half-assed, unfunny amateur parodies. Think of them as the styrofoam polluting the internet.
In contrast, Yankovic has always put care and pride—and, crucially, time—into his work. His thorough approach even involves securing each artist's permission to poke fun at his or her music, even though it's not legally required. Sure, that lengthy process has probably impacted the resulting album's freshness (Mandatory Fun mostly spoofs the radio hits of 2013), but as time progresses, the timeliness factor ceases to matter. Even with the dated reference to MySpace, 2006's "White & Nerdy" holds up pretty well, and chances are, Mandatory Fun's "Tacky" will still be funny long after Pharrell's "Happy" drops off (most) radio playlists.
Speaking of "White & Nerdy," Yankovic's talent for mimicry especially shines on rap songs: From "Couch Potato" to "Amish Paradise," he often manages better lines than you'll find on the originals. At 4:30 in the morning I'm milkin' cows / Jebediah feeds the chickens, and Jacob plows, fool! not only sticks to the theme in "Amish Paradise," but it feels natural! Even if the parody format allows Yankovic a helpful guideline for cadence, he still has a better feel for tracks than some actual rappers. I'm looking at you specifically, Big Sean. And is it possible to replace Iggy Azalea's "Fancy" with "Handy" as the default song of the summer? Glue dat, glue dat / Screw dat, screw dat stands out as some creative rewording.
Aside from his parodies, there are the pastiches, wherein Yankovic imitates an entire sound or genre. He can really flourish with that extra freedom: The '50s-vocal-group spoof "One More Minute," from 1985's Dare to Be Stupid, might be his finest original moment, taking a routine song about heartbreak to its violent extremes, but the catalyst was an actual breakup, and in the video, Yankovic rips up a real photo of the girl who dumped him. His personal tragedy only adds to the comedy.
I missed most of Yankovic's prime as it happened—classics like Dare to Be Stupid and 1988's Even Worse came out before I was born. But in middle school, my friend introduced me to Weird Al's work, and I've been a big fan since. Hell, I listened to "Amish Paradise" long before "Gangsta's Paradise," so it took awhile for my brain to process that Coolio's rendition came first. (That also happened with "The Saga Begins" and "American Pie." Weird days.) That same friend and I would randomly spout out lines at each other during Magic: The Gathering games and laugh at ourselves because, you know, middle-school kids are the apex of cool. Though my devotion faded as I finished high school, my enjoyment never really stopped, which was evident when I lost sleep earlier this week cruising YouTube just to listen to his full albums again. Remember "Pretty Fly (For a Rabbi)"? Go listen to it again. It has certainly aged better than anything the Offspring ever did.
He may be done putting out albums, but it would suck if Mandatory Fun was the end of Yankovic's career, period. Still, in the spirit of the man himself, let's stay positive. He's hinted at moving more to single-track digital releases, which seems like the most efficient strategy: We could have the privilege of hearing that nasally voice weeks, not months or years, after the next hit spoof-able single presents itself, which might just make him fresher and more relevant than ever. We were all in middle school once.