For years, "Weird Al" Yankovic was the biggest name in pop parody. But with The Lonely Island's just-released third record, The Wack Album, debuting in the top ten on the Billboard charts, the comedy group has demonstrated success beyond its Saturday Night Live roots.
One big reason that pop parody has gone so mainstream? YouTube. From The Lonely Island's first video, "Lazy Sunday," to the bizarre success of Baauer's "Harlem Shake," online video has driven pop parody's commercial sales -- and, as of this year, chart positions. Writer Jody Rosen, who recently wrote about pop parody for New York Magazine, joins Soundcheck to talk about the changes within the music industry's acceptance and embrace of the genre.
Jody Rosen, on The Lonely Island's success:
They command a lot of respect and they draw a star-studded cast. I think the secret to their success is both the fact that they’re good comedians and fine musicians. They make good records. These songs work as comedy and as music. They’re smart about music. I suppose you can call them music critics in their way. They understand hip hop really well, and they’re adept at sending up its tropes.
On pop parody in the YouTube generation:
The interesting thing about music parody today is via the internet it’s become kind of democratized, so everyone and their uncle is doing a musical parody. If there’s a song which is a big hit, you get together with your friends in the garage, turn on the laptop camera, and you can come up with your own Weird-Al-type parody song. It’s very interesting that this has become a kind of lingua franca of pop music culture in this day in age. It’s kind of a YouTube phenomenon.
On parody propelling "Harlem Shake" to chart success:
The parody there was sort of a visual joke. It was people dancing to this techno track, and when the beat really kicked in, they went nuts — in offices, in ridiculous places, in unlikely costumes. It’s just vaudeville. It’s just slapstick almost. But that caught on, and this was at the precise moment that Billboard had remade its chart algorithm to take in YouTube views…. It was a song which otherwise would never have cracked the top 100. Suddenly, it’s number 1 in the country for 5 weeks. And I think that speaks to the power of pop parody at this moment.