It is getting a little 'weird'

It is getting a little 'weird'

At some point last week, Weird Al Yankovic’s Twitter account became unmanageable.
Yankovic, 54, the proudly nerdy song parodist who became an early MTV staple with Michael Jackson sendups like “Eat It,” said that he tries to respond to every Twitter message from his 3.3 million followers, but that the volume made even looking at his account seem like “drinking from the proverbial fire hose”.

Unmatched popularity

The reason: the spectacular, viral success of the online video campaign to promote his latest album, “Mandatory Fun” (RCA), which became the first No 1 of Yankovic’s three-decade career.

With 1,04,000 sales in the US, according to Nielsen SoundScan, “Mandatory Fun” is also the first comedy album to top Billboard’s album chart since Allan Sherman’s “My Son, the Nut” in 1963. His new videos have been watched a total of 46 million times. “This is something I never dreamed would ever happen,” Yankovic said.

Yankovic’s late-career success marries the satirical approach to music he’s been playing since the late 1970s with the most up-to-date thinking in online marketing — a content bombardment, financial backing by popular websites and a catchy hashtag, #8videos8days.

Yankovic’s plan was to release a new video each day for eight days. He started July 14 with “Tacky,” a parody of Pharrell Williams’s monster hit “Happy” — complete with silly dance and long tracking shot. He followed with videos like “Foil”, a play on Lorde’s “Royals” about the uses of aluminium food wrap, and “Word Crimes”, a rant about bad grammatical habits set to Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”:

“I read your email
It’s quite apparent
Your grammar’s errant
You’re incoherent...”

Because RCA did not provide any production budget, Yankovic said, the videos were paid for by various partner sites that brought their own audiences, like Nerdist, Funny or Die and College Humor. The gambit worked. Yankovic’s Web stats exploded.

On Wikipedia, for example, his profile has drawn 5,75,000 views this month, up from fewer than 1,000 views last month, according to music data-tracking firm Next Big Sound. On Spotify, Yankovic’s music was streamed 3,282,937 times around the world last week, up 785 per cent from the week before.

To some commentators, the video gambit recalled Beyoncé’s surprise release last year of an album complete with 14 songs, 17 videos and a direct-to-the-fans approach. As Yankovic sees it, the goal was simply to try to get people’s attention.

“I wasn’t thinking, ‘Oh, I’m on the bleeding edge of marketing, this is going to be a business model that will change the world’,” Yankovic said. And he bristled at the suggestion that he imitated anybody. For his last album, “Alpocalypse” in 2011, he made videos for all 12 songs. “I did it before Beyoncé,” he said, sounding more jovial, really, than irked.

Being funny

Born and raised in Southern California, Yankovic learned to play the accordion and was inspired by the novelty songs on Dr Demento’s radio show, where he later gained his first exposure when the show played his homemade recordings. His parody style took shape in 1979, when “My Bologna”, a version of the Knack’s hit “My Sharona”, was released by Capitol Records, and by the early 1980s Yankovic and his videos were embraced by the nascent MTV network.

To some extent, the achievement of “Mandatory Fun” is a function of the music industry’s woes, as the number of copies sold to reach No. 1 keeps getting smaller. Also, Jason Mraz’s “Yes!” opened at No. 2 with 81,000 sales; “Rise Against” bowed at No 3 with 53,000 copies of its new “The Black Market”; and “Kidz Bop 26”, the latest installment of a series of toddler-friendly versions of pop hits, opened at No. 4 with 46,000 sales.

So far this year, album sales are down 15 per cent compared with the same point last year, and sales of individual tracks are down 13 per cent. Yankovic seemed acutely aware of the industry’s struggles and planned his marketing blitz accordingly.

“For the last decade and a half, the music industry has been in sort of a free fall, with everybody trying different things to see what works,” he said. “I just thought this is a good idea that makes the most sense. Let’s give it a shot and see if it works.”

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