Governor’s Ball Music Festival Gets Weird (Al)


Recently, the lineup for Governor’s Ball music festival was released.  The young festival is held in June on Randall’s Island in New York City, and since its debut in 2011 it has attracted an impressive array of both emerging and high profile artists.  I was struck by one name in particular on the lineup:  Weird Al Yankovic. Yes, joining headliners such as Drake and Lana Del Rey is the eccentric accordionist who brought us “Amish Paradise” and pop medleys played in the polka style. Does this strike anyone else as unusual?  Weird Al began performing in the late 70’s, and was primarily active through the 80’s and 90’s. Furthermore, he is billed as a comedy act, known mostly for his parodies of other artists’ hit songs. This hardly seems an appropriate fit for a music festival: a gathering of contemporary enthusiasts that primarily showcases what is “hip” and “current.”

Then again, maybe Weird Al is hip and current. Governor’s Ball knows this and therefore made the brilliant decision to include him on the lineup.  This past July he released his fourteenth studio album Mandatory Fun, and it debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 200. The album was followed by his performance at the 2014 Emmys. Clearly there is public interest in what he does. He even played with The Roots on Jimmy Fallon:


In a sense, there may also be historical interest.  He was doing what Youtubers do now before the Internet even existed.  He sang about inane topics (Lasagna instead of La Bamba, and most recently, Foil, a parody of Lorde’s Royals, which discusses the convenience of tin foil), and he elevated banal or lewd concepts to polished singles, much like an SNL digital short or a video from The Lonely Island. Seeing this, Yanckovic apparently realized that there is a place for his music on Youtube, and has made a comeback over the past few years, releasing videos in which he parodies the likes of Lady Gaga and Pharell.

Today, the comedic parody is widespread, thanks to Youtube. Nearly every hit song from the past 5 years or so has an accompanying parody. The tradition can be traced back to the Renaissance, though parodies were used more seriously then. A couple hundred years later, Mozart is said to have performed comedic parodies by mockingly playing the “lesser” melodies of his contemporaries. There are some examples of comedy music from the 60’s, most famously Allan Sherman who made “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (A Letter From Camp)”.  But Weird Al had the advantage of working in the time of pop legends such as Michael Jackson and Madonna. The popularity of his subjects combined with his witty rhymes that captured the nuances of the original songs helped establish his popularity.  Certainly his fan base is a bit of a niche corner of the music market, but surely everyone knows and has laughed at least one of his parodies. Now his influence is being recognized in the most sacred space for music fans: a music festival.

Ian Colley