Christmas, or maybe Hanukkah, came in July this year. Over the course of the last eight days, kids of all ages shirked chores, kept spouses waiting, and cubicle surfed on the company’s dime all to see the latest music video from “Weird Al” Yankovic’s new album, Mandatory Fun. And like anyone who celebrates Christmas or Hanukkah already knows, sometimes you unwrap an Xbox and other times you get socks. We definitely got some of each from Al this week.
Now, the fun—and, yes, it’s totally optional, Al—becomes sorting through all the gifts from Santa Yankovic and determining the gaming systems from the footwear. And, as we discovered, it’s not always what you’d expect. A brilliant parody doesn’t necessarily make for a classic Al video, and a ho-hum send-up you routinely skip on the album can alchemize into comic gold with the right video makeover.
One thing we all can agree on, though: Come day eight of the video rollout, we were all pulling for a “Jackson Park Express” short film. Oh, well, maybe next year … if we’re good.
“Handy” may be Mandatory Fun’s worst track. There’s that fine line in parodying between funny and merely making something fit the original. The latter is about all “Handy” does, and who out there really laughed apart from the non-existent cross-section of Bob Villa and Iggy Azalea fans? However, the right video can fix anything. Is this the right video? To borrow from another famous handyman named Al: “I don’t think so, Tim.” Here, a mix of live-action and animation finds a blonde Al in Ernest P. Worrell threads more or less acting out the song lyrics line by line. I actually found the Clueless parody done in Azalea’s video to be a lot funnier. Ouch.
Best Moment: The slightest of kudos go to Al for his contractor backup dancers, though we’ve seen Flight of the Conchords do the same gag several times before. –Matt Melis
07. “Sports Song”
It’s a shame this clip is so low on the list, because “Sports Song” is one of Al’s best, silliest original compositions. It’s such a perfect fight song, but the video just lacks any punch. All you get is a marching band literally walking in a straight line for 100 yards down a football field. There’s one brief moment of actual sports and occasional shots of a crowd chanting along. That’s it. This thing was produced by Funny or Die, a website that literally makes its living on comedy videos, and they couldn’t even sneak in a worthwhile blooper. Top to bottom, this one just feels like a missed opportunity.
Best Moment: Those placards being switched from “GREAT” to “SUCK” is kinda neat, if not a bit difficult to read. Still, Yale did it better. –Ben Kaye
06. “Mission Statement”
While it’s not the worst of the recently released crop, “Mission Statement” is one of those album deep cuts on every Al record that sort of just riffs on a super-specific topic without doing much else to it. Granted, the ridiculous trend of corporate buzzwords as a substitute for actual discussion is ripe for the picking, but the song feels less like a joke after a while than a running list acknowledging that each of those buzzwords do in fact exist. The video, however, somewhat makes up for this by turning the one joke into a lushly illustrated knockoff of every cutesy, typographic illustration of core business strategies you’ve ever been forced to watch at work. If the video is mostly one note, it at least gets the most it possibly can out of that one note.
Best Moment: Other than the video being premiered on The Wall Street Journal‘s website, probably the point at which the song’s guitar solo starts illustrating itself. –Dominick Mayer
Half of “Foil” feels like a great song, with the first verse/chorus focused on the classic “Weird Al” territory of food. But things take an unnecessary turn to conspiracy theory in the middle. Aluminum foil has so many more food-related uses to be explored! Similarly, the video comes off a bit front-loaded. Al as an overly expressive food show host has some good moments, like that third hand or how he nails Lorde’s facial expressions in the opening. But the second half feels disjointed and well, not that funny. Patton Oswalt, for whom being in a “Weird Al” video must have been some sort of long-held dream, looks completely bored, and you can’t blame him; he and the Reno 911 guys are completely underutilized. I saw Thomas Lennon at Al’s Bonnaroo performance in 2013, and he was the most excited guy there; like Patton, I’m sure he wishes he could’ve done more here. The song is so close to being so much more, and sadly the same goes for the video.
Best Moment: Al’s face anytime he enters the chorus. The first one is some sort of neo-sexual bliss and the second the perfect mix of zany and creepy. –Ben Kaye
“Tacky” offers a perfect example of a video that’ll make you like a so-so parody a lot more. How does “Weird Al” pull that off? Simple psychology. There are two things that all Americans crave on a subconscious level: celebrities (any list will do) dancing foolishly in gawdy, ill-fitting, retro attire and, at least since Hitchcock’s Rope, single, continuous shot filming. Here, five of Al’s famous friends—Aisha Tyler, Margaret Cho, Eric Stonestreet, Kristen Schaal, and Jack Black—help us get our fix of both. Cool behind-the-scenes note: As Al told our own Cap Blackard, after finishing the opening bit of the video, he had to run down five flights of stairs and change clothes in order to be ready for his big finale two minutes later. They finally got it right on the sixth try. Does Al look winded in the video to anyone else?
Best Moment: Jack Black twerking in what initially looks like a stretchy-material onesie. Oh, the best moment … Gotta love the camera angle in the elevator when it dips down to reveal that there are large, neon-pink handprints on the chest of Kristen Schaal’s black tank top. Delightfully tacky. –Matt Melis
03. “First World Problems”
One of “Weird Al”‘s best modes, even outside of his spot-on pop parodies, is when he starts taking the piss out of really specific subjects, with musical approaches that work without necessarily being relevant. But in addition to being a funny checklist of entitlement complaints, “First World Problems” also repurposes the Pixies’ loud-quiet-loud, harmonized style in a way that gives the song (and hilariously smug video) an extra boost as an indictment of Pitchfork culture and how hipsterdom has evolved into a fashionable posture as much as anything. Well done as usual, Al.
Best Moment: It’s hard to explain why Al striking a Captain Morgan pose while on his phone at Maccu Piccu is so funny, but as is custom, his green screen game is wholly on point. –Dominick Mayer
02. “Lame Claim to Fame”
I would’ve bet money against Al making a video for “Lame Claim to Fame” simply because the song is just a lengthy cataloging of a person’s flimsy connections to a who’s who of celebrities. Granted, Al could probably arrange to appear behind Steven Seagal in a grocery checkout line and maybe even get Jonah Hill to pose in a bathroom stall next to him, but good luck getting Jack Nicholson to divert attention from his beloved Lakers game. Al’s solution to lack of celebrity access is brilliant: a stop-motion film (is that the right term, film buffs?) that blends the look of early South Park and your Aunt Meg’s scrapbooking hobby. This video, apart from being non-stop hilarious, also feels like a time warp to the early days of MTV. It takes me back to the simpler time of calling my friends on my industrially chorded rotary phone and asking them if they just saw the new A-ha video.
Best Moment: Al features the top-hatted Dr. Demento—the radio personality who gave Al his big break—multiple times throughout the video. Al may have lost the curly nerd fro years ago, but he clearly hasn’t forgotten his roots. Ugh, lame pun, man. –Matt Melis
01. “Word Crimes”
I’ve already discussed why “Word Crimes” is the best song on Mandatory Fun in our review, but I swear that’s not the only reason this is the best video. The presentation here is just beautiful. Digital artist Jarrett Heather does a marvelous job of representing Al’s words in what’s one of the best lyric videos of all time. From the correction marks during the typewriter bit to the playful dig at Alanis Morissette when Al sings about irony, Heather creates a thoroughly enjoyable animation full of subtle bits of humor that elevate an already high-marked song. There are the Certificate of Achievement in Syntax Engineering and the Bachelor of Writing Good, the dog’s eyes and the -2 favorites on the tweet, and the “Learn your ABCs, doofus” joke tucked into the Lost frame. There are even references to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Simpsons, and – because of course – UHF. “Word Crimes” is so good because of all those little grammatical inaccuracies Al points out; the video is so good because of all the little jokes Heather hides within.
Best Moment: The number of references to 27, a number that frequently appears in Al’s work. I count 10 (11 if you add up the pre-school blocks and use the last 1 as a multiplier). My favorite? Adding all the numbers when the Minesweeper board first comes into view gives you 27; if you add all the numbers and subtract the number of mines, you get 28. –Ben Kaye