Music is as old as mankind. Humans have had rhythmic urges from the time that cave chicks began clinking rocks together to today, when DJs create musical soundscapes with synthesizers. Taking a song and creating a parody... that hearkens back at least to the 1980s, when "Weird Al" Yankovic burst onto the airwaves of then-fledgling MTV.
A wise man once said, "If you do a job too well, you'll get stuck with it," and Yankovic has for 30 years held the same gig: capturing both the musical and social Zeitgeist, mixing it with pop songs, and making them his own.
The second leg of Yankovic's Mandatory world tour comes to the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts June 4, the second of six stops in Florida. Six performances in one state might seem like a lot, but Yankovic says he is just following orders.
"A common misconception amongst my fans is that I have control over where I play," he said via phone in late May. "I have an agent that does that work for me, and they hand me an itinerary and say 'You're going here!' So, basically wherever the bus stops, I get off, and we do a show." Al laughs, "So I don't know why I'm doing so many shows in Florida, but the promoters thought it was a good idea."
Still, he loves the Sunshine State. "I've been touring for a long time," he says, "and I have to say that some of the best audiences in the world are in Florida." Though, uh... he says those great audiences are "mainly around St. Petersburg." (Sorry, South Florida!)
Yankovic grew up kind of nerdy, having skipped a grade in school and played the accordion since the age of six. In the 1970s, he goofed around with songs on a tape recorder in his bedroom. He turned "My Sharona" into "My Bologna" and Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" into "Another One Rides the Bus" – both of which found cult success on radio. But his big break came in the 1980s, when Yankovic's video for "Eat It" – featuring the curly-haired star in a fat suit mimicking Michael Jackson's "Beat It" – was a hilarious and refreshing bit that MTV execs put on heavy rotation, making Yankovic a household name. Over the years, he went on to parody everyone from Coolio to Lady Gaga.
But nowadays, anyone with a YouTube account and a smartphone can make Yankovician parodies, which has forced Yankovic to change with the times.
"The digital age has dramatically changed the way music is distributed and promoted," he explains, "and I tried to take advantage of that with the last album [Mandatory Fun]. I knew I couldn't rely on MTV to promote it like they did in the '80s and '90s. My fan base was focused on the internet."
In the lead-up to the release of Mandatory Fun in 2014, Al released eight videos in a row for eight days across sites like College Humor, Yahoo! and YouTube, similar to the route Beyoncé took with the release of her 2013 album, Beyoncé.
Al continues, "People get excited for about a 24-hour period, and if I wanted to dominate the conversation, I needed an event to happen every single day, so that is where the 'Eight Videos in Eight Days' event came from. The pre-internet days, the pre-YouTube days, you had to hope that an executive at MTV thought your video was good enough to put into rotation, but that's not the case anymore."
Yankovic has also expanded his output, contributing voiceovers to cartoons, singing in ABC's Galavant, and taking over as the new bandleader and cohost of IFC's Comedy Bang Bang – a show known for its subversiveness and for bringing together some of the most legendary and cutting-edge comedians. "As the bandleader, I had to come up with a hundred music cues for that show," Yankovic says. After his current tour ends, he might work on songs for another album, he muses.
As for any artists whom he still longs to parody, Yankovic says a select few have eluded him. Given their recent passings, he discussed both David Bowie and Prince.
"I love both Prince and [David] Bowie. With Prince, he never allowed me to use one of his songs. I approached him about a half a dozen times in the '80s and '90s, and he just wasn't into it. With Bowie, I never approached him because I never had a great idea, quite honestly," Yankovic laughs.
"It was never because I think anyone is sacred, but there are certain lines and parameters I wouldn't cross – like right now, I wouldn't do a Bowie parody... People need to mourn for a while. And there are certain songs that are a little too sensitive to make fun of. But by and large, I don't think anyone is beyond being parodied."
"Weird Al" Yankovic
8 p.m. June 4 at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. Tickets start at $22. Call 561-832-7469, or visit kravis.org.