Okay, let’s first get something straight.
It’s not that Weird Al Yankovic wasn’t already a success. I mean, before the release of Mandatory Fun, the guy had already sold well over 12 million albums. He’s won three Grammys and has received eleven other nominations to boot. Since the 80s his name has been widely recognized in pop culture. But his influence has primarily been an accumulated one over the course of thirty plus years and over 150 songs. He’d never before experienced success of this magnitude with any single project.
There are a number of things that make this remarkable. For one, it’s the first comedy album since 1963 to have reached #1. It’s also the first album in Weird Al’s quite substantial career of over 30 years to do so. When you consider that there was once a time when many would have passed him off as a no longer relevant has-been, this is mighty impressive.
Al himself seems just as surprised by this as anyone else.
Well, he’s right to be surprised. After all, as he recently told ABC World News, “I’ve been doing the same thing for 30 years and all of a sudden I’m having the best week of my life,” and “which is kind of blowing my mind. I’ve never had this kind of response before.”
And it’s true. Across the span of his career, Weird Al has never really strayed from his basic formula: pick a hit pop song and parody it. So why the massive success now, this late into his career?
Certainly, the album had a very savvy marketing strategy behind it, namely the viral video campaign that started on July 14 with his video of “Tacky,” a parody of Pharrell’s “Happy,” quickly followed up during the same week with seven other videos including the hilarious “First World Problems” and the brilliant “Word Crimes” which has already become the new anthem for grammar nazis everywhere.
But I think Weird Al’s recent success is also yet another example of the power of social media, particularly Twitter, a tool he has utilized to great effect. Since joining the site in 2009, he has amassed over 3 million followers, which no doubt situated him in an advantageous position from which to launch the Mandatory Fun album and its meticulous marketing campaign.
In an article published yesterday in The New York Times, Weird Al stated that he tries to reply to every Twitter message that he gets. I’m not really sure what the Times article means by “Twitter message” (does it include tweets to him or just private messages?), but with over 3 million followers that would obviously be a losing battle for any busy artist. But even just the fact that he tries is admirable.
As an aspiring social media expert myself, I enjoy seeing Weird Al’s tweets. It’s clear he cares about his fans, is grateful to them, and wants to please them. And to study his Twitter feed is to study the workings of an artist who has mastered this social medium.
I’ve always been a fan of late success stories. I mean, again, it’s not that Weird Al wasn’t already very successful; it’s just that the level of his success these past couple of weeks has been staggering. And inspiring.
So go, Weird Al! Show this youth-obsessed culture what a 54-year-old guy can do!