Weird Al snubbed by Lady Gaga, releases his parody without permission as fair use

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69 Responses to “Weird Al snubbed by Lady Gaga, releases his parody without permission as fair use”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I know “Weird Al” is “weird” because he has “weird” in his name.

  2. The Life Of Bryan says:

    I’m a Weird Al fan from way back, but I have to agree that this is not his most epic work. However, he gets huge points in my book for slipping the words “express yourself” into the backing vocals.

  3. bardfinn says:

    Al’s epic work will always be “The Saga Begins”. A point-perfect parody of the movie, telling the story spot-on, gleaned from movie trailers and Joseph Campbell, endorsed by Lucas, released alongside the movie, patterned on a huge musical hit, where the subtext ended up being prescient (Do you remember exactly when Lucas killed your childhood? The day the music died?).

    My, my. This-here Anakin guy
    May be Vader some day later
    Now he’s just a small fry
    He left his home, and kissed his mommy goodbye
    Singin’ “Soon I’m gonna be a Jedi.”.

  4. Toff says:

    I love Weird Al, but this particular song is not one of his better ones. There’s even an aspect to it I really don’t like.

    If Lady Gaga, whose music I’m almost totally unfamiliar with, was involved in the initial rejection of the parody, possibly it had something to do with the content of the original? I had to look the lyrics up; they appear to be, as most of you probably know, about tolerance and self-love of identities rooted in the facts of our births: nationalities, ethnicities, orientations, disabilities. As opposed to, as is often claimed by the bigoted particularly in the case of transgender and sexual orientations other than hetero, the charge that it is a choice, and a condemnable defective choice of which to be ashamed.

    Weird Al’s song is not about the innate, but the performative: about a choice, and a choice of an identity that is crazy, and would be certifiably insane if innate. And whereas Lady Gaga’s song is about celebrating her identity, and encouraging her audience to do the same with respect to themselves, Weird Al’s is about mocking Lady Gaga’s performative identity (and to some extent perhaps her real identity) and perhaps encouraging his audience to do the same.

    I’m not saying Weird Al is bigoted; I doubt very much whether he is or could be. I love the guy and his music in general. Clearly he’s a guy who accepts and embraces eccentricities. I doubt whether he is criticizing Lady Gaga’s performance style, even though the lyrics give that appearance if taken literally. Nevertheless, I think he made a misstep here and came up with a parody that unfortunately inadvertently treads near bigotry, even if it managed to keep off the jackboots. If he wanted to use a Lady Gaga song to make fun of Lady Gaga, he should have picked a less personal song.

    That he released this song for free with a note that the proceeds would have gone to HRC if approved for sale was really very tacky. I hope he reconsiders including the song on the album, and would consider making a donation of his own to HRC unconnected to any licensing deal.

    • Mister44 says:

      Good gawd. I bet when you look at bouquet of flowers, you assume they are there because someone planted a bee in them, and worry that the color of one of the flowers a person might find offensive because red was Hitler’s favorite color.

      re: “Lady Gaga’s song is about celebrating her identity, and encouraging her audience to do the same with respect to themselves, Weird Al’s is about mocking Lady Gaga’s performative identity…”

      Hi. Yeah. You say you are familiar with Weird Al – this is what he does. Look up ‘parody’ and ‘satire’. Al’s angle is never mean spirited, and often hilarious.

      You are really connecting a lot of dots that have nothing to do with one another.

      re: “. If he wanted to use a Lady Gaga song to make fun of Lady Gaga, he should have picked a less personal song.”

      Give me a break. Hey – I like Lady Ga Ga, but lets not confuse a bubble gum pop song with something deeply person, such as perhaps Claptons “Tears from Heaven”.

      As you said above, he is making fun of her performance identity – which is just a fictional character she plays.

      ———————

      I could totally see she had no idea about this. I mean – this is Lady Ga Ga, 12 Million + album sales Ga Ga, and some dorky fly is buzzing around, wanting to do a parody. I could totally see a manager blowing this off.

      • Toff says:

        You’d lose that bet, I’m afraid! Somehow you and Jere7my seem to have skimmed past much of my post somehow. In particular, “Clearly he’s a guy who accepts and embraces eccentricities. I doubt whether he is criticizing Lady Gaga’s performance style, even though the lyrics give that appearance if taken literally.”

        My complaint was that Weird Al’s lyrics taken in the context of the original song’s lyrics, and the original song in the context of what it was responding to: born/choice arguments and intolerance, made that song a poor choice to parody, and made that song a poor choice to parody the particular way he did. I doubt if I would have given the matter any thought had the issue of the initial lack of approval for the parody not come up, which is what prompted me to look up the original and to think about what might have been problematic about the parody. *Inadvertently* problematic, as I originally stated.

        I think I described why it was a poor choice, but you and Jere7my clearly disagree. And Lady Gaga in the end either wasn’t offended, or didn’t want to make a bigger issue about it after Weird Al publicly gave her a hard time. We do perhaps at least agree that Weird Al probably didn’t put a lot of thought into this parody.

        The song alone does not in any way diminish my appreciation for Weird Al. I’ve enjoyed his work since the early 80s. However, his handling of the rejection as well as the text that opens and closes the video does somewhat. I’ll keep listening, though.

        • Mister44 says:

          I think I should have just shortened my reply to “You are thinking way to hard about a man who plays funny songs on an accordion.”

    • jere7my says:

      Toff, if Al’s parody does have a deep subtext (and I’m not convinced that it does), it is this: weirdness for the sake of performance, which both he and Gaga are known for, is performative, not innate. Born This Way tacitly equates Lady Gaga’s own performative choices with being born gay or trans or black or what-have-you. Al may be gently pointing that out: “Hey, Gaga, you weren’t born that way; you perform that way.”

      If your argument is that a guy named “Weird Al” Yankovic, who wears Hawaiian shirts and plays the accordian, is too critical of weird self-expression, you might want to reexamine your hypothesis.

  5. bcsizemo says:

    “It’s All About The Pentiums” was a parody of “It’s All About The Benjamins” by Puff Daddy:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTTVkh6NX50&feature=related – Puffy

    Note, that’s the original version.
    Here’s the rock remix that Puffy did:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qOU5YwiIsg

    And that’s what Al did the parody of:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpMvS1Q1sos

  6. Teufelaffe says:

    According to Al’s blog, Gaga never heard about this until after he posted the song on Youtube. Apparently, her manager made the decision without telling her, and she was more than happy to say yes once she was actually made aware of the song.

    http://alyankovic.wordpress.com/2011/04/20/gaga-update/

  7. jere7my says:

    We do perhaps at least agree that Weird Al probably didn’t put a lot of thought into this parody.

    We do not. For someone who jumps around like an idiot on-stage, Weird Al is an incredibly smart and thoughtful guy. He’s also a detail-oriented perfectionist. I’m sure he puts a lot of thought into all his songs, even Gotta Boogie.

    Al’s music frequently layers surprising depth and subtle satire beneath the corny jokes. I would not be surprised to learn he was commenting on the awkward way Born This Way equates the weirdness of Lady Gaga’s stage persona, which she can put on and take off at will, to differences of race, sexuality, and class, which people are born with. That’s the (possible) message of the song, as I see it: “Gaga, you weren’t born this way; you perform this way.” He’s not taking a side on the sexuality nature/nurture argument; he’s saying Gaga’s weird outfits are a choice, and she shouldn’t equate them to the inescapable problems faced by people who are born not conforming to the norm.

    I would also not be surprised if none of that had occurred to Al, and he just liked thinking up goofy costumes. But the guy is a deep thinker.

  8. rgsteele says:

    Just to clarify, it’s not the first time an artist (or in this case, their agent) has refused Weird Al. The Offspring, for example, denied Al’s parody of “Come Out and Play”. He’s performed the song, “Laundry Day”, as part of a medley in concerts. (They later relented for “Pretty Fly for a Rabbi”.)

    Prince has the distinction of refusing Al numerous times.

  9. lmnop says:

    According to Al’s blog, Gaga never heard about this until after he posted the song on Youtube. Apparently, her manager made the decision without telling her, and she was more than happy to say yes once she was actually made aware of the song.

    Yeah, but why let a little factual statement like that from Weird Al himself get in the way of what you really want to suggest, which is that Gaga made unreasonable demands and withheld consent from something that didn’t actually require her consent, and that she only stepped back because of the PR shit-storm.

    One thing that Cory pointedly avoids mentioning is that the track was only released as a free download because Gaga withheld her consent. Given Weird Al’s history of only commercially releasing tracks that have the support of the original artist, Weird Al’s legal team apparently believes that the Fair Use may well not apply to commercial exploitation of his “parodies” (commercial exploitation does generally cut against fair use). Weird Al originally planned to release the remake commercially (though with profits donated to a gay-rights charity), and only changed the release to a free download (with donations encouraged) after consent was withheld by Gaga’s manager.

    • Teufelaffe says:

      That’s not anything like what I would like to suggest. Having known a few entertainment managers in my life, I’m more than willing to believe that things happened exactly the way Al says they did. Namely, Gaga’s manager lied, and only fessed up when word got back to Gaga herself.

    • metaphorge says:

      I was about to say something to that effect, but you did it for me. Thanks!

      Are we going to get a revised headline for the post now?

  10. Jack says:

    Others said it and I will: This all sounds like a stunt on both parts. Lady Gaga is one of the most media savvy performers ever. Any move she—or her entity—makes is thoroughly thought out.

    Prediction: Bigger sales than “Dare to Be Stupid.” Gaga and Al profit. The machine is fed.

    And scene.

    • BDiamond says:

      Thanks for mentioning “Dare to be Stupid.” Though you’re obviously referencing the album, I think the song itself is not only the best Weird Al parody of a group’s style (without parodying a specific song), I think it’s one of his best songs, period. That, and “I’m a Genius in France,” of course.

      • Jack says:

        Thanks. And I actually agree with your sentiments. I respect Weird Al a lot, but his time is over. He peaked in the 1980s. He should have stopped with UHF and become a true legend. Past that he’s really been predictable (obviously) but I see no pop-culture resonance.

        • dculberson says:

          Dude, both of you are dead, dead wrong. Weird Al is just as funny and relevant now as he ever was; that’s what’s so amazing about him. You’re probably confusing liking something because it’s from your childhood / younger years with linking it because it’s good. The song “All about the Pentiums” is nowhere near as good as half the tracks from Straight Outta Lynwood.

          And this is from a long time Weird Al fan. There’s been absolutely no downturn in the quality of his offerings; in fact he’s grown and become a better musician, better writer, and better performer.

    • Anonymous says:

      If the machine that gets fed is the Human Rights Campaign, then it seems like it was well worth the time.

      Though it doesn’t fit Al’s persona. He’s too kind hearted and actually good to try something like this for the sake of profit. Maybe for the sake of laughter?

  11. Anonymous says:

    Also happened with the James Blunt parody “You’re Pitiful”, which he did when I saw him live last month.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/You%27re_Pitiful

    • bibulb says:

      The Blunt situation’s a little bit weird – by most reports, Blunt himself was pretty happy about it, but EMI then withdrew permission. This is also why, in the video for “White and Nerdy”, when he mentions “editing Wikipedia”, the page he’s editing is EMI’s – to “EMI SUCKS!”.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I saw Weird Al live about 6 years ago, and he’s easily in the top 3 live performers I’ve ever seen.

    A really high-energy show, with tonnes of costume changes (including the famous ‘Fat’ suit) and the band gave 110%

    If Weird Al is touring near you, I totally recommend seeing his show. I was really impressed.

  13. MacBookHeir says:

    AL is definitely the last genius of our time

  14. Churba says:

    Ah, more artists than just prince have refused to let Wierd Al Parody one of their songs, Prince is the only consistently does so.
    So far, the list includes Jimmy Page(For a polka medly of Led Zepplin songs), Paul Mcartney(For a parody of “Live and let die” called Chicken Pot Pie, because Mcartney is a Vegetarian, and apparently an idiot), Atlantic records pulled permission to do a parody of James Blunt(However, blunt did not refuse permission himself), Eminem Denied permission for a video to accompany Couch Potato, though he approved the song.

    @ Metaphorge – I’d be sure we’ll get at least an update. Corey is usually pretty reasonable about this sorta stuff, as are most of the rest of the BoingBoing crew, it seems.

    • Anonymous says:

      ” Paul Mcartney(For a parody of “Live and let die” called Chicken Pot Pie, because Mcartney is a Vegetarian, and apparently an idiot)”

      Which is kind of funny since Al is vegan.

  15. Jardine says:

    It’s my understanding that anyone can release their own version of a song without permission. They just have to pay a fee to the composer of the music and the writer of the lyrics. I believe it’s called compulsory licensing.

    • bjza says:

      It’s my understanding that anyone can release their own version of a song without permission. They just have to pay a fee to the composer of the music and the writer of the lyrics. I believe it’s called compulsory licensing.

      Compulsory licensing only applies to versions with changes in musical arrangement, not to changes in the lyrics as significant as Yankovic’s (were it not parody) where the “fundamental character” differs greatly.

  16. tyger11 says:

    It’s too bad that with all this hoopla, that Weird Al’s parody wasn’t actually, you know, _good_. His heyday seems to have been around “It’s All About the Pentiums” for me. *shrug*

    “What kinda chip you got in there, a Dorito?”

  17. macemoneta says:

    Meh. I liked Yvonne Strahovski’s Gaga parody better.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSHBvwnOARQ

    • Chentzilla says:

      Wow, that one’s good. My favorite Gaga parody is Outer Space by Venetian Princess, though.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks for posting that link–I agree–top-notch satire!

      That said, how anyone can fault Al’s offering is beyond me. His musical shtick has always been perfectly cheesy. Everyone will have their faves and no one bats 1000 every game (hm, whatever that means). Also, it seems painfully clear that Gaga could use being given occasion to reflect on her sheer (pun alert) stuntiness.

  18. Jason Rizos says:

    Lady Gaga == Low Art.

  19. teufelsdroch says:

    Chicken pot pie is just as brilliant as it sounds:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhpH_kYa6Do

  20. LX says:

    …and here’s me thinking satire is the most sincere form of flattery.

  21. efergus3 says:

    He showed up in ’76 playing sax with Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen in a B- comedy called Hollywood Boulevard. Worth seeing once. Twice if stoned.

  22. Anonymous says:

    If they married, wouldn’t it be “Weird Gaga”?

  23. bat21 says:

    In VH1′s Behind the Music, Weird Al explained that he knows he doesn’t need permission for his parodies. He does it to be polite. Krist Novoselic revealed when Weird Al asked permission for a Smells Like Teen parody, Kurt Cobain replied “It’s not going to be about food is it?” http://youtu.be/FklUAoZ6KxY

  • AnjaFlower says:

    Yeh, a whole lot of good the money to HRC would do, too. What’re they going to do with it – hold some fancy benefit dinners for rich people? Whine at Obama to pour champagne over the heads of wealthy gay men? Buy expensive new armored vehicles with which to run over transgender people and working-class queers?

    Whatevs. I’ve never liked Weird Al much anyway. He’s mildly funny – I do like White & Nerdy – but relies way too much on cheap, bigoted comedian fallbacks like “LOL little people!” and “LOL transgender people!” “LOL fat people!” etc. Why would I want to expose myself to *more* of that shit? I already put up with it enough as it is.

    • brix says:

      WORD.

      my first thought on seeing the “benefit” message at the end was that mr. yankovic was worried that parodying this particular song by being all “lol. weirdos dress weird” would come across as anti-queer.

      followed immediately by thought 2, which was to wonder if the uninspired thing i had just listened to had more anti-queer sentiment than it seemed to at first glance.

      and my third thought was that i was only having the first two thoughts because “i woulda totally donated money to the HRC” is such an incredible non-statement, which shows a complete disconnect with the political struggles of the broader queer community, to the point where it just sounds like a combination of “I Have Gay Friends” and telling a homeless panhandler that you give money to Unicef.

      (side note: i’m a queer trans girl, and i was directly, face-to-face asked for money by HRC reps a couple times in the last year. the last instance ended with the clipboard-bearer apologizing to me extensively for the conduct of his organization. using words like “massive fuck-up” and “unconscionable.” which i thought was niceto hear, even though it ain’t worth a red cent.)

      • Brainspore says:

        …followed immediately by thought 2, which was to wonder if the uninspired thing i had just listened to had more anti-queer sentiment than it seemed to at first glance.

        Sure Weird Al isn’t for everybody and the efficacy of the HRC is open for debate, but really?

        There are enough genuine bigots out there. It’s not necessary to construct a new one out of an artist who donates the proceeds of his work to support a national campaign for LGBT rights.

      • wormbaby says:

        Wait you just spent several paragraphes railing against biogotry and then used the term “red cent”? lol

        • Brainspore says:

          Actually the term “red cent” refers to a no-longer-minted U.S. coin that was reddish in color. There’s nothing inherently racist about the term itself. (See brix? I’ll defend you from unwarranted accusations too.)

          • Shart Tsung says:

            Red cents were used in U.S. slave trades.

          • Brainspore says:

            So were all other currencies at the time, that doesn’t make the coin racist. “Not worth a red cent” is just an expression used to denote “something of such little value that it is not worth the smallest available denomination.” It was (and is) used in the same way as “not worth a copper” and “not worth a penny.”

          • wormbaby says:

            lol I alsways thought it was the Indian cent retconned to be the original copper pennies that tended to tarnish red. Uh oh I wonder if “holy cow” isn’t really offensive to hindus lol.

          • Brainspore says:

            Yeah, that’s a pretty common misconception. A quick googling of the term will show that many people (erroneously) believe that “Red Cent” is an offensive term because it has something to do with A) American Indians, B) Slavery, or C) Communism. But so far I haven’t seen anything that indicates the term’s origins have any meaning beyond “a small denomination coin that is reddish in color due to a high copper content.”

            There was a similar kerfuffle a couple years back about the word “picnic” when some people started spreading a false rumor that the term’s etymology originated from a community lynching event called “pick a n*****.”

  • Anonymous says:

    Lady Gaga should respect Weird Al. He had great success doing Madonna parodies before she was even born.

  • Stonewalker says:

    Coolio also didn’t want Al to do the “Amish Paradise” parody but there was a mis-communication between parties so he went ahead with it, thinking Coolio was cool with it. He apologized after he found out but Coolio never wrote back.

    Al said something along the lines of “I don’t think he minded too much when he got his royalty check”

  • DarthVain says:

    Wasn’t Gaga’s just a parody of a Madonna song?

    • Brainspore says:

      It was my understanding that Gaga’s entire career is a parody of Madonna, who in turn is a parody of herself. Both women are good at what they do but neither would be well advised to take themselves too seriously (and if the latest reports on this story are to believed it looks like neither does).

  • penguinchris says:

    I liked the lyrics referring to various costumes, it’s weird though because while most are exaggerations, several of them are things she actually has worn or done.

    That said I didn’t think it was among his strongest work. I am particularly unimpressed with the title and that repeated line, “Perform This Way”. I get that it’s probably hard to come up with something that makes sense off of “Born This Way”, but “Perform This Way” is so straight-forward, it’s nowhere near being a joke and turns it into Rebecca Black lyrics territory (and I don’t think that’s intentional).

    However you have to cut him some slack, because the actual song “Born This Way” is not particularly good either. I do like many of her previous songs (not all), and I appreciate the music videos for what they are, but this one felt like a major dud to me, and the music video doubly so – it almost makes the song worse to watch the video, and isn’t visually arresting like some of her earlier videos.

    So my solution for Weird Al is to make a video of this. The song – either the original or the parody – doesn’t have to be great for a parody video to be great. Lady Gaga videos are begging for a professionally done parody such as Weird Al could provide.

  • Anonymous says:

    personally i think its a brilliant parody. the pace and wording of the song is spot on, digging just a little into lady gaga’s performing style (if thats the right way to put it)

    a+ effort from weird al.

  • Pickapair says:

    Yeah, but did he get Eddie Izzard’s permission to use COVERED IN BEES!?

  • Art says:

    A very well produced “cover” song.
    (though a bit gentle for a parody)

    Weird Al certainly knows what he’s doing in the studio.

  • tyrsalvia says:

    You really should issue a correction. Lady Gaga had not heard of this prior to Al’s posting and the subsequent publicity of this issue, and not issuing a correction to this post is really disingenuous.

  • lmnop says:

    @bat21:

    In VH1′s Behind the Music, Weird Al explained that he knows he doesn’t need permission for his parodies. He does it to be polite.

    @teufelsdroch:

    Yup, thanks to Irving Berlin v. Mad Magazine, song parodies are well-established as fair use.

    AFAIK, this is the earliest fair use case out there, actually. But that may just be in my Mad-magazine-centered world.

    Actually, the Supreme Court’s decision in Campbell v. Acuff Rose Music (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campbell_v._Acuff-Rose_Music,_Inc.) is the leading case on parodies. While this would seem to establish, as @bat21 also says, that Weird Al’s parodies are Fair Use and can be commercially exploited, the real question is whether his parodies are parodies in the legal sense of that word as defined in Acuff Rose.

    Souter’s majority opinion clearly distinguished between parody and satire, saying:

    Parody needs to mimic an original to make its point, and so has some claim to use the creation of its victim’s (or collective victims’) imagination, whereas satire can stand on its own two feet and so requires justification for the very act of borrowing.(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/92-1292.ZO.html)

    Essentially, in order to get the protections of being a parody, the parody must be commenting upon the particular work that is being copied. In Acuff Rose, they were commenting on Orbison’s unrealistic view of women in the particular song “Pretty Woman.” In order for weird Al’s song’s to receive parody protection, and not be simple satires, they need to be commenting on the particular song being quoted. Simply commenting on the genre, the artist, or the zeitgeist is insufficient, as this commenting could be done in other methods without quoting that particular song.

    So the real question is whether Weird Al’s “parodies” actually copy others in order to make a point that could not be made without the copying of that particular work. I think this is not the typical case, especially when his admirers can make comments like the one below.

    @mcv:

    He peaked around “It’s all about the Pentiums”? But that song itself was not the peak, was it? I have no idea what it’s even about (well, Pentiums, apparently, but I have no idea what it’s parodying).

    Of course there are the multiple other comments describing what he does as satire, and while they may be speaking in terms of the legal use of the word, this does point to the incorrect tendency of people to just claim that copyright law protects parody without understanding what that means, and what exactly counts as parody and what does not.

  • mcv says:

    He peaked around “It’s all about the Pentiums”? But that song itself was not the peak, was it? I have no idea what it’s even about (well, Pentiums, apparently, but I have no idea what it’s parodying). Around that time, he also released The Saga Begins, which was absolutely awesome.

    With Al’s tendency to parody local B-artists, you also get weird stuff like his “White and nerdy” becoming a hit before the song it parodies: “Ridin’ dirty”. I think Chamillionaire owes Al for that one. Al had gotten too big for his shtick to work. The people or songs he parodies should be more famous than him/his.

  • Antinous / Moderator says:

    The problem with Weird Al doing a parody of Gaga is that Gaga is already doing a parody of pop music.

  • Anonymous says:

    Whenever i hear about Lady GaGa i think of this song just replace the Gs with Ds http://youtu.be/hSwJ2rjUSdc

  • millrick says:

    Cory has a movie agent?

  • Sparrow says:

    As promised, all my proceeds from the song (and the MUSIC VIDEO… I can’t wait…) will go to the Human Rights Campaign.

    There will be a music video. I can’t wait…

  • Anonymous says:

    I could be wrong, but wasn’t one of his parodies also refused by Coolio? Amish Paradise / Gansta Paradise

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