'Weird Al' Yankovic On Getting Pharrell's Permission: 'He Could Not Have Been Nicer'
"This is the first time where I've gotten everybody that I wanted, and I couldn't be happier about it," says Yankovic of new album "Mandatory Fun."
"Weird Al" Yankovic is pleased to report that he had no issues with the artists whose songs he parodies on his new "Mandatory Fun," and, in fact, got the green-light for everything he wanted.
"I was very lucky -- this is my first album in a long time that didn't have any actual drama," Yankovic, who's had low-key tussles with the likes of James Blunt and Eminem in the recent past, tells Billboard. "It seems like my last few albums have always had some problems around the release, and this is the first time where I've gotten everybody that I wanted, and I couldn't be happier about it."
And, Yankovic adds, Pharrell Williams is particularly happy, since Yankovic takes on three of his recent hits -- "Happy" as "Tacky," Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" as "Word Crimes" and Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" as part of the "NOW That's What I Call Polka!" medley. "My manager was having a time tough getting a hold of Pharrell through his representatives," Yankovic recalls. "In the meanwhile, I somehow -- and I'm not at liberty to say how -- got Pharrell's personal e-mail address and I sent him an e-mail requesting permission, and he could not have been nicer. He sent me a very sweet e-mail back immediately saying he'd be honored. I was just blown away. He was just the sweetest guy."
"Mandatory Fun" -- Yankovic's first release since 2011's "Alpocalypse" -- also features parodies of Iggy Azalea's "Fancy" (as "Handy"), Lorde's "Royals" ("Foil") and Imagine Dragons' "Radioactive" (as "Inactive"); for the latter, members of Yankovic's band and studio team reached out to Imagine Dragons' camp for assistance in getting particular sounds, with complete cooperation. "In fact, I was sent a photo of me with their bass player (Ben McKee) when he was, I think, 12 years old," Yankovic says. "He was a fan from way back, so I would imagine he was happy about the parody."
On the originals front, Yankovic tries his hand at a marching band-style anthem ("Sports Song") and apes the styles of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young ("Mission Statement"), the Pixies ("First World Problems"), Cat Stevens ("Jackson Park Express") and others. "I always start with the originals, because those age better," Yankovic explains. "So I get those in hand and I always do the parodies last so they can be as fresh and timely and topical as possible. It's difficult to ascertain when something's gone mainstream or made some kind of mark on the zeitgeist. I'm actually using my daughter now -- she's 11 years old and just going into the sixth grade. I used her to figure out when Iggy Azalea had reached the tipping point. I was following Iggy on her rise up the charts and I thought, 'Oh, this might work,' and I asked my daughter, 'Are people talking about Iggy Azalea at school?' and she said, 'No, not so much.' then I asked her again two weeks later and she said, 'Oh, yeah, that's all they're talking about right now.' So I said, 'OK, tipping point! It's time!' "
No specific single has been released from "Mandatory Fun;" instead Yankovic has put together videos for eight of the songs, which began rolling out one each day starting on July 14. A "big tour," Yankovic says, is on tap for 2015. Meanwhile, by the time he puts out his next album, there will be a new "Star Wars" film for the man who hit big with "Yoda" and "The Saga Continues" to consider, but Yankovic says he's not getting any inside tips about the forthcoming Episode 7 from the George Lucas camp yet.
"I made an offhand comment many years ago that, 'Oh yeah, I do a "Star Wars" parody every 20 years like clockwork,' " Yankovic notes. "So people are saying, 'Well, how about that?' I don't know. I'll never rule anything out, but I've already got two 'Star Wars' songs in my live set. I don't know how much of a percentage of my live show I want to dedicate to 'Star Wars.' But never say never -- I'll wait and see what happens."