But she denied him permission to perform it, so he released it directly to the Internet, like he did with his similarly rejected-by-the-artist parody of James Blunt’s “You're Beautiful.” The news services and entertainment sites picked up on the story, and it was all over Twitter for a few hours. Then Lady Gaga said she’d never even heard the song, her manager had turned Al down without informing her, she’s a huge Al fan, and of course he can perform the song. Crisis averted, nerd-rage bubble popped before it could fully inflate, everyone’s happy.
But no one comes across really well in this story.
For one thing, the tone of Al’s initial blog post doesn’t much flatter him. Which is odd, because normally he seems to be approximately the world’s second nicest guy.* He had every reason to be annoyed over one aspect of the getting-refused-by-Lady-Gaga process, in that whoever he was in contact with told him Gaga couldn’t give him permission to do the song until she’d heard a recorded version — just looking at the lyrics wasn’t enough — so he put a bunch of time and money into actually cutting the track, and then got turned down. Which smacks of someone jerking him around, hopefully out of ignorance over just what they were asking, rather than actual malice. It makes sense that he’d want to blow off some steam about going to a bunch of unnecessary trouble to make something crafted and troublesome and expensive and then getting turned down.
But much of the rest of the blog post — “Hey, I was doing this song for charity,” and “Man, I had to cut short a vacation to get this recorded,” and “This was gonna be the lead single of my new album, and now it won’t be and I have to delay the album” — none of that is the fault of Lady Gaga or her camp. Pretending for just a minute that she was the heartless, humorless diva the Internet briefly decided she was because of this—it would have been on her head if she’d actually ordered Al to present her with a finished track just so she could offhandedly dismiss it, but she isn’t responsible for his vacation choices. Nor is she under any pressure to make artistic choices based on what he wants to do for charity.
So the initial blog post, I thought, came across as, well, petulant. Kind of petty, really. And it doesn’t help that he is, as he admits, doing something he doesn’t even need to do — getting the original artist’s permission for a parody that he could absolutely legally release without their permission. I respect that he does ask permission, and I respect that he maintains good relationships with all these artists, and I love that sometimes they even help him out, and I think he’s absolutely earned the respect and enthusiasm that they so often give him. But that makes it seem extra-petty when once in a long while, someone turns him down, and he gets snippy about it. He’s asking for something that he doesn’t legally need, and that they’re under no obligation to give them — so I wish he wouldn’t get so piqued when someone doesn’t. (Even if they do occasionally come across as self-important stodges in the process.)
His initial blog post sounded to me like an Internet call to action — to take his side, to get annoyed at Lady Gaga, and above all, to take and enjoy this song that she clearly didn’t want us to have. Also, to resent her for refusing to help make money for charity, and for denying us all the accompanying video, which “was going to be BEYOND AWESOME, and disturbing on many levels,” and almost certainly would have featured Al in a meat dress.
And if it was a call to action, it worked — enough people talked about it that the news got past the managerial bubble and to the one person who could fix the situation. Who also didn’t come across particularly well in this story: First Lady Gaga was presented as a humorless, self-important artist who apparently believed her own hype and had started to take all her crazy-fashionista business so seriously that she not only couldn’t laugh at herself, she couldn’t permit the best parodist in the business to poke a little fun at her. Now, she can instead potentially come across either as someone who’s willing to instantly bow to peer pressure, or as someone who’s so insulated from the world that she didn’t realize any of this was going on in her name. Neither one of those is particularly terrible; I’d be fine with her outright saying “Okay, I turned him down, but I didn’t realize so many people cared about it. If it’s that important to you, sure, why not.” And given her level of fame and the number of people no doubt demanding access to her 24/7, having a manager whose primary job is to keep people away from her and make decisions for her is pretty standard. I don’t think either she or Al comes across terribly in this story. He got understandably irked and bitched a little; I’m perfectly willing to believe** that she really had no idea what was going on, and was delighted with the song once she actually got to hear it. In general, no harm, no foul.
But it’s another pretty interesting story — along the line of the Cooks Source debacle, or the Paperchase plagiarism case, or the My Date With Drew guy, or even the various cases of 4chan vigilantism against animal abusers — illustrating how these days, if you want something and you don’t have recourse to it, the best way to get it is to get a loud chunk of the Internet on your side, boosting your signal until it gets to the right ears.
And if that takes a certain amount of petulance and aggrieved breast-beating, then so be it.
I'm just a little disappointed in you today, "Weird Al" Yankovic. Tell you what, though — I'm sure you can make it up to me by wearing a meat dress. Or a vinyl-crowned catsuit. Or a porcupine on your head, or any of the other appropriately ridiculous things you reference in the new song. Don't think of it as something you had always intended to do for your video anyway, to make gobs of money for charity; think of it as a little bit of penance for airing your dirty underwear on the Internet (not to mention Lady Gaga's dirty underwear, which is made out of salmon and sapphires) and getting us to wave it around for you like a flag.
* After Neil Gaiman.
** Not that it matters a good goddamn what I think or believe about any of this, really, and I wouldn’t bother bloviating on about my opinion if I didn’t think all of this was a pretty interesting story. And hey, I like the song, and here's an excuse to post it.