“Weird Al” Yankovic may be considered strange, but sometimes, he’s spot-on too. The pop parodist clowns with hit tunes, transforming inane songs into observations of urban life, irreverent as they may be. He lampoons trends, and, in the case of his latest single Tacky, regrettable trends. Reworded from Pharrell Wlliams’s retro-soul jaunt Happy (OST of Despicable Me 2’s most recognisable track), Tacky is a self-deprecating shtick that takes a shot at Insta-gen’s predilection for the crass. The song’s music video, conceived with fashion-depraved luridness to amplify what the title denotes, gives it the visual weight it needs, as is the case with most of his songs.
“Weird Al” Yankovic made a career out of the novelty of rewording hits first made popular by other vocalists. He puts comedy in those singled-out tracks the way a baker fills cream puffs: with ease, but he’s no Allan Sherman. In 1984, he turned Michael Jackson’s Beat It to Eat It (a Grammy-winning hit), and continues to point at the banal, right up to Tacky, the 11th track on his new album Mandatory Fun, which earned him his first No.1 album on the Billboard 200 charts in July. While Eat It is rather mindless and silly, Tacky is quite incisive and unapologetic. It is confessional, too, considering how partial the singer is to the garish.
Parody in pop is no longer novel. Psy’s Gangnam Style—tacky too—has spawned on YouTube a slew of DIY musical mockery, but Tacky is timely. “Weird Al” Yankovic critiques the fashion choices of today (“glitter Uggs” and “sequinned Crocs”!) as well as bad pairings (“stripes with plaids” and “belt with suspenders”!) with the same scorn he has for modern practices (such as “Instagram every meal”) that has become so common, they’re no longer damnable.
But this isn’t the first time he has something to say about the clothes people wear. In 2011’s Perform This Way, sung to the tune of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, he hilariously defended the dress choices of Mother Monster (and, inadvertently, the dubious achievements of the Haus of Gaga), and featured some pieces of her “pop monstrosity” in the accompanying music video. Perform This Way isn’t a thesis on fashion (since what he chose to highlight can’t be considered wearable as they are made of, among other things, Swiss cheese, bees, and, of course, meat), but it is a view that attention-grabbing performance wear is necessary for, well, performing, and the pursuit of fame. Given the sentiments in Tacky, surely that’s tacky too.
Tacky, then, could be a follow-up to Perform This Way, allowing Weird Al Yankovic to express what he didn’t want to say previously. Now, however, it is censure rather than support, knocking the current leaning toward outrageous clothes and contemptible behaviour. If tacky means not tasteful and, increasingly, cheaply vulgar, then it can be aptly used to describe Nicki Minaj’s music video for her new single Anaconda.
To state that Ms Minaj’s performance is “tacky” is, in fact, a little weak—it’s like calling a show, any show, “interesting”. Her act is so laden with licentious moves, with her butt taking up so much screen space and time that the entire video veritably verges on the vulgar. Make no mistake: this is Nicki Minaj, so we’re not expecting Taylor Swift, who interprets “shake” in Shake It Off as gyrating in a tutu. But Ms Minaj’s skin-baring twerking, while a male voice raps, “My anaconda don’t…”, is a naked affront to decency and is manifestly tacky. Posterior, massive or not—like breasts—should be covered. Just because they’re not punctuated by teats does not make them less a lewd ostentation.
It was suggested that she is merely trying to outdo Rihanna in the music video Pour It Up, or be ahead of Jennifer Lopez’s upcoming Booty, but surely there are other ways to upstage her competitors than seeing who shakes more bare buttocks, even when her butt is bigger than her face. There is a difference between sexy and sex-driven. You can radiate sexuality without mimicking copulation to facilitate male onanistic indulgence (or is this counterpoint to hip-hop’s overt masculine dominance?). You can simply sing. And you sing with your mouth, which is on your face, not on your butt.
There’s no denying that this is the age of celebrity consumerism, so Ms Minaj knows exactly what she’s doing performing in what she wears or does not wear. In fact, so little is put on for most part of Anaconda that fashion ceases to be the point, yet the more she continues in this vein, the more she’s considered an influencer, gluteal excess et al. It’s more than a little disconcerting that pop stars with dubious taste wield so much influence in fashion these days. It boggles the mind to read headlines such as “Gaga, Pharell turn up heat at fashion week”. If a fashion week needs pop stars to turn the heat up, then maybe it is really cold to begin with.