The Purpose of Parody

Listening to songs by Weird Al Yankovic has got me thinking about parody songs, their nature and their purpose. For those unfamiliar with Weird Al or with parody songs generally, strap yourselves in and we’ll go for a spin.

The world of parody is part humour and part serious. Typically, parodies aim to make comment on some issue, be it a current affair, a political perspective or a personal opinion. Like satire, parodies use humour to underline their points of view and at times this humour can make the artist or writer’s message even more pertinent.

Some parodies simply mock without getting too serious in their message. However, many parodies do seek to convince us of some message that is important to the artist/writer.

Most parodies are satirical in nature. Pure satire can mock any issue, specific or broad. Parody pieces mock by mimicry: they imitate an original piece or genre but bring their own version or twist to bear. Parodies can appear in artwork, in a comedic skit, in dance, in the spoken word and in music.

Weird Al is proficient at both parody and satire and is perhaps most well-known for his parodies of popular songs. Some examples of his popular parodies include Eat It (a parody of Michael Jackson’s Beat It), Smells Like Nirvana (a parody of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit) and Tacky (a parody of Pharrell Williams’ Happy).

These and other songs by Weird Al are largely written for fun, and his music has been a major source of inspiration for me. While parodies can be enjoyable simply for what they are, they can also be an effective means of communicating an important message or opinion.

The purpose of parody can be compared to Shakespeare’s use of the Clown caricature. In many of Shakespeare’s plays (I won’t say all of them as I have not read them all), Shakespeare made use of a clown or jester-type character. This character would be the one to make all the jokes, perform song and dance, and relieve the tension in a given scene.

Because no-one ever took the clown seriously, the clown could get away with saying all sorts of things. Shakespeare used his clowns to confront wrongdoing, make observations and commentary, name elephants in the room and generally say the things no-one else can say.

The clown gets away with these things precisely because they are the clown. Through the use of humour, song and dance, the clown is empowered to challenge, rebuke and reveal. I think such artforms are just as pertinent and effective today.

With this in mind, I have looked at incorporating the use of parody more in my own songwriting. I have now written a number of satirical and parody songs. My upcoming song, Pewsitter, is a parody of a song called God Chaser by David and Nicole Binion.

In the case of Pewsitter I have used parody to comment on contemporary Christianity, not as a statement of fact but as a challenge to us all. The risk of parody is that things can be taken too seriously or even misinterpreted; people may be offended by tongue-in-cheek references to church habits or may see it as an affront to Christ Himself; however I judge this to be a creative risk worth taking.

If this blog has whet your appetite, you’ll have to stay tuned! Over the next few weeks I will be blogging further about Pewsitter and posting updates about the release of the Pewsitter lyric video online.

In the meantime, if you would like to better acquaint yourself with Weird Al’s style of parody, you can find plenty of his music and videos online. But be prepared: listening to Weird Al’s music can be mood- and mind-altering. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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