Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Andy Samberg and TLI - are not Weird Al

This Ain’t Weird Al

The novelty song used to be popular, but it has never, ever been cool. Whether it was Allan Sherman making his 1963 hit “Hello Mudduh! Hello Fadduh!” or Weird Al Yankovic parodying Michael Jackson with “Eat It” in 1984, the comedian who made singalong spoofs was like the hip stand-up comic’s embarrassing country cousin. There were exceptions, of course, like the cerebral, political Tom Lehrer — but let’s just say that, in general, Lenny Bruce and George Carlin did not sing. The novelty song was an outlet for nerds, morning-show shock jocks and the kind of guys who put the word “weird” in front of their names. This might help explain why the era of the novelty song seemed to end right around the time that hip-hop came of age: the greatness of Weird Al’s “Straight Outta Lynwood” notwithstanding, the average funny-song singer was not cut out to spoof N.W.A.

The Lonely Island has changed all that. The group, consisting of Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, who are familiar from their “Digital Shorts” on “Saturday Night Live,” has not only revived the novelty song, but they’ve done the unthinkable: they’ve made it cool. And catchy. They make novelty songs you can laugh at and also bob your head to.

Their 2005 breakthrough video, “Lazy Sunday,” was directed by Schaffer, with music written by Taccone on his Mac computer, and featured Samberg and Chris Parnell, who was then Samberg’s “S.N.L.” cast mate, as dweeb pals rapping over a gangsta backbeat about planning to see a matinee of “The Chronicles of Narnia.” It was an ingenious bit of high burlesque that became a YouTube sensation, drawing five million viewers in two months. In 2009, they released an album, “Incredibad,” which featured a single, “I’m on a Boat,” that was nominated for a Grammy. And “I Just Had Sex,” the first single from their next album (due to be released this spring) has more than 50 million YouTube views since its debut in December.

“We are so excited by the idea of songs being funny,” Taccone told me, “but it adds to the joke if they also sound good.” To that end, the Lonely Island’s songs aren’t punning parodies, but keen dissections of a genre’s cliches. A novelty hit like “Eat It” was really only funny if you were familiar with “Beat It,” but a song like “I’m on a Boat,” which features Samberg and Schaffer rapping aboard a yacht, lovingly spoofs every over-the-top hip-hop video. And if the boasts in “I’m on a Boat” are intentionally funny — has there ever been a better yachting-based taunt than “I got my swim trunks/And my flippy-floppies/I’m flipping burgers/You at Kinko’s, straight flipping copies”? — the song itself could pass as the best track in the Hot 97 rotation. (The auto-tuned refrain by a guest star, T-Pain, is, no joke, among his finest work.) The humorist Andy Borowitz compares the Lonely Island to the mock-metal band Spinal Tap, in that “the best Spinal Tap songs also work as lumbering heavy-metal songs.”

The group’s collaborations — they have performed with Akon, worked with the esteemed reggae producers Sly & Robbie and used beats by T-Minus, a producer for Nicki Minaj — also help smooth the racial politics of their music. Samberg, Schaffer and Taccone met in junior high school in Berkeley in the 1990s, where everyone listened to hip-hop. “It was a ton of N.W.A., Beastie Boys, the Ice Cube solo records,” says Samberg, who at 32 is a year younger than his partners. In their best songs, the joke is never directed at a specific performer; rather, it’s on them — these three white guys from the Bay Area, posturing like gangstas while rapping about cupcakes. In an age of uninspired pop and fragmented audiences, the Lonely Island’s most significant accomplishment is not reviving the spirit of Allan Sherman but simply rallying people around music that also happens to be funny. Even my parents, who think Kanye West is a Florida Key, have both heard — and laughed at — the Lonely Island single “Motherlover.” That’s no longer a novelty song: it’s more like a national anthem.



Thanks to Victoria for the scoop!



Beauty Girls said...

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cellphones said...

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