Weird Al Yankovic has made a living parodying rap songs. His interpretation of Chamillionaire’s “Ridin'” was pure genius. His take on T.I.’s “Whatever You Like“? High-larious. Aside from a few hiccups, Al usually gets his way when he wants to cover popular songs. Everyone knows it’s all in good fun. So, imagine his chagrin when his attempt to rework Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” as “Perform This Way” was met with stone cold rejection. He posted a message on his site explaining why Gaga rejected his parody. Here’s the short version of the story:
“I wrote and recorded what I thought was going to be the first single off of my new album: a parody of “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga called “Perform This Way.” But after hearing it, Lady Gaga decided not to give me permission to release the song, so… it won’t be coming out commercially anytime in the near future. Sorry.”
And the long version:
I had written, recorded, mixed and mastered 11 of the 12 songs for my new album and was just waiting to come up with that one elusive “big idea” for a parody that I thought I could turn into the lead single and video. I was well aware that “Born This Way” was coming out, and I thought that just might be the pop culture juggernaut I had been waiting for… but after hearing the song, I was reluctant to tackle it. Because it was such an earnest human rights anthem, I thought some people might consider a parody to be in poor taste. Plus, I was really kinda predisposed not to do a Lady Gaga parody anyway because, well, that’s what everybody in the universe was already assuming I would do, and I hate to be so predictable.
But a few weeks later, a parody idea popped into my head, and I thought it had a lot of potential – enough to warrant telling my record label that I’d finally found my next single. Based on my concept, I was reasonably sure that my parody wasn’t really going to offend anybody… but I still decided, as an act of good karma, that I would donate all the money from sales of the song and music video to the Human Rights Campaign.
I was very excited now, because I knew that the second I got the official blessing from Lady Gaga, I could lock in an official release date for my album and announce it to the world. (My record company needs 8 weeks of advance notice to confirm an album release date – so in order to be as timely as possible, I almost always have to lock in the date before I’ve even started writing the lead single.)
I had my manager contact Lady Gaga’s manager to see if she would okay the parody. Here was the exact pitch:
I’d like to do a parody of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” called “I Perform This Way.” The basic concept is that I, as a Lady Gaga doppelganger of sorts, describe the incredibly extravagant ways in which I perform on stage. Meat dresses and giant eggs would most likely be referenced, but also much more ridiculous made-up examples of bizarre wardrobe and stage production. As with all my parodies, it would be respectful of the artist, while having a bit of fun with her larger-than-life image.
I hadn’t written a single line of the song at this point, but that was the concept I had in my head. Because of my 30-year track record, most artists know that my songs are all in good fun and they’re more than happy to approve a parody just based on the concept alone.
We eventually got a response from the Gaga camp: she would need to “hear it” before she would approve it.
Okay, I thought, she wants to know exactly what the lyrics are going to be before she signs off on the parody. Some artists just are a bit more protective of their material and don’t want to take any chances. Fair enough.
I was right in the middle of my Australian tour and I didn’t have a whole lot of free time, but I cranked day and night until I had a set of finished lyrics.
We send the lyrics to Lady Gaga and wait on figurative pins and needles for her to give us the go-ahead. After a few days, we get our answer: “She actually needs to hear it. Otherwise the answer is no.”
Hmm. Well, this was mystifying to me. At this point she has the lyrics… and hopefully she is familiar with her own song… and the parody is basically her music… with my lyrics. It really shouldn’t be that hard to decide – based on having the lyrics right in front of you – whether or not you’d be “okay” with a parody. But, alas, we’d been given an ultimatum. If she didn’t hear it, she wouldn’t approve it.
Okay then. I decided – based on my belief that people are basically good – to go through the trouble and considerable expense of actually recording the song. Now, I never do that – never. But because I was really excited about this parody, I decided I would faithfully jump through as many hoops as Gaga deemed necessary.
After the Australian tour, I was supposed to go on a long-awaited family vacation over my daughter’s spring break – but because I now had to record what ostensibly was going to be my “hit single” as quickly as humanly possible, I cut our vacation short and came back to L.A. to spend long days and nights in the studio. The band and I worked around the clock. On April 11, I put the finishing touches on the mix and mastered the track. Done.
Or so I thought.
A couple days later we got the final word: Lady Gaga says “no.”
And that’s it. As of this posting, I still don’t know specifically what kind of problem she has with the song (obviously I take a few jabs at her, but y’know, it’s satire – that’s how it’s supposed to work). And I’m especially confused as to why she waited until I actually recorded the song (at her insistence!) before saying no. It’s not like there were any surprises in the finished song that she couldn’t have foreseen by, you know, READING THE LYRICS.
A conventional release for the song and video would have also raised a nice chunk of change for the HRC – an organization which I have to assume Gaga supports. Hopefully, if fans enjoy hearing the song online, they’ll make a donation anyway.
My parodies have always fallen under what the courts call “fair use,” and this one was no different, legally allowing me to record and release it without permission. But it has always been my personal policy to get the consent of the original artist before including my parodies on any album, so of course I will respect Gaga’s wishes. However, given the circumstances, I have no problem with allowing people to hear it online, because I also have a personal policy not to completely waste my stinking time.
So I uploaded the song to YouTube, and will be making free mp3 downloads available on weirdal.com shortly. Hope you enjoy it.
Man, I wish you all could have had a chance to see the video we were going to do for this thing. It was going to be BEYOND AWESOME, and disturbing on many levels. Oh well.
Anyway, I realize that this may be way more information than many people would care to know about the whole situation, but I just wanted to set the record straight before any crazy rumors started. There’s really nothing more that I have to say about it now, so hopefully I won’t have to be answering questions about Lady Gaga in interviews for the next 20 years.
I know this news is disappointing to many of you. Believe me… nobody is more disappointed than I am.
Thanks for listening. I’ll keep you posted.
UPDATE: Now that it’s on Youtube Gaga has told Al it was a misunderstanding and has given the parody her blessing, she apparently hadn’t even heard the song up until that moment. From Al’s blog:
“Gaga’s manager has now admitted that he never forwarded my parody to Gaga – she had no idea at all. Even though we assumed that Gaga herself was the one making the decision (because, well, that’s what we were TOLD), he apparently made the decision completely on his own.” He’s sorry.
And Gaga loves the song.
I’m thrilled on many levels to hear this, because 1) I truly respect and admire Gaga as an artist and it pained me to think of her as having less than a great sense of humor, and 2) it means I GET TO PUT OUT MY ALBUM!
Al is still planning to donate the proceeds to Human Rights Campaign, you can read his full response here.