Day One hundred and forty-nine: "TMZ" from Alpocalypse
I’ve probably written this before, because, at this point in the project it is impossible for me not to repeat myself continuously, but “Weird Al” Yankovic is an American pop parodist from Lynwood, California. I’ve definitely said that before. But I’ve also probably also written that when you look at Al’s oeuvre, it seems fairly easy to delineate between songs of inspiration and songs of opportunity.
“Everything You Know Is Wrong” or “Dare to Be Stupid” would be two good examples of songs of inspiration. Al obviously adores They Might Be Giants and Devo and wanted to honor them and their legacy with songs worthy of them and Al’s enormous, infectious love for their music.
“TMZ”, on the other hand, feels like a song of opportunity that found Al once again exploring the rich comic vein of tabloid entertainment and the way it appeals shamelessly to our voyeurism and insatiable curiosity about the sex lives and personal failings of the beautiful people on TV.
Over the nearly three decade span Al sang about the joys and horrors of tabloid entertainment, the mediums have shifted from the Weekly World News-style surrealistic newspaper tabloid of “Weekly Midnight Star” to the wrasslin’-style tabloid television of “Jerry Springer” and then finally to the internet with “TMZ.”
I similarly suspect that Al does not spend a whole lot of time listening to Taylor Swift but “You Belong With Me” was an absolute monster commercially (it went six times platinum, which is good) and lends itself almost suspiciously well to being altered into a warning to B, C and D-listers alike of the dangers of allowing yourself and your transgressions to end up on TMZ.
Swift was still a teenager when she wrote and recorded “You Belong With Me” but she already possessed a precocious gift for writing infectious pop songs.
“TMZ” captures the rock-solid craft of “You Belong With Me”, from its monster chorus to the banjo and selectively deployed pedal steel guitar that gives this irresistible pop song just enough of a country edge. As a singer, Al borrows the breathless earnestness of Swift’s delivery as he conjures up a typically seedy TMZ tabloid tableau, involving someone who is only “sort of famous”, a “minor celebrity” at most committing the minor yet unforgivable transgression of looking like a human being in public instead of an airbrushed, plucked and polished red carpet professional.
“TMZ” references a series of real-life celebrity scandals and meltdowns involving such sordid, inveterately troubled human beings as Britney Spears (the head-shaving incident), Mel Gibson (DUI and racist rant), and Eddie Murphy/Hugh Grant (picking up a transvestite for reasons above and beyond being good samaritans) but many, if not most, celebrities are guilty of other exceedingly minor transgressions outlined in the song, from bad hair days to sweat-stained tee-shirts to wardrobe fails and embarrassing blobs of cellulite.
Swift’s original is clean to the point of being antiseptic and coltishly wholesome in that inimitable early Taylor Swift fashion but Al’s parody is sleazy and voyeuristic, if every bit as tidy musically.
My favorite part of the song might just be Tom Kenny (Mr. Show alum and the voice of Spongebob Squarepants) channeling the insufferable cadences of a TMZ carnival barker hyping soul-crushing “exclusives” like “We caught this Oscar nominee picking up DOG POOP!”, “Is that a baby bump?”, “I pronounce her guilty of leaving the house while FAT”, “Look Who's drinking COFFEE”, and finally, “Everything celebrities do is FASCINATING”, which is more or less TMZ’s mission statement and raison d’être.
The celebrity who would benefit most directly from the song’s tongue-in-cheek but very sound warning about “TMZ” is not ultimately future tabloid fixture Swift, who, rumor has it, has had a bit of a tumultuous romantic history, but rather Swift’s arch-nemesis Kanye West (who famously interrupted Swift’s acceptance speech for the “You Belong With Me” music video), who inexplicably chose to go on TMZ to argue that, among other things, slavery was a choice.
Al does not counsel celebrities here not to go on TMZ and argue that slavery was a choice because he understandably did not feel that he needed to. I mean, who in their right mind would do something like that?
Like so many of Al’s parodies, including songs of opportunity, “TMZ” is funnier and more clever and infectious than it has any right to be.
For Kanye West, however, the song’s message has the devastating ring of painful truth.
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