By Edna Gundersen, USA TODAY
"Weird Al" Yankovic, pop's master parodist for the past three decades, just got seriously weirder.
The yuckster behind Eat It and Smells Like Nirvana reaches the outer limits of odd with his unsettling video sendup of Lady Gaga's Born This Way, opening track on his new Alpocalypse.
In Perform This Way, the comic's head, festooned in a variety of hats and props, is superimposed on the shapely body of a dancer who undergoes multiple costume changes.
Few of those ensembles fall under the definition of clothing: Swiss cheese, bees, a porcupine, a jelly bean, crime tape and, of course, the meat dress. The action follows lyrics that lampoon Gaga's obsession with fame and attention-grabbing get-ups:
I'm so completely original
My new look is all the rage
I'll wrap my small intestines 'round my neck
And set fire to myself on stage.
Yankovic's spoof (and first outing in drag) was almost derailed when his request to put his subversive stamp on the song was denied, even after he submitted lyrics and then a recorded version.
"I worked around the clock to get the lyrics out," says Yankovic, 51. "I heard back from her management that she needs to hear the song. Really? You know what it sounds like! I cut a family vacation short to go in the studio. And then I got no response other than 'No.' It's quite rare for artists to say no."
So Yankovic uploaded the recording to YouTube, got 2 million hits and soon learned that Gaga had never been informed of his quest. "Turns out she's a Weird Al fan," he says. "She called this parody a rite of passage for any pop artist who reaches a certain level."
Alpocalypse, Yankovic's 13th studio album and first since 2006's Straight Outta Lynwood, mocks pop culture with goofy relish. Taylor Swift's You Belong With Me becomes the star-hounding TMZ. Whatever You Like turns T.I.'s hit into high living recession-style (Mickey D's, Top Ramen, Goodwill).
He adopts Jack White's persona in a valentine to Charles Nelson Reilly, cops a Queen vibe to lambaste annoying ringtones and impersonates Jim Morrison to riff on Craigslist, featuring Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek. Longtime Yankovic pal Taylor Hanson pops up on the Hanson spoof If That Isn't Love.
Tunes by Miley Cyrus and B.o.B are overhauled, and his polka medley (yep, Polka Face) crams hits by Gaga, Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, Flo Rida, Katy Perry, Ke$ha and others into a feverish accordion jam.
Not every tune is a gut-buster. Bittersweet Skipper Dan tracks a theme-park boat captain.
"It's a slice-of-life character study," Yankovic says. "A struggling actor shows a lot of promise but ends up bitterly working on the Jungle Cruise. I'm very happy that Disney workers love the song. I get the negative reaction from struggling actors."
Yankovic, who has sold 12 million albums since his self-titled 1983 debut, says: "Nobody is sacred or beyond being parodied. But there are certain lines I try not to cross."
He had qualms about Born This Way, "an important gay-rights anthem that I probably shouldn't mess with," until he locked into the fashion-parade concept and decided to donate all proceeds to the Human Rights Campaign.
"He's back at a perfect time, with so much material to work with," says Billboard.com's Jason Lipshutz, noting that Gaga, Bieber, B.o.B and Perry weren't on pop's radar five years ago.
Even if Alpocalypse's targets fade, the songs will endure as smart musical comedy, he says. Yankovic's parodies and originals "are not only funny, they're musically cohesive. He's mastered that type of songwriting."
Despite the music industry's steady decline, Yankovic isn't worried about dwindling prey.
"I'll never run out of source material," he says. "Pop music has gotten more disposable, and there aren't as many superstars. Music is so fragmented that there's not much of a communal feeling, so it's harder to determine what a hit song is anymore. But there's still plenty to poke fun at."