From our friend Tim Peoples:

Weird Al is America’s favorite parodist and polka enthusiast, but he is less appreciated for his deeply sad songs about love. It should surprise no one that a parodist has no sincere love songs (so far as I know), but the intensity of his negative lyrics was jarring once I noticed it.

The prototypical example is “You Don’t Love Me Anymore”:

You slammed my face down on the barbecue grill
Now my scars are all healing, but my heart never will
You set my house on fire
You pulled out my chest hairs with an old pair of pliers…

Oh, you know this really isn’t like you at all
You never acted this way before
Honey, something tells me you don’t love me any more, oh no no
Got a funny feeling you don’t love me anymore

In fact, there is a significant group of Weird Al songs about breakups or terrible relationships: “My Baby Never Told Me She Was a Mime,” “My Baby’s in Love With Eddie Vedder.” The songs feature a heartbroken, ridiculous, and spiteful narrator. Even when he’s spiteful, though, the listener is on his side.

There is, however, another variety of Weird Al love songs that might have a larger share: those in which the narrator is a jerk or an idiot. You simply can’t be on the narrator’s side in these songs:

And then she said “Baby, can’t we just go out to dinner, please?”…
I step a little bit closer,
Say “OK, where ya want to go?”
She says “How about The Ivy?”
I said “Yeah, well I don’t know,
I don’t feel like gettin’ all dressed up
And eatin’ expensive food
She’s says “Olive Garden?”
I say “Nah, I’m not in the mood…

(“Trapped in the Drive-Thru”)

…and he talks his wife down to the drive-thru. “When you’re telling me about your feelings, I’ll try not to yawn” (“If That Isn’t Love”). “And when I’m kissing you I fantasize you as a midget. I’m so sorry Debbi! I mean Bridget!” (“Confessions Part III”). “I Was Only Kidding,” “Close, But No Cigar,” “Do I Creep You Out,” “Jackson Park Express.” Et cetera.

These songs pose a quandary for the gender-conscious listener. One could argue that such songs are outgrowths of sexism within the male-dominated nerd community that frequently sees women as prizes to be won rather than autonomous people (see The Big Bang Theory, passim).

I have some personal experience of this point of view. For several years, I befriended women who I crushed on deeply without reciprocation. I presented myself as the best friend, but I was really offering contingent friendship, investing time and effort for an expected return. I was resentful of these women who did not have the emotional intelligence to, as my wife puts it, DTR (Define The Relationship). But who was I to be resentful of another person’s lack of emotional intelligence? Why didn’t I ever DTR? I didn’t realize until (embarrassingly) recently how uncomfortable these women must have been around me, with my alternate fawning and distance.

There is certainly some of that in the Weird Al songs about love; the narrator/protagonist is most often the instigator of poor behavior in the fictional relationship. At times, the narrator exhibits borderline emotional abuse, as in “I’m So Sick of You”: “Hey baby, trust me, you just disgust me! You hair’s a mess and your make-up’s crusty!” When I was younger and engaging in behavior toward women that I now repent of, I accepted these lyrics (this song in particular and all the others) as just funny.

WeirdAl-500x400But here’s the thing: I still think Weird Al is funny, and I also don’t think he’s being misogynistic. The jerk narrator is never really confident of his place, money, or power; he is always a bit ridiculous, from his screamy tone to the accordions in the background. He’s just as pathetic as the hapless and pathetic narrator in Weird Al breakup/ridiculous girlfriend songs. These songs are not about exerting the full force of patriarchy; they are ironic in the denotative sense. The background music, the vocals, and the tempo are all askew, proving that the narrator speaks from a low place of ridiculousness. The narrator talks big, but he has no real power.

Weird Al is, therefore, not preaching his narrators’ poor behavior as ideal; rather, he is describing the way nerds experience the world, particularly as youth. Nerds (real ones, not those with ironic facial hair and thrift-store sunglasses) have a shared experience of chronic rejection and purposeful separation from others. Sometimes we are deeply hurt and resentful, and there should be a space for us to satirize this tendency and thereby apply some critical thought to our own behavior. Weird Al isn’t telling us how to live; he is describing how we live. The difference between Weird Al’s sad love songs and The Big Bang Theory, therefore, is that the former accurately/ironically describes the nerd’s life, while the latter is just another unrealistic rom-com about a nerd eventually winning his pretty female friend.

Throughout his career and discography (including the sad love songs), Weird Al has created a safe space for people who don’t fit. For over 20 years, his music has validated my quirky, dorky, overbearing personality and brought needed humor to my self-pitying thoughts about romance. Now, he provides a strong, shared bond with my first daughter. She’s been to two Weird Al concerts, has all of his books, and can quote him in out of context situations. She is also the oldest child in a blended family who has been ostracized by her peers for not fitting into the standards of an American Christian nuclear family. She has not experienced romantic rejection at 10 years old, but she knows the price of being different—much like me in my awkward teens and twenties. We are two nerds who can listen to Weird Al and thereby feel a little less alone.