It’s taken a while — Weird Al Yankovic might say his entire life — to get a No. 1 album, but Mandatory Fun, the 54-year-old novelty singer/songwriter’s thirteenth studio album, landed just there Thursday, capturing the top spot on the Billboard 200.
Billboard reported the day before (July 23) that the accordion-playing comedian would get the No. 1 slot on the back of 104,000 units sold. He beat out, in descending order (2-5) Jason Mraz’s YES!, Rise Against’s The Black Market, the compilation Kidz Bop 26, and the soundrack to the movie “Frozen,” the first three of which were, like Yankovic’s Mandatory Fun, new entries onto the Billboard 200.
How did he get his first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 when he hasn’t been heard from in three years? That album, Alpocalypse, had bowed in at No. 9 back in 2011 and had been his highest charting album to date. (To be fair, his last three albums have hit No. 1 on the Billboard Comedy Albums chart.) But that album, and those that came before it, wasn’t marketed like Mandatory Fun.
No, Weird Al, who started his career by recording a tune in a restroom (for acoustics) as a college disc jockey that became a novelty hit via the syndicated “Dr. Demento” show, decided to flood YouTube with videos of his latest songs. Well, most of them. Eight of the twelve tracks on Mandatory Fun have videos and they were all released starting eight days prior to the album dropping on July 15.
As Billboard noted, within the first five days of their release to YouTube, “Foil” had nearly 11 million views, “Word Crimes” had been viewed 9 million and “Tacky” had garnered 3.5 million.
Weird Al may have taken his cue from the popularity of his past videos, like “Eat It” and “Smells Like Nirvana” (a parody of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”), which have tens of millions of views. His video “White & Nerdy” (which spoofs “Ridin'” by Chamillionaire and Krayzie Bone) has been viewed over 87 million times. (“White & Nerdy” was also his first Top 10 single.)
And it would appear that the man who became famous by spoofing The Knack classic “My Sharona” (with “My Balogna), Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust” (with “Another One Rides the Bus”), and Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” (with “Eat It”), the latter becoming a major video hit as well, has seen the virtual demise of the album format, because he says Mandatory Fun will likely be his last album. He says he’s “not drawing a line in the sand,” but it is probably his last.
“I’m more of a singles artist,” Yankovic admits. “If I had to guess I’d say that going forward I’d just release singles digitally. I’d still do videos for them. I don’t know that the album is the most efficient way to release music, especially comedic works.”
And he’s likely correct. Given the popularity of streaming, being able to freely watch music videos on YouTube, and being able to pick and choose any single and download it as an MP3 file, many are seeing it almost like an old-fashioned clunker. Billboard.biz revealed Nielsen Soundscan data earlier in July that indicated digital album sales for the first six months of 2014 were down 15.9 million units when compared to the first six months of 2013. Overall album sales, which included digital, vinyl, and CDS, was down 18 million units. Streaming album equivalents, however, were up 22.1 million units.
So Weird Al Yankovic got his first No. 1 album by dropping a bunch of videos. Will he celibrate by making videos for the remaining four tunes on Mandatory Fun?
Apparently not. He’ll leave those to his fans.
“I’m sure fans will start creating their own,” he said. With all the fanmade videos one can find for pop music videos, soundtrack music, and video games, he’s most likely right about that as well.