Flashback Friday: "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Smells Like Nirvana"
To start off with a cliche, it has often been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In 1992, Kurt Cobain said in an interview that he didn't realize Nirvana had "made it" until they had their own "Weird Al" Yankovic parody in the form of "Smells Like Nirvana." After trying to track down Cobain for his permission to parody the band's breakthrough hit "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Cobain famously asked ""Is it going to be a song about food?" Before this parody, Yankovic was most well known for "Eat It" and "Fat," both parodies of Michael Jackson's hits "Beat It" and "Bad," respectively. But Yankovic's parodies did not only focus on food, but pop culture in general, which made Nirvana, the pop status quo interlopers, an inspired choice for parody.
"Smells Like Nirvana" is a straight forward parody making fun of the original song's shouted and misheard lyrics. Though straight forward, there is still some subversiveness in the lyrics and video that merits noting.
Throughout the video, there are scenes such as a business man happily cheering along-side moshers, and a girl scout crowd surfing in the gym, that point to one of Cobain's largest fears of mainstream success, commercialism. To top that off, Yankovic even included a lyric to the same effect, "Buy our album, we're Nirvana!"
Nirvana's commercial appeal caught the record industry off-guard, after which labels started signing similar bands or bands they deemed to be similar left and right, from Pearl Jam to Green Day. It was the grunge revolution and it transformed an entire generation of listeners overnight. As Yankovic says throughout the song, most adults didn't quite "get it" attributing their success to being intentionally unlikable.
"We're so loud and incoherent/Boy, this oughta bug your parents," sings Yankovic. At one point in the song and video, he sings with marbles falling out of his mouth to underline the one-fingered salute Nirvana represented to the establishment of the time.
Yankovic wasn't admonishing it one bit, in several parts of the song, he points at how intentional Nirvana'a music is, where many of an older generation would hear it as garbage. In the video, his Cobain character even does things like make a no look three-point shot from across the gym, showing how Yankovic saw Cobain as an outwardly effortless genius in his own right.
Yankovic wasn't an adult admonishing youngsters for their crazy music, he was an adult who is still a youngster at heart reveling in the craziness. He continued his trend afterward by parodying Coolio with "Amish Paradise," Chamillionaire with "White & Nerdy," Lady Gaga with "Perform This Way," and more recently Pharrell with "Tacky."
"Weird Al" parodies are like love letters to pop culture and all of its insanity.