What Can We Steal From “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “You Don’t Love Me Anymore”?
Title of Work and its Form: “You Don’t Love Me Anymore,” pop song
Author: “Weird Al” Yankovic
Date of Work: 1992
Where the Work Can Be Found: The song was originally released on the album Off the Deep End. In 1992, MTV (which stands for “Music Television”) played music videos instead of simply pointing an HD camera at Snooki while she pees in a pool while accidentally drinking out of someone’s chaw cup. You can watch the music video for the song at Mr. Yankovic’s VEVO page. (Yes, I know the first 45 seconds or so of the song are missing.)
Element of Craft We’re Stealing: Voice
“Weird Al” Yankovic really isn’t weird at all. Since the early 1980s, he has been satirizing and parodying popular culture. You can tell he’s special because most novelty acts don’t experience the kind of lasting success that Mr. Yankovic has described. What sets him apart? He’s insanely talented in a number of ways. 1992’s Off the Deep End was a mainstay in my off-brand Walkman in addition to his earlier albums. (UHF is a modern classic!) Sure, we all love his parody songs. “Like a Surgeon”…“Smells Like Nirvana”…”White & Nerdy”…”Eat It”…”Amish Paradise”…”Another One Rides the Bus”…the list goes on. What sets Mr. Yankovic apart is the fact that he’s actually a great musician and can write great songs in a wide range of styles. He’s produced songs that would not have been out of place in Tin Pan Alley and would fit on albums by Brian Wilson and Devo and countless others.
“You Don’t Love Me Anymore” is a simple and beautiful love song. The first-person narrator is singing to a lover who has recently grown cold and distant. The narrator laments:
We’ve been together for so very long
But now things are changing; oh, I wonder what’s wrong.
The second verse takes a decidedly darker turn:
I guess I lost a little bit of self-esteem
That time that you made it with the whole hockey team.
And then the bridge takes the narrative in a new direction:
Why did you disconnect the brakes on my car?
That kind of thing is hard to ignore;
Got a funny feeling you don’t love me anymore.
The song is funny because the narrator does, in fact, ignore the very clear signs that the woman no longer loves him. (And may feel he no longer deserves to live.) The song ends with a restatement of the gentle guitar and synthesizer part.
Mr. Yankovic gets maximum humor out of the well-crafted song by starting in the normal world we all understand. We’ve all been in relationships in which the other person’s attitude has changed and we’re left to wonder why. As each verse progresses, however, this girlfriend’s signs become clearer.
Oh, darling, I’m begging, won’t you put down that knife?
I still remember the way that you laughed when you pushed me down the elevator shaft.
What’s this poisonous cobra doing in my underwear drawer?
(If you’ll notice, the narrator asks several questions in the lyric, reinforcing the idea that he’s not exactly catching on.) Mr. Yankovic employs a solid dramatic and comedic structure. He starts out small and gets bigger and bigger and includes increasingly humorous and violent non-sequiturs. (The girlfriend pulls out his chest hairs with an old pair of pliers and poisons his coffee… “just a little each day.”)
The couplets Mr. Yankovic employs also serve him well. The listener realizes very quickly that a joke is coming up. Part of the fun is guessing what the rhyme will be. Who else would rhyme “problems when” with “bathtub again?” In a different song, longer and more circuitous lines would be more appropriate. (If you’re a “Weird Al” devotee, I’m thinking of the song “Pancreas.”)
Mr. Yankovic also uses his voice to great effect. Like many great rockers, Mr. Yankovic sings in a manner that fits the song. For example, Billy Joel goes for a pretty tone when singing a lullaby and a far more grizzled timbre in a faster rocking-out number. In “You Don’t Love Me Anymore,” Mr. Yankovic does his best to mimic the sweet-but-tough tone that exemplified the sound of love songs performed by rock bands in the late 1980s and early 1990s. There’s also a kind of unique stamp in Mr. Yankovic’s voice that immediately lets you know the song is his.
What Should We Steal?
- Begin in the real world and then bring your audience into the world you’ve created. Your audience needs to understand the unique world you’re creating in your piece. Once, for example, the listener knows “You Don’t Love Me Anymore” is about a love gone wrong and the narrator is oblivious, the writer can make increasingly outlandish jokes. Think of it this way; do you show a man or woman the craziest parts of your personality on a first date? Probably not; you ease them into your personal brand of dysfunction. (And they do the same for you, of course.)
- Employ the kind of narrative voice that suits your narrator. If your first-person narrator is a good-hearted and dim-witted custodian at a TV station, he should misunderstand what his bosses say while doing his best to comply with the wishes of the boss. A long-suffering secretary from Queens who has dreams of being a newswoman should growl and whine and say that things “suck” in front of her boss.
- Maintain an interest in all kinds of creative endeavors. Mr. Yankovic clearly enjoys all kinds of music and understands how it’s put together. Isn’t life more fun if you can enjoy Chamillionaire and R. Kelly as much as The Beach Boys and Led Zeppelin and Barenaked Ladies and Toni Basil?