This might lose me some friends, but I feel the need to say it anyway: I don't like Weird Al as much as you probably do. I know, I know... He's an incredible performer. He's a great musician. He plays a killer accordion. I can't and won't argue with any of that. But most of the world doesn't care about his best work. They just like him for his parodies. I don't. Why?
Here's where I'm about to get really unpopular (especially with a lot of my fellow comedians and performers, and this is coming from a guy who does the occasional parody, himself): Writing a parody takes considerably less skill, talent, and work than writing a catchy, popular song. It's true. I'll prove it.
Short Argument: Nobody writes a parody of a demo song by a famous musician that didn't make it to the album. They pick songs that you already know and either love or hate. Either way, you're already a little invested in the song and they don't have to do most of the work to make you pay attention. If you like the original song, you'll listen to the parody because of that. If you hate the original song, you'll listen to the parody because you want to hear it twisted. Either way, the parodist has most of the work already finished for them before they even start their work.
Long Argument: Writing a song requires arranging chord structures, creating a melody, and writing lyrics. It involves tempo, mood, pacing, instrument choice, and even a sense of the theatrical. Well-written songs stick in your head; they're ear worms. Sometimes you don't even like the song, but you can't get it out of your head, anyway. That means it was well-written (note, I purposefully avoided using the word 'good.' I'm trying to stay objective.)
Writing a parody requires that you take a song that somebody else already did all of that for and re-writing the lyrics. That's it. Done. A parody purposefully cashes in on someone else's hard work and talent and the exposure of a popular song.
“Wait,” you argue. “But Weird Al is talented and does it very well and has socially relevant lyrics and is an incredible performer and reproduces the music with an almost inhuman attention to detail and blahblahblah...”
And I'll stop you right there, because it's all beside the point. The point is that writing lyrics is only one part of writing a song.
See? Writing a song takes an incredible amount of work and skill and talent, and writing lyrics is only one part of that. When you take a song that somebody else put in all the time and effort on, and re-write the lyrics, even if you do it particularly well, you've still only done a fraction of the work. Writing a complete song is harder than just writing lyrics, if only because writing a complete song takes a wider skill set than just writing lyrics.
Leave subjective terms like "good" or "bad" out of it. I'm talking about the work and talents and skills involved, and writing a song is more work and utilizes more talents and skills (and therefore more difficult) than writing lyrics. It follows logically, then, that writing a parody is less work than writing a song, and takes less talent or skill.
Which is why Weird Al makes me a little sad. His original music (the stuff he put ALL of the work in on) is the least acclaimed of his works... “One More Minute” is a killer song (my favorite Weird Al song, actually) and is funny all the way through, catchy, and well-written. “Dare To Be Stupid” parodied a style—that of Devo—without parodying a particular song. And it's brilliant. I could go on, but for the most part I'd just be naming songs most of you probably haven't heard of (unless you're gonna go all nuclear hipster on me, in which case I'll acknowledge beforehand that you, yes YOU in particular, have a mastery of this subject matter far and above that of the average layperson, so please let it go...)
Watching Weird Al get all the acclaim he gets for rewriting the lyrics to songs other people made popular is like watching a master class painter get famous for doing paint-by-number velvet Elvises, but adding KISS make-up or Hitler mustaches or googly-eyes to them. Funny? Yes. Genius? Not so much...
I like Weird Al's original stuff A LOT. I'm just disheartened by the thought that, as talented as he is, if he hadn't piggybacked off of everyone else's material, he wouldn't be enjoying the degree of success he does today. And that is true of every parodist, regardless of how good they are.
And I worry about what that means for me as a writer and performer.