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‘Weird Al’ Yankovic had spent over a decade parodying popular songs by other artists when he turned his attention to Nirvana in 1992 with his spoof of their recent hit Smells Like Teen Spirit. Having released is first album in 1979, which featured spoof versions of I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll and My Sharona, Yankovic became a star in 1984 with Eat It, a food-based homage to Michael Jackson’s classic Beat It, even recreating the music video. While he would continue to playfully mock pop stars throughout the rest of the 1980s, taking on the likes of Madonna and Tiffany, he would return to the King of Pop once again with Fat, a spoof of 1987’s Bad.
By the end of the decade three of his albums had been certified Platinum, leading to his first lead role in a movie, UHF. Continuing the trend the spoofing popular culture, Yankovic’s movie – based around a fledging television station – referenced numerous shows and movies, including a faux Arnold Schwarzenegger sequel called Conan the Librarian.
On 3 April 1992, almost seven months after Smells Like Teen Spirit, Yankovic returned to the scene with Smells Like Nirvana, the lead single from his seventh studio album Off the Deep End. ‘What is this song all about? Can’t figure any lyrics out. How do the words to it go?’ crooned Yankovic. ‘Now I’m mumbling and I’m screaming, and I don’t know what I’m singing.’
It has been twenty years since the passing of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain and twenty-two years since the release of Smells Like Nirvana and Yankovic, who released his latest album Mandatory Fun earlier this week, recently spoke to Loudwire about how he approached Cobain to request permission to spoof his song. ‘I remember that phone conversation very well. I wish I had recorded it; it would have been a nice little piece of history. But I was very nervous, obviously, and I didn’t know how he would take my requesting the parody, but he was extremely cool,’ recalled Yankovic.‘He got on the phone and he was rehearsing for his first appearance on Saturday Night Live and I just told him, ‘Hey, it’s Weird Al’ Yankovic and I would love to do a parody of Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ And his initial reaction was, ‘Oh, it’s going to be a song about food.’ Because a lot of my hits at that time were. And I explained, ‘Well no, it’s a song about how no one can understand your lyrics.’ And I think there was probably about half a beat on the phone and he was like, ‘Yeah, yeah. Sounds like a funny idea.’ So that was pretty much it, and he was very, very cool about it.’
Regarding the impact Smells Like Teen Spirit had on his career he added, ‘After UHF I kind of had a couple of years where not much was going on and I was feeling down about the fact that the movie didn’t do that well at the box office, and I don’t know if I felt my career was over but I was certainly at a low point. And when I came back with Nirvana that brought me right back to heavy rotation on MTV and it brought me back in the Top 20 on the Billboard charts and it did feel like a real return to form.’