I am confused by Weird Al's new song, Tacky. Most of the outfits he describes as "tacky" and features in his video look to me like those ones praised by fashion magazines. What's going on?
Shona, by email
OK, the main thing to say here is HURRAH for the return of Weird Al Yankovic! It's so easy to forget how brilliant this dude is, and to conflate him with the 10 billion cack-handed music parodists that clog up YouTube these days. But then the original and best returns and all you can do is sit back in admiration and say: "Yes. That is how it's done."
If any readers out there have heretofore remained unacquainted with the joys of Weird Al, don't feel too embarrassed (although, really, you should be). For a crash course, I suggest starting with his earliest hit, Eat It, and then moving on to, I don't know, Amish Paradise, Smells Like Nirvana, Bob and his biggest hit, White and Nerdy.
As Shona intimates, Yankovic has a new album out, Mandatory Fun, and he has been releasing eight videos in eight days. Oh Yankovic, you really do spoil us. I already have enormous fondness for Foil (his take on Lorde's Royals) and Word Crimes (the best takedown of Blurred Lines yet), but his version of Pharrell's ubiquitous Happy, now renamed Tacky, is truly hilarious and, like all Yankovic songs, is best enjoyed with the video.
As Shona says, certain styles and habits are described as "tacky" by Yankovic in this song, and I don't think many will disagree: Ed Hardy shirts, glitter Uggs, pink sequin Crocs. Yup, all utterly damnable. But what's this? "Wearing sandals with my socks" – tacky? Doesn't he know that a colourful little ankle sock with a strappy sandal is simply the last word in chic cuteness? And Aisha Tyler in the video wearing a Kenzo-like sweatshirt, when everyone knows Kenzo sweatshirts are positively the dernier cri! And Margaret Cho's yellow lederhosen with purple tights would get her photographed tout de suite by style bloggers at London fashion week, to say nothing of Weird Al's yellow houndstooth trousers.
It's nothing new that some fashion people dress, well, weird, but it sometimes takes someone like Weird Al to act like the little boy who points out the emperor's nakedness to say what is really going on here. Fashion people don't mind being dismissed as "weird" – hell, "weird" is precisely what they're going for, because they're trying to show that they're different from you, you tedious River Island-shopping pleb. But to be described as "tacky" is another thing entirely. No fashionista wants to be "tacky", yet it's hard to escape the revelation that, actually, that's what neon-coloured tights are. It's like looking back at photos of yourself as a teenager and realising the dress your mother told you was too short really was too short. Maybe all this trying to be modern and different sometimes just makes you look a bit, um, stupid.
But what I especially enjoy about Weird Al's song is the way he deems tacky certain aspects of modern life that are now so common they can pass almost unseen: people Instagramming every meal (an "unfollow" offence if ever there was one); people who keep old liquor bottles in a pointless attempt to create a kind of speakeasy vibe; live-tweeting private occasions, and so on. He's right, these aren't just modern irritants, they're downright tacky. As tacky as sequinned Uggs.
Of course, I don't really think this is going to stop fashion obsessives from dressing like idiots any more than the similarly themed 2010 video Being a Dickhead's Cool did. Rather, it's like listening to a sarcastic uncle take apart the habits of young people, and you laugh, but you know nothing will ever change because young people have always worn and done stupid things, because that's what being young is about.
But then there are other fashion crimes that I count as truly tacky, and they are being committed not by youngsters, but by people who are certainly old enough to know better (ie, over 30). And hot weather really brings out the tackiness. Here are some tacky sins that no one over the age of 30 is allowed to commit, by order of the law:
1. Wearing a knitted beanie when it is 80 degrees outside. (I know you think you look like Colin Farrell in that thing, but you actually just look sweaty.)
2. Shorts that are so short the world could give you a colonoscopy.
3. Men in bare feet on pavements. Insane. And dangerous. And tacky.
4. Men going topless when they are at neither a beach nor a pool.
5. Anyone who bitches at a woman about her body hair.
I could continue, and probably will at a later date, but this will suffice for now. I don't actually mind fashion tackiness – it's silly and joyful and funny. But if I could walk the dog without being confronted by the moobs of half my neighbourhood, well, I would feel so happy I'd be like a room without a roof.
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