From meme to Grammy: Weezer's unlikely path to scoring a nomination for Best Rock Album
When a fan started a Twitter account to coax Weezer into covering Toto's 'Africa', nobody thought it would end up with the almost-forgotten band scoring a Grammy nomination
As far as fan armies go, Californian alt-rockers Weezer take the cake for having one of the most polarized fan clubs of all time. Purist fans will often hold court over the fact that Weezer's heydays began with their 1994 self-titled debut and ended after their sophomore album, 1996's 'Pinkerton'.
Newer members of the fan club (and some longtime fans too) might argue that the band never lost its footing and that the Rivers Cuomo-led outfit's material only got more nuanced and complex with their more recent color-coded album releases (2001' 'The Green Album', 2008's 'The Red Album' and 2016's 'The White Album'). It's a debate that has been brewing for years and one look at the band's dedicated Reddit page is all you need to get a grasp of the seriousness with which fans voice their opinions.
This widespread fan tussle was captured beautifully in a skit on this weekend's episode of 'Saturday Night Live!' In the skit (which you can watch below), when Weezer's infectious cover of Toto's 'Africa' starts playing in the middle of a shuffle playlist during a holiday dinner, guests Leslie Jones and Matt Damon find themselves in a rapidly-escalating argument.
Damon suggests the band was "doing some cool things right now," an idea Jones found perplexing because "real Weezer fans know they haven’t had a good album since Pinkerton in ’96." As the argument builds and the atmosphere gets hilariously tense, Damon quickly goes past the point of no return when he drops his bombshell opinion that 'Pork and Beans' is better than their smash hit 'Buddy Holly.' Shattered wine glasses and abuses are hurled and what was supposed to be a civil dinner turns into a full-blown brawl.
Irrespective of which team you fall under, or even if you just don't give a hoot and remember Weezer for that band whose video came bundled with Windows 95, one thing can not be denied — this year, Weezer pulled one of the weirdest stunts in the music world to catapult themselves back into the spotlight and all the way to a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Album. The gimmick that got them there? The aforementioned mind-boggling cover of Toto's culturally misappropriated hit pop number 'Africa'. And the way they executed said gimmick is just priceless.
In early 2018, a 14-year-old fan-girl started a dedicated Twitter account to get Weezer to cover Toto's Africa for some reason. In a strange instance of meme-come-to-life, after hounding the band for months together and pulling all sorts of stunts, Weezer finally gave in and covered the song. But, being a top class internet troll himself, frontman Cuomo could not resist putting out a cover of Toto's less popular hit 'Rosanne' before finally giving into demands!
Weezer's cover of 'Africa' gave Toto their first Billboard Hot 100 hit in eight years and introduced them to a different audience and it gave Weezer themselves their first Number 1 on the Alternative Songs chart in over a decade, introducing the band to a whole new set of listeners, who, most likely, will go on to add their valued opinions to the debate about the band's diverse body of work.
But here's the thing. All that attention might have accidentally put Weezer on the path to the Grammys for the first time in a decade as well. As the Recording Academy revealed earlier this month, Weezer's 2017 album 'Pacific Daydream' is nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Album next year alongside Alice In Chains, Greta Van Fleet, Ghost and Fall Out Boy.
'Pacific Daydreams' is far from Weezer's best work till date and the Grammy is surely not known for their ability to keep a finger on the pulse of the times (they nominated Arctic Monkeys' weird new album for Best Alternative Album for Pete's sake!) In fact, the album is the most significant departure from their trademark sound to date and only polarized for of their already conflicted fan base. Critics didn't give it much love either and the reception was mostly lukewarm. But they managed to score that Grammy nomination either way and part of the credit definitely goes to their cover of 'Africa'.
Longtime fans of the band might find the nomination perplexing but won't have any trouble digesting the bizarre manner in which Cuomo and the gang got back into mainstream consciousness. As befitting a band whose video for 'Buddy Holly' (directed by Spike Jonze) came bundled with Windows 95, Weezer were early adopters of the internet, and have built and maintained an intimate online connection with their die-hard fan base. Even in the pre-social media days of fan forums, Weezer was doing what few bands at the time did by constantly keeping their fans engaged.
This was thanks largely to Karl Koch, the band’s archivist, webmaster, official historian and unofficial fifth member. In the days when there was still a huge barrier between artist and fan, they did more than most bands to tear that down, with daily updates from tours, live photos from every show and videos from a lot of them, all in an era long before technology made such things easy.
So it is not out of line with the band's character to pull a stunt like this. But here's what's hilarious about this whole situation — Rivers might be in on the joke! He took to Twitter to acknowledge the SNL skit and judging by his all-caps enthusiasm, it appears he really loved the skit, and was not one to take offense with it.
THEY HAD A WHOLE ASS SKIT ABOUT WEEZER AND ME ON SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE AND IM ACTUALLY CRYING AAAGGGGHHHHHHH— Rivers Cuomo (@RiversCuomo) December 16, 2018
What's funnier is that while it was all fun and games for Weezer to cover Toto — they even had Weird Al join them for a few live renditions and put him in the music video too! — they might have inadvertently landed a comeback that's better than most bands that actually tried (here's looking at you Smashing Pumpkins).
It would be wrong to even call this a comeback. Unlike many acts from the '90s that disbanded for a long time only to return with furious anger in the last few years (My Bloody Valentine, Ride, System of A Down, Sleep etc.), Weezer already went through their hiatus between 1998 and 2000. In that time, Cuomo went off to Harvard to harness an encyclopedic knowledge of pop music that he has continued to showcase in the last two decades across several albums that have been released at fairly regular intervals.
All of Weezer's albums since 'Pinkerton' have consistently debuted in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 charts. All of them except 'Pacific Daydream', which debuted at No. 23, making it the lowest debut performance for a Weezer studio album since their 1994 debut. Still, it's one of five albums that made the cut to the shortlist for Best Rock Album. Oh joy!
This is not Weezer's first Grammy nomination either. They were nominated and successfully won the award for Best Music Video for 2008's 'Pork and Beans' and were nominated in the same category as this year, Best Rock Album, for 2017's self-titled album (also called 'The White Album'). But no matter how divided their fan base, most of them will agree that The White Album's nomination is definitely more well-deserved than Pacific Daydream's.
Will Weezer actually take home a Grammy come February? Probably not. Will they take the stage to perform 'Africa' with Weird Al? God, I really hope so! But one never knows. Stranger upsets have been witnessed at the Grammy Awards and we can only wait till February 10 to find out.
Meanwhile, if you want to know who actually stands a chance and who we think is most deserving, check out our top picks and predictions for the 2019 Grammy Awards here.