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Weezer’s surprise cover album is half karaoke, half internet meme

The band’s viral cover of Toto’s “Africa” was rapidly eclipsed by its version of TLC’s “No Scrubs” — a sincere jam from a cheeky album.

Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

Weezer, best known for powering us through the ’90s and early aughts with peppy alt hits like “Buddy Holly” and “Island in the Sun,” joined the trend of artists dropping surprise albums on Wednesday night. And much to the delight of fans everywhere, the band’s latest release isn’t just any album: It’s a covers album — one that seems to have been spawned from the internet itself.

That’s right: The Teal Album is full of straightforward covers of pop hits. The track listing comes mainly from the ’80s, but there are a few outliers, including the TLC classic “No Scrubs.” In fact, the album dropped just a few weeks shy of the 20th anniversary of the song’s release on February 2, 1999.

“No Scrubs” was an instant R&B classic for TLC, and as often happens whenever a band strays out of its lane to cover a song from a different genre, Weezer’s version lit up social media. Both the band and the song trended for most of Wednesday evening on Twitter, while Weezer fan forums exploded with glee and memes.

The completely straightfaced “white people doing karaoke” feel of the album’s track list is undoubtedly intentional, but the album’s origins are a little more tongue-in-cheek.

One of the tracks, “Africa” — and possibly the entire album — is a direct response to the Twitter user @weezerafrica, a.k.a. “Weezer cover Africa by Toto,” whose sole mission since the account’s creation in late 2017 seemed to be to convince Weezer to cover “Africa” by Toto.

Armed only with its tiny following and a dream, the account did its best to meme-ify its vision.

And lo, it eventually worked. At first, in May 2018, the band trolled the user by covering Toto’s “Rosanna” instead — after which Toto returned the favor, covering Weezer’s “Hash.”

Then in September, Weezer went viral with a version of “Africa” featuring Weird Al Yankovic — and the seeds of the new album were in place.

The meme is a fitting one, given that Toto’s “Africa” is well known to be one of the most beloved songs of the internet — and the joke’s expansion into an entire album is a clever marketing ploy. But Weezer’s album is more than just a fun nostalgia trip for fans; it’s also clever stealth promo for the band’s upcoming March release, The Black Album.

Oddly enough, Weezer isn’t alone in its “Surprise! We’re back!” moment. The band was joined in Wednesday night’s unannounced songfest by Vampire Weekend, which unexpectedly dropped two new singles after a six-year hiatus.

And then there was the totally left-field pairing of Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers, who joined forces, Postal Service-style, to create a new duo group called the Better Oblivion Community Center — with a surprise album by the same name.

All in all, not a bad haul for your Thursday listening.

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