“I just had all this time on my hands, and I thought, ‘What do I do with it?’” Matarazzo said.
So he completed the phrase: A super bad transmittable contagious awful virus.
Then he tossed in some good advice.
Now back in 1918, influenza had its runBut half their docs were busy overseas with World War IToday we have mass media and scientists to sayIf you don’t want this virus, well then stay six feet away!It’s super damn important that we practice isolation'Cause we’re asymptomatic while it’s in incubationWe’ll overwhelm our hospitals if there’s not mitigationIt’s super damn important that we practice isolationIf you don’t do it then we’re all gonna die, if you don’t do it then we’re all gonna die...
Although his aim was only to cheer up his friends and family, the song grew legs. Soon enough, nearly 1.5 million people had watched it on Twitter, millions more on Facebook and hundreds of thousands more on YouTube. Comments began pouring in from around the world, including a particularly affecting one from a respiratory nurse.
“She said she played the song before her and her team started on a very long shift. They were just dancing around the room to it and laughing,” Matarazzo said. “I was really touched by it.”
His song is just one of many pandemic parodies that have trended on the Internet since “coronavirus” became part of our daily vocabulary. From the new parodies by the YouTube-famous Holderness family to a British clan’s quarantine-flavored version of “One More Day” from “Les Miserables,” these are new takes on an old art, turning popular tunes into melodic bemoanings of the inconveniences we’re all collectively experiencing and offering brief moments of joy to cut through the anxiety, sorrow and boredom.
“There’s a sense that we’re all in this together, albeit in a surreally lonely and isolated fashion, and making light of this tragedy can be cathartic and liberating,” said Nathan Rabin, a music critic and author of two books about “Weird Al” Yankovic. “Being able to laugh at the things that would otherwise make us cry … can make this unprecedented crisis a little more endurable, and there’s always the soothing comfort of these parodies being rooted in songs we already know and love, that have already been part of the soundtrack of our lives.”
Their authors have become the “Weird Als” of the coronavirus. And while the grandmaster of parody songs himself hasn’t participated — save for repurposing his classic tune “One More Minute” as a social distancing anthem on “The Tonight Show” — the most successful parodies have all the trappings of his best work. The key, Rabin said, is “tapping into something big and relevant in the culture, but [also taking] the time to get the details right.”
Those sorts of details made Claire and Mel Vatz’s take on Simon and Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound” so successful. “I’m sitting here in isolation, waiting for the vaccination,” sing the Pittsburgh couple, a speech pathologist and lawyer by day:
Stock market’s down, the stores are closedRetirement plans are surely hosedToilet paper’s running lowIt’s a good thing I don’t have to goWe’re all homeboundHow long will we ... still be homebound
Like Matarazzo, the duo fostered no grand plans of breaking the Internet. The rhyme of “isolation” and “vaccination” hit Mel, who sat down with Claire and banged out the lyrics in a day and then recorded it for their family and friends.
Two days later, they began receiving messages from people in Israel, Germany and Australia, and even non-English-speaking relatives in Italy.
Mel chalks up the success to the fact that their parody “hit some common themes of what everyone was feeling. And it’s just a real pleasant and sort of calming song.”
“This is a very scary, anxiety-provoking time, and I really think it’s important to stay positive,” Claire said. “Even in the worst of things, if you can maintain your positivity, you can overcome any terrible things.”
Some pandemic parodies were crafted by YouTube veterans specifically to go viral, usually doubling as educational. The Holderness family (known for their song “Christmas Jammies”) released the practical “20-Second Parodies for Handwashing” and “Songs for Social Distancing” before shifting to more observational-comedy parodies in a series called “Tunes to Fight Gloom.” Pinkfong!, the Korean children’s-entertainment brand that first brought “Baby Shark” into our lives, refocused that song on hand-washing instead of marine life. Chris Mann turned Madonna’s “Vogue” into “Stay Home Vogue,” an anthem to the merits of flattening the curve.
And YouTuber Hollens penned and performed the aptly titled “The Epic Hand Washing Parody.”
Throughout the highly produced video, the classically trained vocalist transforms everything from Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” to, of course, Lil’ Nas X’s “Old Town Road” into 20-second odes to proper technique.
“I had been fighting with my 5-year-old, trying to get him to wash his hands properly,” Hollens said. He had seen some TikTok videos touting the right way to clean, and he thought, “’I’ve never even washed my hands that thoroughly. So if a 40-year-old father hasn’t been able to do it the right way, and I can’t get my son to do it at all, I think we can do something here that can entertain and teach people.”
One of the central reasons the pandemic has imbued us with such deep anxiety, Hollens said, is that we don’t feel we have control. For him, writing the parody in hopes that it might help someone was a way of reclaiming it.
“I have been given this small platform of people who love what I create, and it’s my duty,” he said. “I couldn’t not create something.”