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How Weezer’s cover of Africa became one of the band’s biggest hits

Weezer - Africa , cover of Toto's hit

Weezer’s cover of internet’s beloved Africa, a song originally performed by studio maestros Toto, has resulted in the alternative band’s biggest hit in years. How did it happen? And what will this ultimately mean for the esteemed pop-punk group?

What’s Weezer famous for?

Weezer is an alternative rock band that gained massive popularity in the 1990s. Many of their singles became international hits. Their albums, especially The Blue Album and Pinkerton, influenced a host of admirers and a good deal of imitators. Singer and guitar player Rivers Cuomo became one of the most admired songwriters of his generation, a reputation that is continually growing.

 Two of Weezer’s most influential albums (Amazon links included)

Let’s see. How would I describe Weezer to someone who’s never heard their music and is without access to a streaming service ? Well, dear reader, they are kind of like Nirvana, but funnier and with tremendous, yet cleverly restrained, guitar chops.

Why is the song Africa famous?

It’s one of the most popular songs in the world at the moment. Africa is famous in part ironically, and partly for entirely earnest reasons. Let me explain.

The song first became a hit back in 1982. In fact, Toto enjoyed a string of hit singles. The band’s members were also quite technically gifted, bonafide studio wizards. Most notably being most of the group’s members were involved in the recording of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, one of the most successful LP’s of all time.

Some of Toto’s greatest contributions to music (Amazon links)

However, their career defining albums were largely ignored by music critics. Africa’s resurgence in the 2010s is largely due to modern internet culture. On the one hand, the song’s optimism has become a sort of soundtrack antidote to current uncertain times . On the other hand, it’s a piece of nostalgia, embraced in a slightly satirical way. It’s, well… a meme, for lack of a better name for it.

How did Weezer decide to cover Africa?

Since Africa has become the internet’s favorite song, there have been countless cover versions recorded and made available for public consumption. In fact, some estimate that at the rate musicians are churning out versions, it could well become the most covered song in music history, overthrowing Paul McCartney’s Yesterday. 

Weezer come into the story as a consequence of a series of tweets. An account belonging to a teenage fan of the band requested that Weezer cover the song. The tweet received a lot of attention, eventually, turning into something of a public petition.

The band finally accepted the challenge of covering Toto. And while the world waited … they covered a different song, albeit a Toto song,  another of the group’s major hits , Rosanna. 

And while the internet was busy enjoying the joke, Weezer were putting the finishing touches on the requested tune. And so, the band’s own version of Africa was released. Hilarity, nostalgia and a well crafted cover song hit the internet which was over flooded with reactions.

How successful was it?

Weezer -  Africa , cover of Toto's hitThe joke soon turned serious, with the song receiving thousands upon thousands of plays and downloads across streaming services. Toto’s own guitar virtuoso Steve Lukather, acknowledges that humor played a significant role in the success of Weezer’s version of the song. Lukather also says that the numerous cover versions of Africa have helped Toto earn millions of views, streams and downloads.

“The likelihood of Toto and Weezer in the same breath is strange at first glance. It was a true WTF moment for us; maybe for them, too. I think they did on a dare or as a gag. I guess Weezer covers ‘80s songs for a laugh. I am sure they never saw this coming any more than we did. I see it as a win-win for both sides and we all laugh our asses off wishing we could see the so-called “hipster press” writhing in their worst nightmare of collaborations. But the kids don’t care. They like what they like and somehow this “Africa” thing has caught on. Never thought I’d live to see it.”

Why was it successful anyhow?

To the aficionados of internet memes, Africa plays like a kind of joke that everyone is in on. It also happens to be a well written, melodic, honestly idealistic piece of pop music. It’s guilty pleasure that nobody has the apologize for.

Weezer’s cover of the song had every conceivable opportunity to become successful. It had a powerful, grass roots social media message that attracted attention. It included a popular song, turned internet meme. And it was played and sung by the well-known alternative rock band.

Weezer  has continued to be a popular band. Recent releases have included some of the band’s best material since the 1990’s. In spite of this, popularity naturally fluctuates. A regular Weezer release tends to be met with great enthusiasm mostly by their loyal fan base, who, to be fair, aren’t few.

However, Weezer’s cover of Africa, as a response to a popular tweet, was an event and a story that news outlets could gladly report on. The band walked into a story.

It doesn’t hurt that the recording itself was good. The band maintains the original arrangement of the, while adding sharper edged guitars and Cuomo’s famous, melodious singing.

Will this help Weezer’s career?

Perhaps. Since releasing the song to Youtube, the song has gathered over 8 million views. To date it is still in the Top 10 Billboard alternative songs. Streaming services also list it as one of the most liked indie/alternative songs of the year.

Weezer’s legacy is already well established. It is likely that their recording of the song was a gag to begin with. The payoff is a lovely bonus, earning them the kind of attention that any working band needs. It’s a good song, recorded by a great band and an example of the power of social media in 2018.


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