On the morning of December 7, 2017, I was sitting at the Noisey desk, finishing up a hearty blogger’s breakfast (two bags of nacho cheese Doritos and one can of Red Bull) when I noticed my friend Luke O’Neil was tweeting about Weezer slightly more than usual.
“Please RT if you want to help make Ohio teen @weezerafrica's simple, wholesome dream come true of seeing rock band @Weezer cover Africa by Toto,” he tweeted. Luke is an occasional Noisey writer, and is very adept at wandering into the dark rooms of the internet and causing trouble in them. So my interest was piqued. “OK, I’ll bite,” I thought, and gave Luke’s tweet the one true currency left in our capitalist hell world: my Click.
Upon opening his thread I realized Luke was trying to signal boost @weezerafrica, an underfollowed Twitter account whose sole purpose was to convince the band Weezer to cover Toto’s 1982 hit single “Africa.” The sentiment straddled that sweet middle ground between ironic detachment and genuine enthusiasm. It was so stupid. So irreverent. So utterly lacking in any useful information. I knew it belonged on Noisey. My intuition kicked in. On sheer instinct, my fingers started an email to Luke and threw his directive entirely into the subject line: interview the weezer/toto person for me plz.
Luke, who I’m convinced has a bloodstream that is 90 percent Adderall, returned three hours later with a finished interview with the person behind the account, who, it turned out, was a 14-year-old girl from Ohio named Mary. He talked to her by phone after she got out of social studies class. Mary’s intentions were pure and good. She wanted Weezer to cover “Africa,” nothing more.
“With everything going on, politically, and net neutrality, there’s just a lot of stuff going on, and everyone just agrees this would be fun,” Mary told Luke in the interview, which ran the next day. “I think it’s good that people all seem to enjoy this.”
And for a while, it was good. Weezer and their Extremely Online frontman Rivers Cuomo began subtly tipping their hats to the account. Rivers follows me, Luke, and Noisey on Twitter (yes that is a flex), and we successfully got this teenager’s mission in front of him. Then, once it spread and #WeezerCoverAfrica became something of a meme, Weezer fully leaned in.
The band first tested the waters on May 24, 2018, with a cover of a different Toto song, “Rosanna.” But less than a week later, they obliged the small section of us internet nerds who had clamored for the band to bless the rains by finally doing it. Without warning, they posted a cover of “Africa”—a full-circle moment that, for a brief, shining second, felt like a clear win in a never-ending disastrous newscycle. I remember showing up to work covered in sweat because once I saw it on Spotify I literally ran to the office to get it on Noisey. That was the last time I felt I had any control over the situation.
Fast forward eight months later and I don’t know what the fuck to make of it anymore. I’ve lost track of the weird, wild lifespan this simple cover song has had in that short but seemingly endless time. After it was released, the song, and anything related to the song, quickly became blog fodder once websites realized readers were intrigued enough by the nostalgic, oddball nature of it to give them their much coveted Click. Anything with “Weezer,” “Toto,” or “Africa” suddenly became headline-worthy. Some of these sites were nice enough to link back to Luke’s gumshoe reporting (thank you, Pitchfork) and some were not (screw you, Stereogum). Once the pairing established itself as a saleable commodity, the music industry just kept returning to the seemingly bottomless well full of blessed African rainwater.
Weezer soon unveiled an all-out media blitz, launching the song from the internet to the real world. They released a music video starring America’s most beloved human “Weird Al” Yankovic; they performed the track on Kimmel; they released the song on vinyl through Urban Outfitters (didn’t mail us a copy); they sneaked onto the Billboard charts for the first time in a decade with the song. Toto also seized the opportunity to collect some cultural cache when keyboardist Steve Porcaro joined Weezer’s Kimmel performance to kick in a solo. The band then returned the favor by covering Weezer’s “Hash Pipe,” to which the internet politely smiled and said, respectfully, “pre-Pinkerton covers or gtfo.”
The most unexpected result of this “Africa” fiasco, though, is that it’s given Weezer a renewed sense of pop culture relevance after decades of middling albums. They’ve subsequently been spoofed everywhere from Clickhole (funny) to an SNL skit (painfully unfunny). And now, they seem intent on using the momentum to leverage it from a publicity stunt to the next phase of their career. This week, they released The Teal Album, a record of ten cover songs (including “Africa”), further embracing their Dadaist existence as pioneering indie rock icons turned deliberately uncool wedding cover band.
My brain’s capacity to analyze and opine on these things has been depleted. I no longer see them as good or bad. They just exist now. I don’t know how to feel about Weezer anymore. I don’t know how to feel about “Africa.” It is ubiquitous to the point of static noise, like watching Andy Warhol silkscreen Rivers Cuomo’s face over and over until his image has been stripped of all meaning. Luke seems to believe the experience was a net positive.
“[T]his is very earnest and dumb, but I was like, wow, all the actual important things I've reported on in my life and this one might end up being the one that brings people the most joy,” he tells me via email. “Then again it also gave everyone else something to complain about so that's good too.”
The pop culture phenomenon that is Weezer’s cover of “Africa” has become unavoidable over the last few months—some might say to an annoying degree—and I’d like to formally take responsibility for that. It’s not Luke’s fault, and it’s certainly not Mary’s fault. She was just a cool teen with a good meme and a fun dream. I’m the internet dumbass who poured gasoline on this fire.
If you had to suffer a conversation with your relatives about “The Weezer” at Thanksgiving, that’s on me. If you work at a gym or dentist’s office that plays a rock radio station and you’ve heard the song over a dozen times in an eight-hour shift, that’s on me. If you’ve been at a dive bar where some drunken frat bros have screamed “Oh shiiiiiiiit!” when it came on the jukebox, that’s on me. If you are a member of Weezer or Toto and are looking for a place to mail a portion of those sweet royalty checks, that’s on me.
If it’s any consolation, I also cringe every time I hear that synthy opening. It’s not due to listener fatigue. I think it just makes me feel bad. I feel bad for Mary, who bore the brunt of viral overload, which is tough at any age. (She hasn’t tweeted since September and did not answer a DM about it.) I feel bad for bands who work hard on their music and never get the credit they deserve because dumb, familiar novelties like this suck up all the air. But mostly I feel bad that I helped create the thing I hate most: A story that feeds the insatiable content monster that is internet.
So what, if anything, can be learned from this mess? Well, never let Luke write for Noisey again, that’s a given, sure. But more importantly, it’s been a sobering reminder that the internet is not a toy. The web giveth and the web taketh away, and I’m not sure which is worse. So let this experience serve as a warning for the next time you’re about to click “post”: Be careful what you wish for online. You just might get it.
Tell Dan Ozzi off on Twitter.