Inside ‘Popstar,’ The Lonely Island’s Meta Music Industry Mockumentary
When the world got its first real taste of Popstar during the Saturday Night Live season 41 finale, the digital short “Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song)” told you just about everything you need to know about Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping: a song about having sex like a terrorist is no more absurd than the current music industry, and this is the character Andy Samberg was born to play.
But there’s more to learn about The Lonely Island’s piece de resistance, which opens in theaters on Friday. Written by the trio, produced by Judd Apatow, and directed by Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer, the film follows Andy Samberg’s character Conner 4 Real as he embarks on a solo career after splitting off from his group The Style Boyz, only to learn that making it on your own requires giving up a lot of yourself.
“[We] wanted to play around with how much social media and the number of outlets that exist now have changed the landscape — what is expected of an artist, and what they give up of their own personal life,” Samberg said at a press junket for the movie in New York City recently. “[It’s also about] the relationship that musicians have with their fans now, and how genuine or for the sake of career that is, and how it affects their actual friendships and relationships in their lives.”
Here are a few other things we learned about the movie from Samberg, Taccone and Schaffer at the New York press conference.
On how they “Unintentionally” made the film a direct parody of Justin Bieber:
Starting with the film’s title (the tagline for Bieber’s concert film/documentary is Never Say Never), Conner’s general demeanor as an artist and a particularly foul scene set at the Anne Frank house, it’s hard to say that Conner isn’t a direct reference to Bieber at his worst. However, Samberg said that his character is supposed to be an amalgam of various pop and rap stars, and they hope Bieber sees how they empathize with stars who peak young and have difficulty finding their way afterward.
“We definitely empathize with Justin and are friendly with him. We’ve worked with him a few times and think he’s a good guy and respect his music a lot,” Samberg said. “There are a couple of direct references to his documentary, because we felt like they were funny jumping-off points for a crazier joke, and the title of the movie obviously feels kind of like his title which makes it seem like it’s a lot more about him than we intended, but yeah, we hope he likes it. [laughs]”
On the parallels between The Lonely Island and their characters in the film:
“Absolutely, I mean look at him,” Taccone joked when asked if he and Schaffer knew when they were younger that Andy would be the main star. While things haven’t shaken out for The Lonely Island the way they did for The Style Boyz, you can still see the way a falling out could have happened if Samberg’s on-camera fame had changed the dynamic too much.
“Alvin and the Chipmunks is the best analogy,” Taccone explained. “I’m Theodore, [Akiva] is Simon, and Andy’s Alvin. Only, we all wear glasses. That’s the major difference.”
“We’ve been saying that Popstar is kind of an unofficial ‘squeakuel,’” Samberg joked.
On what didn’t make it into the movie:
There are many scenes in the movie that feel like improvised alternate takes (a la Apatow) and so many guest cameos, that it makes sense that the upcoming DVD will have lots of bonus material, as Samberg explained, including some musical stage performances of songs that are on the soundtrack, but not in the movie.
“We have an hour-and-a-half of deleted and alt scenes for this movie, so there was a lot of stuff that we loved that we had to leave on the cutting room floor,” Taccone said.
More specifically, the scenes in which comedians Eric Andre, Chelsea Peretti, Mike Birbiglia, and Will Arnett portray the staff of “CMZ,” a.k.a TMZ, are few and far between, but each one is hilarious. Watching those scenes, you just know they had more.
“We actually wrote only a small piece of the CMZ stuff, and then we cast those four comedians. It was Judd’s idea to clear out half a day and shoot them just commenting on the whole movie, sort of like a greek chorus,” Samberg said. “And then we just let them go. They went bananas. The outtakes on the DVD are incredible.”
On the movie’s breakout star, Chris Redd:
In addition to The Lonely Island guys and some solid supporting roles filled by Tim Meadows, Maya Rudolph, and Sarah Silverman, a lot of the film’s biggest laughs are provided by comedian and actor Chris Redd, who plays Conner’s opening act-turned-nemesis Hunter the Hungry. The Chicago native and Second City alum was brought to the film’s attention by veteran comedy casting director Allison Jones. Similar to Conner, he’s sort of an amalgam of a lot of rappers.
“That was a hard character to cast because it’s a lot of comedy, but also somebody who needs to sound convincing, musically,” Samberg said. “He just won the part with his audition. I was like, ‘I love this dude.’ I was so captivated by his performance.’”
On how they rounded up the (seemingly dozens of) celebrity cameos in the film:
It’s clear just from watching Popstar that they cast a wide net to find not only the actors to play characters, but actors to play themselves in the documentary-style interviews throughout the film. Mariah Carey, Usher, Simon Cowell, Arcade Fire, Emma Stone, and The RZA are just a few of the people that show up in the film. Plus? A Beatle.
“Some of them are people we’ve worked with before [and] some we got through reps,” Samberg explained. “Some people — like Ringo Starr — Judd Apatow was the one who called. Yeah, we don’t have Ringo on speed dial.”