Well, guess what: I’m mad about Popstar. Again. I’m mad about Popstar again. This happens every now and then, to be fair, most recently a few months ago when I wrote about Walk Hard. There’s nothing I can do about it, really. Popstar, The Lonely Island’s music mockumentary that was released in 2016, is a perfect movie, basically, and no one saw it. You probably didn’t see it in theaters. Why didn’t you go see Popstar in the theaters? I didn’t either, if we want to be technical about it, but we’re not talking about me right now. And I was busy. Shut up.
This is a pattern with Lonely Island movies, sadly. They’re all terrific and they all bomb at the box office. Hot Rod is a perfect American story that no one saw. MacGruber is a work of unhinged genius that no one saw. Popstar opened in eighth place (eighth!), behind such cinematic classics as The Angry Birds Movie (in its third week) and That Ninja Turtle Movie With Megan Fox. It’s infuriating, is what it is. Popstar is so good.
The options for recourse are limited, unfortunately. Short of inventing a time machine and forcing people into theaters all over America through bribery and/or threats of violence, our best option is to just yell about it now, years later, in a cathartic screed about how good it is. Yes, let’s go ahead and do that. For now. Time machine is still on the table.
The time has come to talk about Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.
1. The plot of Popstar goes something like this: Andy Samberg plays Connor Friel aka Connor4Real, a big deal white rapper and former member of a group called The Style Boyz, which featured his Lonely Island partners Akiva Shaffer as Lawrence aka Kid Brain and Jorma Taccone as Owen aka Kid Contact. There is a fallout and a fissure. Connor goes solo with Owen as his DJ, Lawrence moves to a farm. The action picks up as Connor is preparing to release his second album, which is getting slaughtered in the press and by fans. The movie is a classic tragedy-to-redemption story, but with full-frontal male nudity and pancakes that contain dog poop. It does all of that in just over 90 minutes. The movie is as funny as it is ruthlessly efficient. I appreciate this.
2. A music mockumentary doesn’t work if the songs don’t. They need to be catchy and slick enough that you can buy them as real radio hits, but also stupid and funny enough to gets laughs. It’s a tough needle to thread. Walk Hard did it beautifully and, yes, this is mostly just an excuse to mention “Let’s Duet” again, but Popstar isn’t exactly a slouch in this department either. There’s the lunatic energy of “Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song),” the Macklemore-roasting of “Equal Rights,” and the Adam-Levine-featuring “I’m So Humble,” among others, all of them little slices of brainworm-y genius. But my favorite, if I had to choose, and I’ve kind of backed myself into a corner here where I do, is “Mona Lisa,” a full-length song — only featured briefly in the film — about how the famous Da Vinci painting is “an overrated piece of shit.”
It’s so powerfully stupid. I love it like a long lost pet who returned home after running away three weeks earlier. I have literally played this in my car. With the windows down. I feel great about it.
3. I’ve already mentioned Walk Hard twice so let’s just go ahead and do this. The two movies have so much in common. Let’s tick off some similarities:
- They’re both satires of music movies, with Walk Hard covering biopics like Ray and Walk the Line, and Popstar covering more modern-day iterations, like Justin Bieber and his 2011 documentary Never Say Never, complete with references to the Anne Frank museum and a strange attachment to an unconventional pet (Bieber: monkey; Connor; huge turtle)
- They’re both big cult hits after underperforming financially
- They both feature wieners a-hangin’
- I love them both unconditionally
- Judd Apatow was involved with both, producing and co-writing Walk Hard and producing Popstar, which I respect greatly because it means at some point he said “Well, apparently people don’t like goofy music satires enough to make them financially viable, but screw it, we’re doing another one!”
Bless you, Judd.
4. Ahh, wait. There’s one more similarity: both movies feature Tim Meadows, as they should, because Tim Meadows is the best. He doesn’t have quite as memorable a role here (there’s nothing close to “You don’t want no part of this” for him to sink his teeth into), but he’s just so good as Conner’s sleazy manager. Tim Meadows is never bad in anything. This is a fact.
5. Things really start going sideways for Connor when he brings a new act on tour with him, Hunter the Hungry (Chris Redd), a Tyler the Creator knockoff who loves pranks and is definitely crazy. This all leads to a prank involving stage tricks and fast wardrobe changes that leaves Connor nude on stage with his penis tucked back through his legs as headlines like “Connor The Dickless” appear on trashy tabloid shows all over the country. He’s embarrassed and ashamed and starts a downward spiral that leaves him all alone. It is so, so stupid. This is the major turning point in the movie. I couldn’t love it more if I tried.
6. Popstar is littered with dumb little jokes, like a massive bee attack that happens when the cameras aren’t rolling, or a whole bit involving Seal and “party wolves” gone mad, or long runs of fake EDM stars (DJ Tommy Pizza, Oprah Spinfrey, Vinyl Richie, R2LSD2, Ecstasy-3PO, LSD-3P0, Elton John) and weed strains (Witch’s Titty, Aqua Butt, Beethoven’s Nightmare, Frog Jizz, the last of which actually appeared to be just a jar of real frog semen). All wonderful little pieces of business, to be sure. But my favorite is the recurring fake TMZ bit featuring Will Arnett, Eric Andre, Chelsea Peretti, and Mike Birbiglia.
It’s basically just them drinking from giant thermoses and devolving into a group of howling jackals over and over throughout the movie until it stops making anything resembling sense. Just shouting and slurping and wigs and even more shouting. I have no idea how it works, but it does. Well.
7. Connor’s post-tuck tailspin, in bullet point form:
- Has a fight with his band
- Serves pancakes laced with dog poop to his hangers-on to see if they’re just yes men, which pisses off Owen, who points out that he’s Connor’s oldest friend and not some lackie before leaving the tour
- Fires his manager
- His beloved turtle dies
- He’s just kind of cruising around passed out on a hoverboard.
It’s not ideal.
This brings us to the redemption. To the triumph. To a huge weed farm in the country where Lawrence has been living, building things out of wood and stewing over a years-long grudge about credit for a particular verse.
8. You really do need to watch the confession scene to grasp how funny it is. Words and screencaps will not do, although I’ll try. The short version: Connor holds a one-sided conversation with Lawrence in which he slowly, then quickly, changes his story as the truth becomes apparent to him. The delivery of the whole speech is so good, the kind of thing that Samberg has been doing well for well over a decade now. Here are some of the screencaps I told you wouldn’t do it justice. Ugh. Why are you still reading this, anyway? Why aren’t you watching Popstar again? Incredibly poor performance on your part today.
9. Popstar has a million music cameos in it. Mariah Carey, Ringo Starr, Questlove, 50 Cent, Usher, the list is absurd. Literally dozens of them. And I would list them all here for you if not for two small issues: One, I do not want to; two, I would rather point out that a musician named “Hammerleg” is mentioned a few times during the movie and we only get to finally see him at the very end of the movie and GUESS WHO PLAYS HAMMERLEG.
Oh hell yes, Weird Al. Weird Al is the greatest. The man has been doing nothing but producing joyful parodies of pop songs and being an absolute sweetheart for like four decades now. We do not do enough to thank Weird Al for his contributions to society. There should be statues of him and his accordion scattered across the country. His birthday should be a holiday. A fun cameo in a good movie where he plays a dude named Hammerleg is a decent start, I guess. I’m serious about the statues, though.
10. The movie ends with the Style Boyz reuniting on-stage to perform a new song titled “Incredible Thoughts,” a spoken-word performance that consists of dozens of stoner observations punctuated by a Michael Bolton chorus.
It is very dumb and very funny. Just like Popstar. A good movie.