This summer, I saw a lot of bad movies. Some of those bad movies made a ton of money, but most of them didn’t. I also saw a movie that I liked a lot: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, an enjoyably silly and stealthily smart satire of the pop-music business written, directed, and starring the guys from The Lonely Island. If this is the first you’ve heard of this movie, you’re not alone: Popstar barely made any money at all in theaters.
On Tuesday, Popstar will be available on DVD and Blu-ray, and you can see it via VOD right now. By the way: You should see Popstar right now. And then you should buy Popstar so you can watch it many more times, because Popstar is awesome and deserves to live on as a cult classic.
Given how big of a drag the summer movie season was, Popstar‘s quick exit from theaters mystifies me. Why wasn’t this movie more successful? People seemed to love The Lonely Island when Andy Samberg was a cast member and Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer were writers on Saturday Night Live. The movie received a pretty good promotional push — the trailer was decent enough to convince me to see it on opening weekend. (Though I guess I was in the minority of filmgoers, given that Popstar made a paltry $4.7 million on opening weekend.) Even critics, including our own Vince Mancini, generally liked Popstar.
Most important, Popstar is a genuinely funny and good-natured movie that’s almost impossible to hate. The worst you can say about Popstar is that it’s an 86-minute Lonely Island sketch — or, more accurately, a series of sketches linked by the conceit of a mock-documentary. But unlike the bulk of 2016’s turgid, bludgeoning blockbusters, Popstar doesn’t take itself too seriously. Popstar knows what it is — a generator of fun, goofiness, occasional grossness, and loads and loads of jokes — and commits itself to having the best time possible. There should still be a place at the local cineplex for movies like Popstar, especially in summer, which used to be a time when raunchy, modestly budgeted comedies thrived.
Is it possible that Popstar bombed because pop music in 2016 transcends parody? After all, this is a year when a budding pop star faked an engagement to Jon Lovitz to promote her new single, an up-and-coming indie-pop group faked a sex tape to promote its new album, and the biggest pop star in the world maybe kinda sorta faked a relationship with a boring British man to distract the public from rumors that she cheated on her previous boyfriend, Calvin Harris.
Now, consider that a plot point in Popstar concerns the film’s protagonist, pop-rapper Conner4Real (Samberg), proposing to his fame-hungry movie-star girlfriend, Ashley Wednesday (Imogen Poots), during a live reality show that’s interrupted after wild wolves attack the singer Seal. How much more ridiculous is that than pop-music reality?
The funniest sequence in Popstar is the video for “Equal Rights,” a pro-gay marriage anthem in which Conner4Real is a little too preoccupied with proving that he is not also gay. “Equal Rights” is an obvious parody of “Same Love” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, a Grammy nominee for Song of the Year in 2014. But while “Equal Rights” is hilarious, it’s not quite as unintentionally funny as Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “White Privilege II,” which came out in January, when it was likely too late for Popstar to comment on the latest instance of excessive Mackling.
How do you make fun of something that so swiftly ups the ante on real-life foolishness? The comedic challenges of Popstar were significant in that regard, but the movie nonetheless functions as a stinging (though ultimately affectionate) rebuke of perhaps the most excessive and pretentious pop-music era in recent memory. Popstar skewers all of this year’s most dominant pop trends: The omnipresence of social media promotion, the noxious mix of identity politics and brand-building, the unapologetic capitulations to corporate culture, the unquestioning worship of celebrity.
As a music fan, I’m tempted to call Popstar cathartic, but that seems a little much for a movie whose second funniest scene involves a flaccid penis pressed against a limosine window. (At this point, I’m tempted to just list some of my favorite Popstar references: “F-line sesh,” PATRICK STEWART MONEY, DJ Tommy Pizza, Hammerleg, “sh*t emoji,” “Taylor Swift was arrested for murder!” Please see this movie so this stuff will make sense to more people.)
Instead, let’s just call Popstar “prescient.” The most celebrated music mockumentary, This is Spinal Tap, was also ahead of its time, arriving just as heavy metal was entering peak ridiculousness in the mid-’80s. But that wasn’t clear to most people until later on, so Spinal Tap only did modest business in theaters, eventually finding a large audience when it was released on home video. Popstar deserves the same fate.