When I started watching this movie I thought I’d have to also watch Never Say Never, the Justin Bieber movie. Popstar draws so much inspiration from Bieber, even satirizing very specific elements of the singer’s appearance, public mishaps and upbringing.
But the movie also satirizes much of the current film industry, with scenes that are all “ripped from the headlines.” It’s similar to another Judd Apatow movie, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007). Dewey Cox while poking fun at the music culture of the 60s and 70s also poked fun at movie biopics as a whole. Popstar similarly parodies current music “documentaries” that act more as a promotional tool than anything truly enriching.
Conner4Real (Andy Samberg) is coming off a successful first solo album after leaving the successful rap group Style Boyz with his Lonely Island partners Jorma and Akiva (playing Owen “Kid Contact” and Lawrence “Kid Brain,” respectively). Style Boyz seems like a much more vanilla version of NWA, particularly with the way the band breaks up on bad terms. While Owen remains on as Conner’s DJ, Lawrence leaves the industry and works on a farm in Colorado.
When the movie begins, Conner is about to release his second album. The first song off the album, “Equal Rights,” is a direct parody of “Same Love” by Macklemore. The song and the album as a whole are received poorly, and Conner and his manager decide to bring a hot new up and coming artist (Hunter the Hungry) on tour with them to boost ticket sales.
Things start to turn for the worse when Hunter becomes more popular than Conner and starts to take over. Making things worse, there is an onstage wardrobe malfunction (with callbacks to the Janet Jackson incident), and Conner believes Hunter (with an affinity for pranks) might be behind the incident.
Trying to turn his image around, Conner proposes to his girlfriend and makes sure to invite the press. Things get worse when the wolves he brought out for the event don’t take well to Seal’s serenade, and the wolves get loose. Seal is hurt in the fracas, and he sues Conner.
Conner ends up moving back home to house sit for his mother in Sacramento. Then his publicist brings him to a show, and he sees Owen performing some new music. Conner realizes his ego became too inflated, and he and Owen get back together. They then fly to Colorado to convince Lawrence to join them as well.
The group remembers the good times, and they reunite The Style Boyz.
This whole movie is very promotional, when viewed in context as a straight documentary of Conner4Real. He openly admits to selling out and doing anything to promote his brand. The music is never part of what makes Conner tick, and that’s why he and The Style Boyz broke up in the first place.
The basic message is that everything in the music and entertainment industries is carefully constructed. Whether it’s Conner’s delicate fade in his haircut or the carefully worded lyrics to “Equal Rights” or even the completely shallow marriage proposal, it’s all planned out.
The movie makes fun of the tropes and cliches in pop music and pop music documentaries.
The humor is reflective of The Lonely Island’s previous work. Their own songs and albums similarly make fun of current music and messages, such as one of the first songs in the film called”I’m So Humble,” which is anything but. The Lonely Island’s music often makes fun of pop music by showing how simple some of the songs are as long as some words rhyme and it’s showy.
The Style Boyz operate like The Lonely Island. Conner/Andy is the frontman and the most animated character. Akiva and Jorma often write/direct their work (including co-directing credits on Popstar), and in The Style Boyz they are responsible for the lyrics and the beats.
On a final note, it’s amusing to see how many celebrity cameos are in this film. That has always been a staple of The Lonely Island songs as well, and Judd Apatow movies too. In Popstar, however, it makes me think a lot of the musicians think they’re in on the joke rather than a part of it. It also could just reflect that people like Adam Levine, Justin Timberlake and DJ Khaled know it’s all for show, and they’re able to laugh at themselves. Maybe the joke is at the audience’s expense or maybe it’s harmless.
Up Next (back to all things Woody Allen): Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex *But Were Too Afraid to Ask (1972), Sleeper (1973), Love and Death (1975)