Through examination of social media and entertainment figures one might wonder about the correlation between celebrity behavior and fame in somewhat of a ‘chicken or the egg’ context. Do these larger than life personalities conduct themselves outrageously, loosing touch with the world around them, as a result of being showered with too much attention or do we, the all-consuming audience, seek the most outrageous and out of touch individuals to shower our attention upon. Surely, with many notable exceptions, it is the former. Public spotlight can be, and is, one of the most potent, but potentially devastating, drugs there are. For what may start out as a blessing can quickly become a curse for those famed figures trying desperately, at any cost, to remain transfixed within the public eye. At least that’s what Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, the newest film from the SNL Lonely Island trio of Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer (the latter two co-directing the movie) makes the argument for. The fake documentary, or mocumentary, follows the career decline and hilarious attempts to stay culturally relevant of fictitious popstar Conner4Real (Andy Samberg). Conner is a perfect caricature of so many modern media icons. He is a man who has built and defined himself on all the public attention and fame he has come to receive. This is ideal for Conner during his time on top as he enjoys all of the praise and kowtowing that come with the status. The problems start when his popularity begins to wane and threaten his very identity. Determined to stay in the public eye, the popstar will do whatever it takes to remain relevant. Hilarity ensues.
We learn that Conner gained immediate recognition with the rap trio The Style Boys along with fellow members, and childhood best friends, Owen (Jorma Taccone) and Lawrence (Akiva Schaffe). However, like many young stars Conner’s ego wasn’t satisfied as part of a group, even if together they were the hottest act in the industry, and decided to abandon the Style Boys in order to strike out on his own and gain the solo recognition he desired. This, as we learn, was Conner’s first step in losing touch with reality in the pursuit of fame. After releasing his first solo album Conner rose to the level of a superstar leading him to become the type of personality we experience for most of the film. The mocumentary joins up with Conner on the eve of the release of a second album, which in turn will lead to the unhinging of his career. The film sees Conner go through a multitude of career disasters, that play out to our comedic delight, while constantly having to internally suppress the memories of the Style Boys and externally shunning all mention of them (including numerous reunion requests) to maintain the fragile persona he has created based on his solo success.
The film acts as a clever mockery of both the inflated personalities that audiences obsess over, as well as the music industry itself. Popstar, for the most part, is assembled from different set pieces comically built out of common (or cliché) elements of stars’ lives and careers, such as celebrity marriages, wardrobe malfunctions and selling out. One of my favorite lines in the movie comes when Conner tells Owen that ‘these days if you don’t sell out people will think no one has asked you to’ when Owen questions the popstar’s strange decision to attach his name to a line of household appliances. As well as mocking celebrity lives the film does a good job of comically lambasting current trends within the industry. In a hilarious scene we learn that the kick-starter to Conner’s solo career was the ‘Catchphrase Verse’ he wrote, which consisted solely of potential catchphrases he sought to try out, resulting in a nonsensical jumble of words. Basically, not only are meaningful lyrics not necessary anymore but completely incoherent ones are quite acceptable. Another clever dig happens when Conner4Real releases a single titled Equal Rights. Through the lyrics he openly expresses his stance on same sex marriage by singing that people, both men and women, should be able to marry whomever they choose while repeatedly assuring the listeners that he himself is not gay, stating all the ‘heterosexual’ things he enjoys. A jab at those who would appear to jump on board the struggle of the week, seemingly without too much knowledge of the matter itself, overtly raising awareness of the issue at hand but covertly doing so for themselves as well.
Fans of The Lonely Island will be pleased to witness a slew of new outrageous Samberg, Taccone and Schaffer (basically Lonely Island) comedy songs. One of the many things that Popstar did right, and receives several points for in my book, was play out many of the film’s original songs in their entirety and not resort to only using snippets of them. The songs are, in fitting with Conner4Real’s increased involvement in his own music and subsequent outlandish results, just as ridiculous and articulately hilarious as any the real life SNL band have ever released. One of my favorites being Mona Lisa, a scathing attack at the famed DaVinci painting declaring it painfully overrated. Unfortunately though, this was one of the numbers only presented in sample form.
Numerous actual celebrity cameos, from Carrie Underwood to the RZA, all playing themselves giving their thoughts on Conner4Real and the style Boys, are peppered throughout the film. Not only does this add a great sense of verisimilitude, situating the film in a pseudo reality, but as well adds a sort of meta commentary on the main ideas that Popstar sets out to mock. On one level we are shown how ridiculous and fickle the relationship between fan and celebrity can be, as well as the potentially devastating effect it can have, but on another level are overjoyed at playing spot the actual popstar every time a new and recognizable industry face appears onscreen. The result is that we ourselves are drawn into this vicious circle, mostly, without even being aware of it.
The film gets by on the gags alone, but doesn’t settle on only being a comical indictment of the music industry. Instead, Popstar manages to craft an emotional heart by following the character arcs of all three members of the Style Boys tracking their relationship over the years. Ultimately, through their realizations and transformations the film concludes on an effective and satisfying moral note.
Universal Pictures Canada releases Popstar: Never Stop Stopping on Friday, June 3, 2016