The satirical targets of Popstar: Never Stop Never Stoppingaren’t just the vapid pop music industry and the boy bands that inevitably splinter when the marketplace lures their key members to solo stardom. The more self-referential sendup is of Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone, the film’s writers, directors, and stars. Collectively known as The Lonely Island, they've grown from childhood friends in California to writers on Saturday Night Live, where popular shorts like “Dick in a Box” propelled Samberg to, well, solo stardom.
In Popstar, The Lonely Island's members portray childhood friends who were once a pop trio called The Style Boyz: lead singer Conner Friel, aka Kid Conner (Samberg); lyricist Lawrence, aka Kid Brain (Schaffer); and DJ Owen, aka Kid Brain (Taccone). The Boyz broke up after Conner went solo under the moniker Conner4Real. Owen remains his DJ (although he just pushes play on an iPod), while Lawrence has retired to live as a hermit on a Colorado farm where he whiles away his days whittling embittered woodwork.
The fatuous, self-absorbed Conner’s second solo album, CONNquest, flops—out of four stars, Rolling Stone gives it a poop emoji. The track list includes duds like a gay marriage anthem called “Equal Rights,” released after same-sex marriage became legal and interspersed with subliminal messaging to reinforce Conner’s heterosexual bona fides. “Finest Girl” analogizes a lover’s sexual fantasy with how the U.S. military “fucked Bin Laden.” In another ditty, Conner croons, “Mona Lisa, you’re an overrated piece of shit.”
Conner’s life quickly spirals downward. His tour’s warm-up act, wild-eyed rapper Hunter the Hungry (Chris Redd), starts selling more albums and hires away Conner’s longtime manager (Tim Meadows). A line of home appliances that play Conner’s songs causes nationwide blackouts. A made-for-TV marriage proposal, designed to rehabilitate his public image, goes awry when it’s discovered that Seal songs and party wolves don’t mix. Eventually, the only thing left to try is to get the old band back together—but only if Conner and Lawrence can set aside their murky differences.
Popstar is a middling entry in the music mockumentary subgenre. It’s not near the level of This Is Spinal Tap or even Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. In its favor, individual scenes don’t linger too long, and the gags move briskly. Among the standouts is a biting parody of TMZ on TV, with Will Arnett as a tumbler-slurping Harvey Levin caricature.
Still, the script produces more snickers than guffaws. It’s excessive with lazy laughs—dick pics, seriously?—and a cavalcade of cameos by SNL alums and real-life music stars. The passing presence of former NSYNC member Justin Timberlake, playing Conner’s personal chef, is on-the-nose casting, given the film’s premise. Popstar devolves into a game of Spot the Celebrity that belies the subversive audacity of its ridicule of contemporary pop culture. The film is a feature-length version of a Lonely Island short that’ll leave you humming its melodies but forgetting the punch lines.