Between their music videos, albums, and SNL Digital Shorts, The Lonely Island has developed a very particular place in the worlds of comedy and music. With Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, the group tackles a fully-realized world with plots, characters, and a viciously absurd look at the world of pop music in the 21st century. At its core, Popstar has a tried-and-true story about friendship and forgiveness. It just happens to be surrounded by songs about, among other things, a woman who wants to have sex in a way that’s reminiscent of the U.S. government’s treatment of Osama Bin Laden.
Conner4real (Andy Samberg) is a world-famous pop star who got his start as a member of the boy band/rap group The Style Boyz. His fellow members/best friends Owen (Jorma Taccone) and Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer) have responded to Conner’s success in different ways. Owen goes along with Conner’s choice to go solo, even becoming Conner’s DJ (which just involves pressing play on an iPod), while Lawrence has moved on to farming, bitter that his songwriting was never given its proper due for Conner’s success. But when Conner’s highly-anticipated sophomore solo album, CONNquest, flops on the charts, he begins grasping for ways to regain his fame.
Through its use of the mockumentary format, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping offers the pop world its own version of This is Spinal Tap. The most obvious target is Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, but it takes shots across the pop spectrum, including Macklemore through Conner4real’s single “Equal Rights,” the use of the humblebrag through Conner4real’s hit song with Adam Levine, “I’m So Humble,” and the releasing of an album to an unexpected public through questionable means (see: U2’s Songs of Innocence iTunes fiasco).
Both the humor and the level of craftwork in the music shouldn’t surprise fans of The Lonely Island. What is surprising is the heartfelt nature of the core trio’s friendship. It’s not deep, by any means, but it provides a solid amount of emotion to a film that’s otherwise loaded with irreverence. The film obviously pulls on the real-life friendship of Samberg, Taccone, and Schaffer, which also helps sell the tension that exists between the three of them.
They’re supported by an insane number of supporting actors, including Tim Meadows and Sarah Silverman in somewhat prominent roles as Conner’s manager and publicist, and Chris Redd as Hunter, Conner’s opening act who was clearly inspired by Tyler, The Creator. The film also relies on a large number of cameos from musicians playing themselves, from rappers to producers to country music stars.
At 86 minutes, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping manages to hit a lot of points (and make a lot of jokes) without overstaying its welcome. Some of the jokes work better than others, and a few do run on too long, but with the sheer number of jokes here, it works. Most of the time, audiences will be laughing, and the songs in particular will get stuck in quite a few heads. Unless you’re averse to The Lonely Island in the first place, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is worth watching.