I feel embarrassed to have loved Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping as much as I did. It was brilliant, stupid and incisive—exactly the kind of thing we like here, in other words—and when I finally met the trio at a press junket, I was unexpectedly nervous, and my tongue felt both too big and too dry. The only thing that could break the tension was the publicist introducing me as “Joanna from Jizzabel.” Everyone was very cool about it.
Popstar tells the story of Conner4Real—birth name: Conner Friel (Andy Samberg)—who founded a band with his two best friends, Owen Bouchard (Jorma Taccone) and Lawrence Dunn (Akiva Schaffer), called the Style Boyz. The Boyz gained their cult following from hits with titles like “The Donkey Roll”—which, in a cameo, Usher confesses inspired him to start dancing, and also provided a platform for Conner to launch his solo career.
The pop-mockumentary, directed by Taccone and Schaffer and written by all three, begins as Conner4Real awaits the release of his sophomore album. He’s at the peak of his career, has an entourage of bros who unquestionably love him, and although he has somehow alienated Lawrence (so much so that Lawrence feels the need to withdraw completely from the music industry) Conner still has Owen as his DJ, as well as his turtle Maximus—in Conner’s words, “my mute brother who’s hella scaly.”
The plot is not earth-shatteringly original: Conner’s album obviously flops; he embarks on a tour which goes half-well and half-comically-badly; he is seduced by shady sponsorship deals; he alienates his friends and colleagues; he figures out how to redeem himself. But every step of the way is one big fucking delight.
The movie’s premise allows plenty of room for interviews by people like Usher, 50 Cent, Mariah Carey, Dangermouse and Nas, all talking about how Conner’s music has profoundly influenced their careers. Conner and the Style Boyz and their believable parodies are inserted neatly into musical history, and it is a joy to watch RZA say of Conner4Real’s professional hardships: “The higher you get, the harder you fall. Just ask any coconut.”
The Lonely Island has made its name on satirical yet viably good pop music, and Popstar is one logical end for this knack. Even though in the Popstar universe, Connquest was a flop (earning one poop emoji from Rolling Stone), in my universe it’s filled with bangers, and I got off on watching stadium performances of “Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song)”—the video premiered on Saturday Night Live, but I preferred the movie performance—as well as “Mona Lisa (You’re An Overrated Piece Of Shit),” and “Equal Rights,” (a perfect Macklemore parody), as much as I will get off on earnestly and solitarily drunk dancing to them in my apartment. (We’ll be able to buy the soundtrack on Friday.)
Popstar is immediately endearing on another level, as a story of three best friends who like making music together—something that becomes a kind of funhouse version of The Lonely Island. I met the trio in a New York City hotel a few weeks ago, eventually managed to produce words, and talked to them about Joanna Newsom’s sheep guts, their pop star-adjacent careers, and fucking, marrying, and killing.
Jezebel: Is the movie at all based on your real-life experience as part of a famous trio?
Andy: A tiny bit.
Akiva: When Jorma got on Girls, he just got real big-headed and became a super-diva.
Andy: I mean it’s basically us without self-awareness, and the way things could go if we were completely different people from the very start. So our lives definitely informed our ability to write it. By being on SNL and seeing all the rockstars and all the movie stars and seeing all the different egos coming in and how they all have different entourages and how their lives looked—and then even doing things like this junket—means that we felt confident to be able to write about that world with some authority, even without ever having really been a part of it. We’ve seen it all.
Akiva: And we’ve pretended it really good in some videos.
Do you guys have your Donkey Roll?
Andy: That’s a good question.
Jorma: Maybe the Donkey Roll.
Andy: Well, the Creep. The Creep’s probably the closest because it’s a dance. A really shitty dance.
Akiva: But “Dick in the Box” is the one that, till your dying day, people will be like, “Dick in a booxxx.”
Andy: Nah, I’m gonna go with Creep. Let’s do the Creep.
Do you guys love pop or are you just very knowledgable about it? Do you listen in your free time?
Andy: I’d say both.
Akiva: We also listen to Not Pop.
Andy: Pop is like any other genre where there are certain songs you love and there are certain songs where you’re like, I do not love that.
Akiva: For instance, Andy loves that Zayn song “Pillowtalk.” Un-ironically.
Andy: I do love that song.
Jorma: It’s hard not to like that.
Andy: It’s pretty jammin’.
Andy: You don’t like it?
I really don’t, but I respect your right to like it.
Andy: It grew on me.
Akiva: I wonder if you need to live in a place where you drive a car with loud music.
Jorma: Well, the equivalent in New York is headphones, and that can give you the same vibe for sure.
Akiva: I would definitely in New York not have put on Zayn, because I wouldn’t put on the radio, because you’re really choosing what you put on your phone. But in L.A., I get in the car, turn it up, then I’ll just flip around and go, “Oh, I’ll try this out.”
And nobody knows what you’re doing in there.
Akiva: It’s private. Though I guess headphones are pretty private.
Is there something specific about today’s pop stars that you think are more parodyable? Would you do this to, like, a Frank Sinatra?
Andy: If they were on social media today the way people are today, probably.
Jorma: I think the biggest difference now is that everyone’s life is a reality show. There’s more fodder because you’re getting to see all the aspects of their lives.
Akiva: I think it was always probably pretty parodyable, but this felt different enough that there could be a new kind of parody.
Jorma: It felt like a new genre of documentary—the popumentary. Like, these puff piece documentaries...
Andy: Or at least these things are popular again. They’ve been around probably forever, but the new ones that started getting released in theaters again, it felt like something had bubbled to the surface.
I just want to say this before I forget. The Bin Laden song has been stuck in my head for one week.
Everyone simultaneously: Sorry (?!).
Jorma: That was our goal but still—apologies.
Akiva: That was a “Sorry” with a question mark, though. I just want to make that clear.
I’ll punctuate that.
Andy: Mine’s just a period, sorry.
Jorma: Mine’s an exclamation point. Just want to make that clear.
Would you play one Fuck Marry Kill?
Jorma: With ourselves?
With Justin Bieber, Macklemore and Adam Levine?
Akiva: I don’t want to kill any of them.
Andy: Yeah, I would kill myself. Marry Levine.
Akiva: I’m gonna marry Macklemore.
Andy: I would kill myself, have a three-way with Macklemore and Bieber and marry Levine.
That’s really nice.
Andy: So I kept them all in the mix.
Akiva: I’m definitely boning Bieber. Definitely marrying Macklemore. But then I don’t want to kill Levine, so I don’t know what to do. But I guess I gotta.
I mean, he’s in the movie.
Andy: Yeah, he’s helped us out a lot.
Akiva: I know. It’s a shame, I feel terrible about it.
Would you play the game for Donald, Hillary, and Bernie?
Andy: Yeah, well, we’d kill Donald.
Jorma: And we’d fuck his corpse.
Andy: It’s a tough call. Marry and F with Hillary and Bernie is a tough call because I kind of want to marry and F both. I’d be happy with either combo of that. Hillary seems maybe physically more stable so we’d have a longer marriage.
Akiva: I feel like you marry Hillary because she’s gonna run everything really well and stuff, whereas Sanders is kind of exciting and new and spicy, so you’d probably bone him.
Andy: Plus if you marry Hillary, there’s a strong chance you’d get to the White House which is nice.
Akiva: Exactly, that’s smart.
Jorma: This is all smart.
Akiva: I think that’s correct, everything you just said.
Andy: And hang with Bill.
Jorma: He’d probably teach you how to play sax.
These are really good answers.
Jorma: So we’re correct.
Akiva: We’re passing the test, the Jizzabel test.
Andy: I don’t think we want to perpetuate that.
Jorma: I don’t think we do.
“Jizzabel” is now permanent for me.
Akiva: It was a woman who said it, so...
It’s not your fault. I didn’t see any Joanna Newsom influence in your music. Does she help you guys? Andy, can you play the harp?
Andy: I cannot play the harp. I’m barely allowed to even touch the harp.
Akiva: Greasy fingers can damage the instrument.
Andy: Yeah, you don’t wanna mess up the sheep guts.
Jorma: Something you’ve learned.
Andy: But I will say, we have asked her multiple times to help us with, like, tuning, on vocals and stuff, and being like, is this out of tune, is this flat? And she has very nicely spent time helping us with that.
Jorma: None of us are musically trained. I know that’s going to come as a shock to your readers.
Andy: And she sang back up vocals on a song we made called “Ras Trent.” She and Maya Rudolph did the back-up vocals.
Jorma: And she’s also in a song called “We Are A Crowd.” You gotta hear her in there. I will say, when we were making our last album, she was simultaneously working on hers. And so, upstairs you would hear this beautiful, angelic, poetic, wonderful music, and then downstairs just all horrible dick jokes.
Andy: Yeah, Divers and The Wack Album.
Akiva: You can recreate this in your own house by just putting them on two different floors and just hanging out in between them.
Andy: I would try to not go up there while we were working on our stuff because it would make me too depressed about my life.
Jorma: Like, what are we even doing?
Andy: Yeah, just like—you’re better! What’s the point?
Jorma: Why are we trying to take the world down a peg?
Would you guys ever go on a Popstar tour?
Jorma: We’d love to go on any kind of tour.
Andy: Yeah, we’ve tried before and then schedules just keep getting boned.
Jorma: Well there’s three of us. We have different lives.
Andy: Touring is hard. I went on tour with Joanna last time around on her bus and it is grueling.
Jorma: What was the hardest part of it, did you think?
Andy: Sleeping on the bus was not super fun.
That’s not a glam thing.
Andy: It’s not a glam thing. And having to shower and do all your bathroom business at venues gets a little old fast.
Jorma: We’d still like to do it, though, having said all that. Before we die.
Akiva: Yeah, we’d still like to do it. Andy’s on a television show, it’s called Brooklyn 99, on Fox, Tuesdays. And it takes up a lot of his time.
Jorma: It’s always one of us, though, that has hosed it. One of us is always busy doing a movie or television show. Now it’s a television show that’s hosing us.
Akiva: Fox, Tuesdays.
Andy: Sorry we didn’t get canceled.
Image via Universal.