Popstar: Imperial Dope

Who else but Andy Samberg and crew, meanwhile, can conjure the line “invade my cave with your special unit” and have it be so wincingly funny?

From the Saturday Night Live comedic trio – Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone – who brought late night TeeVee audiences such classic SNL digital shorts as “Dick in a Box” and “Shy Ronnie” comes a new mockumentary (“popumentary”?) called “Popstar: Never Stop, Never Stopping.” This no-holds-barred film, complete with its own soundtrack (note: not for general audiences!) is a completely inappropriate and utterly hilarious satirical spoof to goofy fan-friendly bubblegum flicks like Katy Perry: Part of Me and One Direction: This Is Us, with a generous measure of Bieber (#Sorry) Fever and satirical slings at the music industry thrown in. The result? Ninety minutes of wincingly whimsical fun.


The dealio. Our SNL trio stars as a boy band broken up by front man Conner’s solo success (Samberg, in his faux Macklemore-meets-Bieber glory). Reinventing himself as “Conner4Real,” the bad boy pop star surrounds himself with sycophantic nit wits, uber bling, 24/7 paparazzi, and his very best friend, a tortoise named Maximus, with whom he mugs for the ever-present camera and posts party photos for his one man social media empire. (“Popstar” is as much a critique of the narcissistic tendencies of our social media culture as it is of the pop music industry.) Unlike other mockumentaries like Christopher (“This Is Spinal Tap”) Guest’s best work, “Popstar” seamlessly melds the satirical and the real, with cameo appearances by a legion of music industry insiders, including Max Martin, Pharrell Williams, Simon Cowell, Carrie Underwood, Usher (Bieber’s life and times are uber-pranked), and Adam Levine, with an entire arena of Maroon 5 concert goers borrowed for a few key Popstar scenes, British pop star Seal showing up just long enough to get mauled by wolves, and Justin Timberlake laughing it up in a small but self-referentially ironic cutesy bit part.

What is truly impressive about “Popstar,” however, is the pop music itself. The SNL trio solicited the help of A-level real life producers like Greg Kurstin and RZA to help craft Conner4Real’s slickly absurd and grotesque pop presence, and the results are, well, imagine Sasha Baron Cohen locked in a room with a post-89 Taylor Swift for the week-end, and you’ll get some idea of what’s in store. A few highlights: Conner4Real’s Macklemore’ian pop song tribute to gay rights, in which he continually insists “I’m not gay!” and yells out inappropriate parts of the female anatomy throughout the song, or his ode to creativity – “Incredible Thoughts” – that marks the film’s climactic conclusion, featuring (I kid you not): an ever-earnest Michael Bolton, an entire symphony orchestra, and an electric guitar-playing Justin Timberlake in a giant goldfish costume, complete with nonsensical non-sequiturs that pass for lyrics. The film’s signature tune, however, is “Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song),” in which Conner4Real sings of an explicit one-night stand with a “freaky kind of girl” who asks him to engage in intimate acts with her in the same “clinically efficient” way that the U.S. government’s SEAL Team 6 assassinated Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan (assuming you believe the official US government party line – could this tune be a CIA propaganda stunt to seal the official version of the OBL assassination into the collective cultural unconsciousness? If so, give those spooks a bonus). Who else but Andy Samberg and crew, meanwhile, can conjure the line “invade my cave with your special unit” and have it be so wincingly funny?

That said, “Popstar” is not for everybody. Should you see this film? Rather than answer, I suggest you take this simple test. Go to YouTube, search “Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song)” and watch the video. If you find yourself laughing more than wincing, than the answer is affirmative. But you may want to leave your grandma, your thin-skinned relatives, and your kids at home.

Movie Reviews

Dr. Rob Williams is a Vermont-based media studies professor and consultant who lives and works out of the Mad River Valley. In addition to teaching a wide range of communications classes at the University of Vermont, Sacred Heart University, Champlain College, and Saint Michael’s College, he consults with a wide range of organizations, including PH International, the US Department of State, the Action Coalition for Media Education, and a number of other clients. Reach him at rob.williams@madriver.com.
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