The tremendously talented gentlemen behind The Lonely Island – which consists of Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone – have a new film they produced coming to Hulu this Friday called Palm Springs (which is incredible). But let us not forget that The Lonely Island also gifted the world Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, which is one of the funniest films of the last decade. In truth, it’s one of the best comedies of the 21st century so far. Popstar follows the exploits of Conner4Real (played by Samberg), a former band member who has now struck out on his own, found immense success, and releases his second solo album to scathing reviews. Presented as a documentary with a crew following Conner on what’s supposed to be a triumphant tour but ends up being a catastrophe, the 2016 film takes aim at the fame machine while also telling a genuinely sweet story about friendship as Conner reconnects with his former bandmates and childhood friends, played by Taccone and Schaffer (who directed the film). Also Will Forte plays bagpipes at a turtle’s funeral.
Popstar is uproariously funny and boasts an absolutely killer soundtrack and tells a genuinely compelling story, which makes the fact that it bombed at the box office all the more frustrating. And while the film has gone on to find a number of fans in the wake of its theatrical release, the box office bust still stings.
Recently, I spoke to The Lonely Island at length about their career as part of our Collider Connected series, in anticipation of the release of Palm Springs on Hulu on July 10th – which they produced and in which Samberg stars. That full interview will be on Collider later this week, but during the course of our conversation we talked a bit about Popstar and we wanted to share that portion of the discussion with you today.
Full disclosure: I previously interviewed the trio entirely about Popstar a few years ago, and yet we still found new things to discuss about the film. Schaffer, Samberg, and Taccone recounted how the movie first got off the ground, and the unique way they got in touch with producer Judd Apatow.
But we also talked about Popstar’s disappointing box office – namely how the marketing seemed to be selling a movie that was very different than the one they made. That movie was a Justin Bieber parody, despite the fact that Popstar really didn’t specifically take aim at any one musician at all. Indeed, while Samberg was gracious that the studio made the movie in the first place, he did admit in our interview that the marketing department leaned into the Bieber of it all a bit too hard for their liking:
Andy Samberg: “The studio was very supportive. I’m not trying to talk bad [about them]. But the marketing department really wanted to lean into the Bieber aspect of it, and we did not at any point feel like what we were making was a Bieber movie.”
Schaffer added that the marketing seemed to dwell on the three Justin Bieber-esque jokes that were in the film, and even used Conner’s Bieber-like costume for the poster and marketing materials:
Akiva Schaffer: “It’s a movie that has like 10 jokes a minute… Let’s say there’s 500 jokes in the movie, three are directly pulled from him. You can probably find way more about other artists. But they put all three in every piece of marketing that there was. Even the 30-second ad had those three jokes. And they chose the one outfit he wore that was similar, the white outfit which was the Never Say Never outfit.”
Never Say Never, of course, is the title of the Justin Bieber concert documentary that was released in 2011, and The Lonely Island revealed that while the title “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” is funny, it wasn’t their idea:
Andy Samberg: “It’s also the Never Say Never paired with Never Stop Never Stopping that made it seem like that’s what we were doing.”
Akiva Schaffer: “Which is a very funny title, and we agreed to it, but that’s the only piece of writing in the whole movie that’s not ours.”
Andy Samberg: “The working title of the movie for us was Conner4Real the whole time.”
Jorma Taccone: “Yeah we always thought it was going to be that.”
So the marketing sold Popstar to general audiences as a parody of Justin Bieber – something it wasn’t – instead of a music-driven comedy, which is what it really was. And that unfortunately led to many people opting out of seeing the film, despite the fact that it earned great reviews. Which is a shame, because anyone who actually saw Popstar very quickly realized it was its own original thing and not a takedown of any particular famous artist.
Indeed, Samberg says they had no specific problem with Bieber:
Andy Samberg: “It was not necessarily our preference for [the marketing] to be so Bieber-driven and we really had no specific bone to pick with Bieber. We were really more interested in making something that was commenting on the pop machine and the music machine in general, and making crazy set pieces within that.”
The trio are diplomatic about the ordeal and still happy the film got made, but obviously a bit disappointed that the film’s box office was hindered by a marketing campaign that sold a different movie. And just speaking for me personally, it’s baffling why a marketing department would want to chase a flash-in-the-pan trend that doesn’t even really fit with the actual movie rather than lean into the fact that they have a hilarious comedy filled with catchy songs they could be selling. But hey, that’s just me.
I asked if the guys would be interested in revisiting their characters in a Popstar sequel, but Taccone said a mix of heartbreak and interest in other things makes it unlikely:
Jorma Taccone: “Speaking for myself, I feel like for us – one there’s heartbreak involved in the films that we’ve made that you put a lot of energy into them and then they don’t do financially well. Sadly that’s the only metric you have for success at the time. I think we’re always wanting to push ourselves to do something else, something different. For me personally, I think we probably just wanna do something new.”
Without missing a beat, Samberg asked Taccone how the MacGruber sequel TV series is going:
Jorma Taccone: “Here’s the thing, with MacGruber somehow the joke of even just doing it is funny (laughs). But yeah it’s going great, Andy. Thanks for asking.”
While it’s a bummer more people didn’t see Popstar in theaters – and frustrating that it may have had something to do with misleading marketing – it’s heartening to see people continuing to find this gem of a comedy years later and recognize its brilliance. Long live Conner4Real.
Look for our full interview with The Lonely Island on Collider this Thursday. Palm Springs will be available to stream exclusively on Hulu starting July 10th.