The Lonely Island, the musical comedy trio of Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer, have been bringing laughs to our ears and our television sets for years, probably best known for their SNL Digital Shorts, often music videos including cameos from artists like Justin Timberlake, Adam Levine, Nicki Minaj, and Michael Bolton, just to name a few. Platinum singles, millions of views, and a few Grammy and Emmy nominations later, the boys find themselves upon the launch of their latest movie titled Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, produced by Judd Apatow. Starring Samberg as Connor4Real, a superstar out on tour with his faithful DJ (Taccone) and musical frenemy, Hunter The Hunted (played by Chicago comedian Chris Redd), a lot of speculation has been paid to who the characters are actually based on. Nerdist visited the set of the documentary-style comedy and spoke with the team to get to the bottom of things.
Rodney Rothman, producer of Popstar, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Get Him To The Greek, set the record straight when we spoke with him at LA’s famed music venue The Forum where the movie spent about two weeks shooting. Who, or what, was Popstar actually based on? “It’s really The Lonely Island guys’ version of a Katy Perry: Part of Me or Justin Bieber: Believe type movie,” said Rothman. “So by that I mean it’s a big, glossy tour documentary that follows an artist on six months of [Connor’s] life. And really it’s purported to be, it’s supposed to be propaganda, you know? It’s a two-pronged thing, it’s supposed to make the artist look really good, on the other hand it’s supposed to be up close and personal with the artist. It’s really kind of riffing on this whole idea that now being a pop star, being a rap artist, a big music icon is more about the branding than the music. That’s part of the idea.”
Rothman continued, adding, “Andy is playing this character, the guys can obviously go more into detail about what their influences are, but he’s really no one person. One of the cool things to me about this movie is it’s very much The Lonely Island making a movie that’s like firmly in their wheelhouse. It draws on their ability to make music, talk about music, satirize music. It’s full of original music and not just for the main characters, but they’re basically building a full world of music, so you have some other musicians that are in the movie playing themselves, some musicians are in the movie playing characters who aren’t musicians, some musicians are in the movie playing other musicians that don’t actually exist, it’s sort of a big mix of things.”
Samberg’s friendship with real-life music superstar Justin Timberlake has been well documented. Was Andy playing a version of his “D*ck In A Box” collaborator with Jorma and Akiva portraying a version of an *N SYNC style boy band which helped launch his career? “The Style Boyz [the fictional group in Popstar] don’t exist anymore. Jorma’s character is named Owen, and he’s Conner’s tour DJ, not dissimilar to a Ryan Lewis type. He was his producer, sidelined a little bit. And Akiva’s character has left the music business altogether. And this is kind of where we start. Conner is not Justin Timberlake, he really isn’t. But it’s that kind of paradigm, where a guy just went supernova and the other guys have had to deal with that in various ways. And I think on some level the guys, The Lonely Island, are reflecting a bit on what happened to them. Starting as a very by-the-seat-of-their-pants, raw comedy group and then Andy in particular blew up. And again, they can really speak to that if they want to speak to that, but for Judd [Apatow] and for me as producers on the movie, it was very much about drawing on that real stuff and putting that into the dynamic of this movie.”
Co-director Akiva Schaffer drew inspiration from all aspects of popular music, including pop, country, hip-hop, and electronic. “There are moments where he’s magic on stage where he’s more like Katy Perry shows or even Taylor Swift or something. And then he also sings a lot, which is kind of like Drake, almost, because he sings and raps, and also has a lot of pseudo-political things where he thinks he’s like really intelligent, like Macklemore with his rants, when the world kind of turns on him, as happens in the movie, he kind of goes into ‘the press is against me’ kind of Kanye style. So he’s got many of them put together.”
“Ryan Lewis?? Where did you get that?!,” asks co-director and co-star Jorma Taccone when questioned about the influences on his character. “I feel like because we’re white and it’s harder to compare our pop-rap brand to anything else, but people will draw their own conclusions. We’re not basing our characters off of any one person at all. I mean, like, Owen is a producer in the movie and becomes more of his DJ, which starts to go kind of that route, but the music that he makes is nothing like Ryan… People will draw whatever parallels, because we’re making fun of different music, well, not, ‘make fun of,’ but you know, we’re referencing it in this movie.”
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, starring Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer, Tim Meadows, Chris Redd, and Sarah Silverman, hits theaters June 3, 2016.
All Images Courtesy of Universal Pictures