SNL Vets Samberg, Taccone & Schaffer Make Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

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SNL Vets Samberg, Taccone & Schaffer Make Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
by Brad Balfour

June 1, 2016

Popstar Never Stop Never Stopping poster 2

Maybe it’s simply an extended Saturday Night Live bit, but, considering the state of the current pop music scene — with salf-parodying muscians such as Justin Bieber, Kanye West and Ariana Grande — a film like “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” seems inevitable. And given that the trio of Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer — all childhood friends once known as the Lonely Island — has such strong ties to both each other and pop scene, it was perfect that they would join up to do a comedy like this.

In Popstar…, Conner4real Friel (Samberg) goes into a major tailspin as his celebrity high life methodically and inevitably implodes once he releases a pathetic solo album after the painful collapse of his hit ’80s old-school rap trio, The Style Boyz. In a panic, he tries anything to bounce back, except reuniting with his old crew. While former band mate/lyricist Lawrence (Schaffer) retreats to a hippfied rural lifestyle, their other cohort deejay Owen (Taccone) remains with Conner but in definitively underling position.

Popstar Never Stop Never Stopping Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samber and Jorma Taccone

Throughout this mock-umentary , the line between parody and popstar-dom blurs in revealing the documentation of Conner’s meltdown and redemption. There are some super-silly tracks that would easily fit on the contemporary pop charts; and there are so many cameos of big stars that no one is sure whether they think this whole thing is made up — or not.

Those making appearances include Sarah Silverman (as their publicist), Tim Meadows (as the manager) and Imogen Poots (as girlfriend Ashley) as well a whole gang as themselves such as Adam Levine, Mariah Carey, Snoop Dogg, Simon Cowell, Carrie Underwood, Usher Raymond, DJ Khaled, Seal, Questlove, Jimmy Fallon, and “Weird Al” Yankovic, as well Andy’s wife Joanna Newsom.

What makes this movie feel organically solid is that the trio behind it, as stars, writers, and directors — with comedy godfather Judd Apatow producing — have known each other for such a long time. In fact, when they did this Q&A before a select group of journalists, it was hard to tell whose answer was whose since they completed each other sentences.

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When you three were actually roommates in that tiny LA apartment, was it obvious that Andy was going to be the big star out of the group?

Andy: Thank you for asking that.

Jorma: The first question is very easy.

Akiva: Absolutely, I mean, look at him, he’s gorgeous and multitalented.

Jorma: We couldn’t walk down the street without strangers stopping us and saying, “Who is your friend? Who is this Fabio-type, with that beautiful singing voice?”

Andy Samberg

Akiva: Uhh, no, because we didn’t expect for anything to work out necessarily. We were what, 21 or 22 years old in LA like everybody else, and weren’t expecting anybody to… We weren’t expecting anybody to be the star.

When you decided to do this movie about the music business and the contemporary music world, what did you want to do with it that you felt hadn’t been done before?

Andy: The thing that I think was at the forefront of what we felt like [doing] was fun — to play around with was how much social media and the media and the number of outlets that exist nowadays has changed the landscape of the music industry. [We wanted to touch on] what is expected of an artist, what they give up of their own personal life, how real that is, the sort of relationship that musicians in the pop world have with their fans now, and how genuine [it is] for the sake of their career, and how it affects their actual friendships and relationships in their lives.

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Though we didn’t see shots of you modeling in your underwear, the Style Boyz — as you modeled them — seemed torn between being a New Kids on the Block or a Beasties facsimile. Who did you favor, and who you three personally favoring as a choice to listen to?

Akiva: Well none of us can actually sing, so we’re always going to favor the Beastie Boys, but that’s our personal preference; that’s who we were growing up with.

Andy: That’s definitely what we listen to, also. Nothing against NKOTB, Joey McIntyre has got the voice of an angel, we all know that.

Ultimately do any of you want to do a doc on a particular music star now, a real doc, not an ersatz doc?

Andy: Who would be a good — I mean, we would never spend time making a real documentary, that’s so long. If we were forced to make a documentary, I think probably the most fascinating person in music is Kanye. I would like to watch that.

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Akiva: Yeah, a real documentary that really shows how his process is and stuff.

Jorma: But in a way, I wouldn’t want the mystery to be lessened with him and how his brain works. And I don’t know if that’s possible, but…

Andy: Weird Al? That’s something we should actually look into.

What groups from that period did you actually listen to — were the pop stars or old school hip hop — what the actual music did you like from that period?

Andy: The Beastie Boys were huge for us. The Beasties and Run DMC, New Edition, Bell Biv Devo…

Jorma: But all the Native Tongues stuff for me, like De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest, Digital Underground…

Andy: Pharcyde…

Popstar Never Stop Never Stopping Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samber and Jorma Taccone 2

Jorma: We listened to a lot of dancehall reggae as well, growing up. Cappelton, Sizzla, we could just keep going on.

What would you say is the key to a such a long-lasting friendship as yours?

Jorma: We’re going to let Kiv handle this one.

Akiva: Honesty, communication, and [in unison]… “Keeping it interesting in the bedroom!”

Andy: Put on a wig, put on a little teddy…

Jorma: Whatever works.

Akiva: So to speak.

Jorma: And safe words are very important.

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What’s the funniest thing that happened on set?

Jorma: Like, that’s not in the movie?

Andy: There’s a couple of times when everyone lost their shit and got the giggles, and one of those scenes was… You all saw it? [right in unison]

There’s the scene where Tim Meadow’s character Harry is telling Conner that the label thinks that he needs an opening act. We tried it a bunch of different ways but the end of that scene was like “I’ve got one idea, but you are gonna like it!” “Are, or Aren’t?” “Are!” And we did that one.

Jorma: Everyone in the room was spiraling out of control.

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Andy: That one… And then Tim — again — Tim Meadows makes people giggle, man, he’s just a funny, sweet man. When we were shooting the scene of us all on the side of the stage watching Hunter the Hungry for the first time, I would be like, “What do you think Harry? I don’t know about this guy.” He just kept saying, “The kids love him! I don’t know, I think it’s a good call. The kids love him!”

For some reason him saying, “The kids love him” for like the 15th time was probably my favorite moment.

Akiva: Everybody else started improvising new lines, and you go in a circle of like, different people taking their turns with new lines to get different reactions, and then every time we got to Tim, he’d say the same line, but with a new inflection. He didn’t bother to think of a new line, ever. For whatever reason that got everybody.

Popstar Never Stop Never Stopping poster

Obviously Justin Bieber also comes to mind as someone that Conner is modeled after, so it surprised me that it actually almost gives you more empathy for someone like that. It was a more empathetic view of him, having to deal with fame even though he’s also a target of the movie. What do you think his impression will be if he sees this movie?

Andy: We would hope that he feels the way that you just described, because that is how we feel. We definitely empathize with Justin, and are friendly with him; we’ve worked with him a few times and think he’s a good guy, and actually we respect his music a lot. There’s a couple direct references, obviously, to his documentary, because we just felt like they were funny jumping off points for a crazier joke.

The title of the movie obviously feels like his title which makes it seem like it’s a lot more about him than we intended, I think. We hope he likes it, and we feel like the character of Conner is really an amalgam of everything that’s going on in the world of pop music and rap music for that matter.

Do you have a favorite song in the movie?

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Akiva: Yes [pause]. I am partial to “The Finest Girl aka Bin Laden.”

Andy: I think I might be too.

What’s your process, did the songs come first, or the storyline — how did that come together?

Andy: It varies. We are a lot like real rappers — even though we’re fake rappers — where we get sent a ton of really awesome beats from various producers, and we’ll sort of lock ourselves in the studio and listen to a ton of them. Often times the beat itself will spark an idea, and we’ll start writing to it, or we’ll just love the beat and star it and say, “Let’s make sure to come back to this and try to think of an idea for it.”

Other times we’ll have an idea or premise for a song, and then we’ll search for a beat that matches it. Sometimes we’ll have an idea for a song and we’ll know it has to be a certain kind of beat and we’ll straight up ask a producer to craft a beat from scratch to match that idea.

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Akiva: Everything Andy said is accurate, yeah.

Jorma: That is true.

The TMZ parody seemed to be the only really vicious thing in the movie where you really present them as hyenas, cannibals, vultures. Is there a personal animosity there…

Jorma: No. We love Harvey and the gang!

Andy: We wrote kind of a small piece of the “CMZ” stuff and then we cast those four comedians. It was Judd’s idea to say, “Let’s clear out half a day to shoot, shoot them sort of commenting on the whole movie, sort of like a greek chorus.” We just kind of let them go and they took it from there — those four. They just went bananas.

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Jorma: There’s some stuff on the DVD of them that is incredibly, they’re really funny.

Andy: It gets way crazier.

Jorma: That was another day that we were just doubled over, like Will Arnett’s a beast, he’s incredible.

Andy: But the “CMZ” stuff is another one where, when we put it in test screenings, we were like, we really like this but we’ll see if it’s maybe too crazy… And it was not too crazy. The audience was all, “More of that!” We were like, “All right, we’ll put more in.” I’m thinking, “We have it.” So it was yet another case where Judd’s instinct was spot on.


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