The Lonely Island’s Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone have released three albums of legitimately catchy, often R-rated tracks and skits that poke fun at mainstream hip-hop and pop while leveraging in as many dick jokes as humanly possible. With the soundtrack to Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping — the film the trio wrote, starred, and directed in — the songs were required to take on an added dimension, serving as the creative output of one Conner4Real, a Justin Bieber-caliber artist whose ignorance is matched only by his ego.
Over the course of the film, Conner also adds rising MC Hunter the Hungry as his tour opener and reconnects with the Style Boyz, the group he left to hit it big as a solo artist. All three acts have songs on the Popstar soundtrack, but while the movie is ripe with sight gags and overwrought storylines reminiscent of MTV reality programming, the songs themselves work best without any context.
Take for instance “Bin Laden”. The track was premiered on Saturday Night Live as a new “Digital Short”, but it would hold up just as well on the radio (if radio stations were allowed to play it). The conceit, which consists of Conner singing about a girl who wanted to “fuck [him] harder than the US government fucked Bin Laden,” is a delightfully inappropriate confluence of serious politics and the standard rap song approach of finding a metaphor through which to describe heroic sexual prowess.
Anchored by a solid beat, it features lyrics of escalating insanity, from “She said invade my cave with your special unit/ I said he wasn’t in a cave but there was no stopping” to “This girl requested intercourse to bring her to climax with the clinical efficiency of the assassination of Bin Laden.” Had The Lonely Island created “Bin Laden” outside the frame of Popstar, it may have taken its rightful place alongside classics like “Dick in a Box” and “I’m on a Boat”.
Another standout is “Equal Rights”, unquestionably a nod to Macklemore’s “Same Love”. Featuring a chorus from Pink, the song finds Conner attempting to show his support for same sex marriage while simultaneously clarifying that he himself is not gay at every possible turn. In addition to saying “I’m not gay” at the end of and in between most of his lines, he also lists supposedly masculine symbols, including beef jerky, sports, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. The concept for “Equal Rights” requires no knowledge of Popstar’s story, making it a self-contained (and brilliant) sendup of lip service tracks that in truth inflate self-importance rather than enact change.
This idea is most blatantly idealized in “I’m So Humble”, a track with Adam Levine that serves as one long oxymoron about how unhumble Conner truly is. While the joke could get stale, lines like “My apple crumble is by far the most crumbliest/ But I act like it tastes bad out of humbleness” are the kind of truly stupid and equally amazing lyrics that have made so many Lonely Island songs outlast the premise of a one-note punchline.
The same cannot be said for every track on soundtrack. Both of Hunter the Hungry’s songs act as hard-sounding nonsense, but listening to them apart from the context of the film is unpleasantly confusing. “Things in My Jeep” — which is literally just a list of things in a Jeep — earns points for the totally bizarre Linkin Park chorus complete with Chester Bennington screams but is much funnier in Popstar, where it’s explained as a misguided solo effort by Lawrence (Schaffer) after the Style Boyz have split up. On “Ibitha”, the Lonely Island stretch to painful lengths the humor behind hearing someone with a Spanish lisp try to pronounce things.
It’s hard to fault the Lonely Island for wanting to put as much music as possible onto the soundtrack for fans to enjoy, but those weaker tracks and a handful of unnecessary bonus tunes unused in the film leave an unbalanced experience that wasn’t the case on the three “proper” albums the groups have released thus far. Those records too featured music that originally had visual accompaniment in the form of the Saturday Night Live “Digital Shorts” they premiered on, but by and large are not reliant on the visuals.
One aspect of listening to the Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping soundtrack after watching the film is picking up on things that fly by too fast in the theater. One example is how the underlying melody of “Mona Lisa”, Conner’s single about how ugly the Mona Lisa looks, is repurposed into “Ashley Wednesday,” the song Seal sings to Conner’s girlfriend at his preposterously elaborate proposal ceremony. Truly, underestimating the ears and minds of Samberg, Schaffer, and Tacone is easy to do when their songs use phrases like “chicken bit off my dick at a cock fight” and “call my dick the shooting star/ cause it burns bright,” but there is an immense amount of musical prowess to be found amidst references to fowl genital mutilation. The Lonely Island are good at being dumb, but they’re even better at being secretly smart.
Essential Tracks: “Bin Laden”, “Equal Rights”, and “I’m So Humble”