The music industry can seem like an overly serious and pretentious place, and evermore it seems necessary to have satirists like The Lonely Island to bring it back down to earth. Over the course of their work on SNL, and 3 albums (each of wildly inconsistent quality), the group has skewered just about every pop music trope out there. Their new film, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping takes aim at self-congratulatory music documentaries, from the likes of Justin Bieber and Katy Perry, and the soundtrack provides some of the best songs the trio has written since their early work.
One of the defining qualities of the group’s previous albums was the feeling that they potentially worked better as a collection of singles than as complete experiences, and that holds very much true for the Popstar soundtrack. The film follows the downfall of self-absorbed hip-hop star Conner4Real (real name: Conner Friel), and the best tracks on the soundtrack are drawn from his maligned second album “Connquest”. The opening string of 5 songs (not including interludes) is easily the strongest straight run of tracks The Lonely Island has ever penned.
Opener I’m So Humble is confidently funny, obviously juxtaposing the braggadocio of the style, with the pretence of humility in the lyrics – “people say I’m so unpretentious for a genius”. There aren’t a huge number of laugh-out-lines in the song, but it moves with a steady stream of chuckle-worthy lines, and the beat and Adam Levine-led chorus are so catchy it’s hard to care. Equal Rights is easily the harshest critique The Lonely Island have ever doled out, aimed squarely at Macklemore and his questionable hit Same Love. Over a beat that eerily replicates the self-congratulatory bombast of the original song, Andy Samberg raps about the importance of equal rights, whilst spending the majority of the song protesting that he himself is “not gay”. By the song’s end he’s abandoned his original subject matter, and is just listing hetero iconography – “titties”, “sports”, “Lynyrd Skynyrd” – and it’s hilarious.
The standout track is easily Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song). The song’s premise is so blatantly absurd (it’s about a girl who wants Samberg to “f**k me like we f**ked Bin Laden”), and the group runs with the ridiculous metaphor so confidently – “she said “invade my cave with your special unit” / I said “he wasn’t in a cave” but there was no stopping” – that the song becomes an escalating high-wire act of questionable taste. The concept sounds like it should be offensive, but because the band mocks absurd sexual metaphors instead of the actual politics, it ends up working perfectly.
Unfortunately, like with the group’s previous albums, much of the Popstar soundtrack can’t compete with its strongest moments. The second half of the album contains songs with barely-there premises (Ibitha is an entire song about the Spanish accent sounding like a lisp), tracks from the Style Boyz (Conner’s old boy-band), and tracks from Hunter the Hungry, another rapper who usurps Conner in the film. There’s some strong moments (Incredible Thoughts and Legalise It are both quite funny), but it’s dispiriting when the album goes several tracks without anything worthy of a laugh.
Like their previous work, the soundtrack to Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping works better as a series of singles and videos than as an album proper. However, said songs are some of the best of the group’s career, and even when surrounded by an obscene amount of unnecessary bloat, they manage to make the album greater than the sum of its parts.