Is 'Popstar' (2016) Deserving of A Cult Following?
By Sal LoCicero | June 3, 2021
Five years ago, three men by the name of Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer released their second collaborative feature titled ‘Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping’; a mockumentary about the life of singer/rapper Conner4Real. Loosely based on Justin Bieber’s fame, ‘Popstar’ pokes fun at both the rise and fall of this trending figure in the pop industry.
The Lonely Island started their debut on Saturday Night Live starting in 2001, with writing and performing on the show. They’ve produced many popular music videos during their careers. If you’ve ever heard or seen a meme of music videos such as ‘I Just Had Sex’ or ‘Dick In A Box', The Lonely Island are the ones behind those hits. They made their feature debut in 2007 with a movie titled ‘Hot Rod’, which was both a critical and financial failure. However, over the course of time, ‘Hot Rod’ has started growing a cult following.
Nine years later, The Lonely Island worked on another project that was picked up by Universal Studios and produced by Judd Apatow (The 40 Year Old Virgin, The King Of Staten Island). ‘Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping’ is the second feature from the three musketeers. When Popstar’s first (Red Band) trailer hit, the movie looked stupidly funny.
‘Popstar’ released around the beginning of summer, and during that time, big studio hits like ‘Captain America: Civil War’, 'The Angry Birds Movie’, ‘Alice Through The Looking Glass', and ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ had already been released and had brought in lots of money at the box office. Popstar released on June 3, 2016 and during the week of release, the movie’s competition was between ‘Me Before You’, and ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows’. Popstar came in at #8 during that weekend’s box office. Afterwards, the movie grossed only $9 million worldwide with a budget of $20 million.
For some, the results were shocking because of how well the movie was critically received with Rotten Tomatoes giving it a 79% certified fresh score. However...if you truly look into it, you may have a better idea as to why it failed.
THE MARKETING DEPARTMENT
This has been stated many times, but it's valid. ‘Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping’ was marketed as a parody to Justin Bieber, his fame and his live concert movies. The title, ‘Never Stop Never Stopping’ is a complete knock off of 2011’s ‘Justin Bieber: Never Say Never’. Every trailer, ad, and poster for Popstar made it seem like it was only made to poke fun at Bieber and various artists. The Lonely Island created ‘Popstar’ to comment on the music industry, fame, and how all of it is changing for better and worse. In an interview with Collider, Andy, Jorma, and Akiva had mentioned that they were displeased at how the distributors marketed the film and changed the original title to make it more "Bieber-esque".
When ‘Popstar’ hit theaters, there weren't many moviegoers who were going to take time out of their day to see a mockumentary from former SNL legends when there were tons of other options available at the time.
THE RELEASE DATE
Almost every year in between the months of May and June, Hollywood will release a blockbuster feature to get audiences into theaters and make back a good deal of money. Movies like ‘Toy Story 3’, ‘Thor’, ‘Kung Fu Panda 2’, ‘Transformers: Dark Of The Moon’, ‘Marvel’s The Avengers’, ‘Iron Man 3, ‘Man Of Steel’, ‘Godzilla’, and X-Men: Days Of Future Past are all blockbusters that released during those months. While you will get some comedies that are targeted at teens in between those action packed movies, something as small as ‘Popstar’ doesn’t stand a chance.
By the end of July, studios will release more independent type films. August has always been the month for leftovers. Where Hollywood takes a little break. They put out some good movies, but none that particularly stands out - unless it’s 2014’s Guardians Of The Galaxy. ‘Popstar’ would’ve been successful had it been released in August. We’re not stating that if the movie were to have been released that month then financially it could’ve had a significant outcome, but it’s guaranteed that it would’ve made back its budget.
Ever since the MPAA (now MPA) created a new rating system with the R-rating, any feature that got branded the label was to receive less audience members to that movie. As we all know, Rated R means that anyone under 17 is not permitted unless accompanied by a parent or guardian. Most R-rated movies gross less money than a PG/ PG-13 rated films. In 2016, the only R-rated movie that grossed a ton of money and topped the box office was Deadpool. However, Deadpool is a Marvel comic book character. Even with comedies, the ones that are to make the most at the box office are suitable for the majority.
‘Popstar’ is a comedy that centers around the pop industry and pokes fun at modern pop-singers that kids and teens are aware of and listen to. While some adults may be interested in modern music and artists, most are not so tolerant around that subject and they’re not willing to pay money to see it. If anything ‘Popstar’ should’ve tried to tone itself down just a tiny bit to get that PG-13 label. ‘Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy’ may not have peaked financially at the time, but it’s certain that if the first Anchorman were to be released in this era, it would’ve made millions of dollars. Andy Samberg and The Lonely Island appeal to kids. So it is more likely that kids in the 12-17 age range would’ve gone out and seen their movie.
IS 'POPSTAR' REALLY ANY GOOD?
‘Popstar’ tries to tackle and poke fun at many topics in its 1 hr and 27 Min runtime. But the question is, does it work? And the answer is, No. The biggest problem with this movie, is that its main focus is to point out the ridiculousness with music, artists and fame, however It gets caught up in its own absurdity to the point where its message and purpose fades away.
Granted, the first act of the movie is solid. We get a good introduction to Conner, his life, his friends, his family, and how they all view him. We get a funny backstory about his rise and fall with “The Style Boyz” and how that has led him to become who he is. Things get even funnier when Conner performs his new songs during his world tour. His first song being “Equal Rights”, where he sings about gay pride while consiently repeating that he is “not gay”.
This is when some start to question Conner’s music, which leads to his downfall. Once we get to the second act, that is when the movie itself fails. Most of the jokes get extremely dull, some of the supporting characters become annoying, and the rest of it suffers from uneven tones. By the end, ‘Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping’ turns itself into a joke of its own.