Arguably the soundtrack’s masterstroke is Conner’s so-called “catchphrase verse,” which is just what it sounds like: a verse devoted to nothing but catchphrases, ranging from “Balancing my checkbook” to “Doink-de-doink” and “Sorry, dad.” Samberg credits Schaffer with dreaming up “Patrick Stewart money” and “D-D-D-D-D-D-D-D-D-Dilbert.”
Popstar also took inspiration from some unexpected sources, such as HBO’s true-crime doc about accused killer Robert Durst, The Jinx. This brings us to the bee-attack scene, which encapsulates everything that’s great about Popstar and the Lonely Island’s reductio ad absurdum comedy universe.
In the scene, Conner learns from manager Harry (Tim Meadows) that his album is a spectacular failure. He begins to break down, and Harry signals the cameraman to stop filming. But the audio continues and picks up first a solitary bee, then a swarm, building to a cataclysmic battle with what sounds like a roaring, Mothra-sized queen.
“A lot of our humor is piggybacking on what starts out as a normal joke,” Taccone said. “The bee attack started out from Akiva mentioning that The Jinx has the moment where the cameras are off, but the audio keeps going and it builds from there, and now it’s less and less a normal joke, to the point you can no longer tell where the impetus came from.”
“It’s something that can only come up between friends who have known each other since childhood,” Samberg added. “There is so much shorthand, and we’re so bored with each other, it takes so many layers of peeling back an idea until we’re all excited and ready to explode with it. Certainly with something like Popstar, where it was 100% our thing from the ground up, we felt like we had that mandate.”
But the heart of Popstar—and the part of the movie where Apatow’s influence is most keenly felt—is the relationships. Male characters struggling to become better men is a theme that runs throughout the producer’s work, and Apatow “really encouraged us to make the film about the three of us and our friendship,” Samberg said. “Akiva and Jorma had been asking, ‘Should we be in it?’ He said, ‘Trust me, this has to be what it is.’ We weren’t going to argue with Judd, and we set off on that path.”
Thus there’s something grounding the silliness and absurdity: the film’s portrayal of how isolating life can be for celebrities who got their start at a very young age. “It’s the only world they know,” Samberg said. “That’s why we loved wrapping the film in a story about meeting your friends and building a solid foundation of people that you know.”
The added spice of the film is its stellar supporting cast of character actors, including Meadows, Sarah Silverman, Will Arnett, Mike Birbiglia, Eric Andre, Kevin Nealon, Bill Hader, Chelsea Peretti, and Maya Rudolph. Not to mention the cameos: Mariah Carey, Nas, Questlove, Carrie Underwood, Usher, 50 Cent, Adam Levine, Akon, DJ Khaled, Pink, Martin Sheen, Emma Stone, Will Forte, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Michael Bolton, Jimmy Fallon, Seal (who is attacked by wolves), and Ringo Starr, to name just a few.
“Judd did that,” Schaffer said. “He’d say, ‘I think I can get Ringo.’ And we were, ‘What, really?’”
“We now consider Ringo to be one of the Lonely Island Players,” Samberg said.
One area in which Popstar departs from the usual Apatow film is in its running time. Popstar is a mere 87 minutes, as opposed to Apatow’s usual two hours-plus. “Most of the fake documentaries that we loved—This is Spinal Tap and the films by Christopher Guest—are just under 90 minutes,” Taccone said. “So we set that as a goal before shooting.”