'Popstar' Premiere: Lonely Island Members Talk Trying to Hit the Right Notes

Akiva Schaffer Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone Popstar Premiere H 2016
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Former collaborator Michael Bolton, who appears in the film, praises the Andy Samberg-led group's dual mastery of music and film.

Through their digital shorts on Saturday Night Live and collaborations with various musicians and stars, Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer’s The Lonely Island have established themselves as masters of modern music parody. It comes as no surprise then, that for what Samberg calls the group’s first movie from the ground up, the trio have expanded upon that notion, creating Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.

“It was very intentional, to do something we could incorporate music into. That was the whole idea,” Samberg told The Hollywood Reporter at the film’s New York premiere on Tuesday night. “We wanted to make a musical,” Schaffer added, “We had a few ideas we were bandying about. And then Judd [Apatow] really basically pitched this idea to us out of nowhere and we were like, ‘We’ve been talking about that too!’ and that really set us on this track.”

Popstar takes the form of a mockumentary, following Samberg’s Connor4Real as he navigates the treacheries of pop stardom. Taccone and Schaffer play his childhood friends and former bandmates, with Sarah Silverman, Maya Rudolph, Tim Meadows and more filling out the team that surrounds and supports Connor.

But even though Popstar is a mockumentary, Taccone, who also directed the film with Schaffer, explains that the team behind the movie still tried to have the music be authentic, one thing it shares with previous films in the genre like This Is Spinal Tap and Walk Hard.

“It’s not necessarily that we’re referencing those, but I would say that a similarity between that movie and movies like Spinal Tap are that there’s a real attention to detail of the songs sounding correct and there’s a real attention to detail paid,” he said. “I’m not comparing ourselves to any of those movies. Spinal Tap is the gold standard of those movies, of this format, but we really care about the music sounding good in the same way.”

To that end, Popstar showcases the group’s mind for music as much as the bandmembers' comedy chops. Whether Connor is flourishing or flailing, he’s always equipped with a catchy ear worm every bit as sonically polished as it absurd. Michael Bolton, who collaborated with the trio on the 2011 digital short Jack Sparrow and likewise appears in the film, can’t explain The Lonely Island's dual mastery, but he’s astonished by it.

“It’s a very strange, high level of awareness of notes and timing and different genres of music. They’re obviously very, very current, or as current as they need to be, but they know how to stack backgrounds,” said Bolton. “I’m not easily impressed by musicians, I gotta see what they do, but these guys heard all the harmony parts.” He continued: “I don’t know where they get that mutant gene where it’s both music and film, where they know exactly what they need to make this great outcome, but that’s what their gift is.”

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is set to hit theaters June 3, with the soundtrack to be released the same day. Beyond what the film does at the box office, is The Lonely Island preparing for a hit on the Billboard charts? “100% yes,” said Samberg. “We always expect to go No. 1. We’re aiming for the new [Justin] Timberlake. The Trolls song, ['Can't Stop the Feeling'].”